Special teams breakdowns can be the difference between winning and losing close football games.
No one knew that better last season than the Great Bend High School Panthers, who finished 4-4 overall, falling to Salina South 26-21 in gut-wrenching fashion in a Class 5A district finale that denied them a berth in the state playoffs.
“The one thing, there’s been a sense of urgency within our special teams,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said, “because you can look at a lot of things.
“If you’re solid on three different special teams and you’re truly winning the special-teams battle, we feel like we could have been a 7-1 team pretty easily. We had a 7-1 junior varsity team last year, so we feel like we can have a good team this season.”
In particular, GBHS had breakdowns on special teams in three road games.
• St. Thomas Aquinas 21, Great Bend 14 — In the 2011 season opener, the Panthers, who allowed an 80-yard kickoff return by Aquinas’ Nick Williams for a touchdown during the second quarter, had a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play come up short.
Wide receiver Mauricio Uribe caught quarterback Mitch Kottas’ pass at the Aquinas 3-yard line as time expired, enabling the Saints to escape with a narrow win.
“We had a kickoff return in Game 1 for a touchdown and we got beat 21-14 with the ball on the 3-yard line when the game ended,” Black said.
• Hays 43, Great Bend 42 — Unbelievable.
This one was absolutely, positively captivating and spellbinding.
It was nothing short of brain-twisting, mesmerizing and downright heart-wrenching.
In a game where there was a combined 798 yards of total offense, special-teams breakdowns once again contributed to the Panthers’ undoing.
“We go into the Hays game and muff a punt and give it to them on the 10 and then we jumped offsides as we lose by one point in overtime,” Black said.
With the game tied at 35 at the end of regulation, Jonathan Allende gave the Panthers a 42-35 lead on a 10-yard scoring run, along with Mario Espino’s extra-point kick.
Hays answered with Mark Mathis scoring on a 3-yard TD run to make it 42-41, and then an offsides penalty by the Panthers on the extra-point kick moved the ball half-the-distance to the goal line. Hays standout running back David Cardinal, who totaled 287 rushing yards on the night, scored on a conversion run on the next play to give the Indians the win.
• Salina South 26, Great Bend 21 — Great Bend had a playoff berth slip from its grasp as the Cougars rallied, scoring 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
South’s Cody Busby returned a punt 53 yards down the left sideline to the GBHS 2 with 42 seconds remaining, and South quarterback Christian Linenberger scored on a 1-yard plunge with 19 ticks left for the winning score.
“We get beat on a punt return in a game where neither team can move the ball. We gave up a 53-yard punt return to give them the ball on the 1-yard line.”