HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
At Overland Park
St. Thomas Aquinas 21,
Great Bend 14
Great Bend 0 7 0 7 — 14
Aquinas 0 14 0 7 — 21
Great Bend — Mitch Kottas 43 run (Mario Espino kick)
Aquinas — Nick Williams 80 KO return (Declan Fogerty kick)
Aquinas — Clayton Henning 35 pass from Paul Heit (Fogerty kick)
Aquinas — Henning 13 pass from Heit (Fogerty kick)
Great Bend — Uribe 45 pass from Kottas (Espino kick)
First Downs 16 22
Total Net Yards 349 365
Rushes-yards 129 179
Passing 220 186
Comp-Att-Int 17-26-1 15-30-2
Punts-Avg 4-34.6 4-32.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-63 4-45
RUSHING — Great Bend, Sigler 18-49, Kottas 19-69, Joshua Lopez 5-40, Uribe 3-17, Connor Sell 1-5; Aquinas, Heit 15-53, Nick Williams 3-12, Brendan Nachbar 1-45, Henry Krause 1-10; Luke Martinez 3-9.
PASSING — Aquinas, Paul Heit 17-26-1; Great Bend, Kottas 15-30-2.
RECEIVING — Aquinas, Henning 8-165, Devin Vickers 1-25, Williams 5-45; Great Bend, Uribe 6-105, Jace Bowman 3-36, Brock Ibarra 3-25, Sigler 2-17, Sell 1-7.
OVERLAND PARK — Great Bend High School quarterback Mitch Kottas’ Hail Mary pass flew perilously through the air toward the goal line on the game’s final play Friday night.
The outcome of the football season opener with St. Thomas Aquinas was hanging in the balance as Panthers wide receiver Mauricio Uribe made a diving catch, hauling in a deflected ball off a Saints defender at the 3-yard line. But time expired as Aquinas narrowly escaped with a 21-14 win over the Panthers in a prep instant classic.
“We sent everyone to the end zone and threw up a prayer,” Kottas said. “It was a bad ball, but Mauricio reacted to it perfectly and came up a little short.”
In their hurry-up offense, Kottas drove the Panthers from their own 20 to the Aquinas 41. Although Great Bend was out of timeouts and couldn’t stop the clock, Aquinas head coach Mike Thomas, sensing his team wasn’t in the right coverage, called a timeout with 10 seconds left, giving Great Bend a final shot.
“A guy tipped it and I spotted it at the very last second and tried to make a play,” Uribe said of the final play. “I pulled it in, but we came up short at the 3.”
The game was polar opposite of last season’s 52-28 runaway by Aquinas in Great Bend. On Friday night, the Panthers controlled the line of scrimmage and the game clock for all but the final portion of the second quarter.
That’s when the offensive fireworks began as the two teams combined for three touchdowns during the final three minutes, 37 seconds of the half.
It gave both teams and their fans a dose of déjà vu, and Aquinas a 14-7 halftime lead. After all, these two teams combined for five touchdowns in the final 2:53 of the first half in last year’s debacle.
As far as Great Bend head coach Bo Black was concerned, it shouldn’t have even came down to the Hail Mary pass. As Great Bend controlled the clock and line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, special-teams breakdowns contributed to its undoing.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do on special teams, it doesn’t even come down to that,” Black said. “We were always in the game because of the way the defense played and the way we ran the ball and controlled the line of scrimmage.
“Any time you have a big game, the first game is always characterized as a big game, you’ve got to win the special-teams battle. You don’t give up a kickoff return for a touchdown and if you make two field goals, you win the game by six points.”
The Panthers had a botched snap on a 41-yard field-goal attempt after a drive stalled at the 24 near the seven-minute mark in the second period. Holder Bryce Beck picked up the ball and rolled to his right before throwing an incompletion.
“It was a bad snap and we didn’t get it down,” Black said. “We were trying to kick it.”
Earlier, on the second play of the second quarter, with the game still scoreless, place-kicker Mario Espino missed one at the same distance, a 41-yard field goal, wide left.
But the real killer came on the ensuing kickoff after Kottas’ 43-yard touchdown run gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 3:37 remaining in the second quarter.
Jitterbug Nick Williams brought back the kickoff 90 yards and not even two minutes later, after GBHS punted, a 35-yard scoring pass from quarterback Paul Heit to wide receiver Clatyon Henning at the 1:41 mark gave the Saints a 14-7 halftime lead.
“Their second touchdown came on a complete blown coverage,” Black said.
Henning torched the Panthers secondary with eight catches for 165 yards and two scores. He also caught a 13-yard TD pass from Heit in the fourth quarter, increasing the margin to 21-7.
Great Bend cut the gap to 21-14 after Uribe, who had a big second half, caught a 45-yard TD pass from Kottas, setting the stage for the Panthers late drive that fell short.
In the first half, the Panthers stood firm on defense while keeping Aquinas off the scoreboard until the aforementioned fireworks.
The Saints were denied twice on a drive deep into GBHS territory midway through first half. They had a 3-yard scoring pass from Heit to Williams taken off the board after a holding penalty. After defensive back Chris Burley broke up a third-down pass in the end zone, Aquinas’ Declan Fogerty’s 33-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Connor Sell, who also recovered the loose ball at the 47.
“The coach is always teaching us to find it and scoop and score,” Sell said. “I was just trying to help the team out.”
Sell suffered a dislocated elbow during the game but was still worked into the rotation.
“It’s nothing,” Sell said. “I’ll be back. Don’t worry about it.”
Great Bend began its first drive at the 11:04 mark in the first quarter and hogged the ball for a better portion of the half, setting the tone that the Panthers weren’t going to be pushed around.
Kottas broke the stalemate by sidestepping a blitz on a quarterback draw, following his blocks and weaving downfield before taking to the right sideline and scoring untouched.
“It was a draw play and the linemen blocked it perfectly,” Kottas said. “There were no missed blocks and it opened up the hole wide and all I had was one guy to beat and I beat him to the outside.”
The Panthers’ running game produced 179 rushing yards, including 18 carries for 49 yards by two-way workhorse Jeremy Sigler and 40 yards in five carries by stocky junior Joshua Lopez.
“He had a really good night,” Black said Lopez. “There’s the big question mark in that the kid has never played (varsity) and if he can handle it ... he definitely proved that he can be a tailback in the league that we play.
“Our kids played extremely hard and gave it all they had. They’re not the strongest kids nor the fastest kids but they laid it out there and gave a great effort.”