The disappointment lingers for the Great Bend High School football program.
The Panthers finished 5-4 on the season, including losing all three of their Class 5A district games — to Hays, Salina Central and Salina South — arguably the state’s toughest all-class district schedule.
Powerhouse Salina South is one win away from advancing to the Class 5A state championship game after handing Emporia a 35-20 setback last Friday night. South (10-1) plays unbeaten Bishop Carroll (11-0) on Friday night in Wichita.
“It was disappointing not winning more games and not making it to the playoffs, like we have in recent years,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “We simply couldn’t get it done against the best three teams that we played all season.
“It was a disappointing way to end it.”
The Panthers, who enjoyed a three-game winning steak at midseason and won five of their first six games, had six players named as first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selections and five others were honorable mention picks.
Selections were made in a vote by league head coaches after head coaches nominated their own players.
Dodge City, which Great Bend thumped 24-7 during the regular season, was eliminated from the 6A state playoffs last Friday after Derby registered a 42-19 victory over the Red Demons. As is custom, the All-WAC team was not released until all five teams had wrapped up their season.
“I felt like we had some defensive kids that were very deserving and well-represented,” Black said. “Hunter Harrison, leading the conference in tackles.”
Harrison, a 5-foot-10, 184-pound senior linebacker, wound up second on the GBHS single-season hit list with 133 tackles. The single-season standard was set by Matt Patzner, who had 148 tackles during the 2006 season, the same year the Panthers advanced to the Class 5A state championship game, falling to Blue Valley.
“(Patzner’s record) was done in 13 games,” Black said.
The Panthers’ Chad Touslee (6-3, 185, senior), Jayce Brack, (6-2, 255, sophomore) and Chris Burley (5-8, 136, senior) joined Harrison on the first team on the defense.
“Chad Touslee has just been a constant, very good player for us and for him to be selected as a defensive end was very fitting,” Black said. “I think Jayce Brack, at a young age at defensive tackle, is really well-respected by the other coaches in our league. He and the kid from Hays (quarterback Alex Delton) were the only sophomores on the first team.
“(Cornerback) Chris Burley, as junior, was an all-conference kid and we would have liked to see Brock Ibarra (a honorable mention defensive back for the Panthers, who had a WAC-best four interceptions) on there, too.”
Senior offensive tackle Wyatt Bayless (6-6, 227) and senior running back Josh Lopez (5-8, 221) rounded out the first-team selections for the Panthers. While Bayless proved to be the team’s top blocking lineman, Lopez was the marquee runner in the backfield.
“He ran the ball pretty well for us all year,” Black said of Lopez, who finished with 753 rushing yards — fourth in the conference — and scored 10 touchdowns.
Teammates joining Ibarra on the honorable mention list include senior defensive lineman Michael Haines (6-1, 213), senior nose tackle Ryan Zecha (5-8, 184), senior offensive lineman Lucas Westhoff (6-4, 204) and senior linebacker Matt Marshall (5-10, 221).
“We were never disappointed in the kids themselves,” Black said. “It’s just a great bunch of kids and it’s exactly that. There wasn’t a time where we were disappointed with the kids and their attitude and their effort.
“We had a lot of fun with them, and we just wish we could have won a couple more games.”
Running back David Cardinal of conference champion Hays was named as WAC Player of the Year for the second straight season. His coach, Ryan Cornelson, was named for the coaching honor.