The Salina Central High School Mustangs finally got over the hump against crosstown rival Salina South last Friday, winning for the first time in three years in their city grudge match, 31-28, at Salina Stadium.
Tonight at 7, the Mustangs (5-2) will be seeking to add their 21st district crown to their glass trophy case in school history — a case that holds their six state championship trophies over the years.
Central features a run-oriented attack in its offensive playbook, a run game that is averaging 244 yards per game, led by running back Cale Sharp, a 6-foot, 179-pound senior, who has a team-leading 614 yards in 133 carries and eight rushing touchdowns.
There’s also quarterback Shay Wooten (6-2, 212), who has totaled 343 yards in 45 carries and has four scores. Having nearly carbon-copy numbers, freshman Malik Veal has 342 yards in 44 carries and also has four rushing TDs.
Moreover, Uriel Gonzalez’s 271 yards in 37 carries and two scores reveals the fact that the Mustangs have several capable backs that can run the ball.
Passing-wise, Wooten has completed 39 of 72 aerials for 54.2 percent accuracy for 620 yards and seven TDs. He has thrown only three interceptions.
“I think we have made improvements each and every game,” Mustangs head coach Mike Hall said of his 5-2 team, which beat Salina South 31-28 for the Mustangs’ first win in three years against their crosstown foe and also clinched no worse than second place in the Ark Valley Chisolm Trail League with a 5-1 mark. “Our kids continue to practice hard and we’re getting better every week.
“I think, just like any team, it’s a little bit about matchups as well. When you go into a game, you obviously have to look how you match up against a team.”
Hall said he is concerned with trying to contain Great Bend quarterback Greg Hildebrand.
“I have been very impressed with their dual-threat quarterback,” Hall said of Hildebrand, a senior. “He runs the ball well as well as throws it.
“They have very capable wide receivers and a very good running back, too.”
The Panthers’ spread offense is Hall’s main worry.
“With an offense like theirs, they probably feel that they’re really never out of a game, just because they’ve got some quick-strike potential and good speed and the ability to throw the ball downfield,” he said.
Yet, it’s a challenge the Mustangs are anxious to tackle.
“Our defense has really progressed since the first game of the year and we really feel like that’s where we’ve made our biggest strides, on that side of the ball,” Hall said. “Our guys have to know what their opponents’ strengths are, but the thing that makes Great Bend so tough to defend is that if they have receivers covered, the quarterback can tuck it and run and make you pay there, too.”