SALINA — Just when it seemed like Great Bend High School was poised to overtake Salina Central on Friday night, a special-teams breakdown helped the Mustangs gallop past the Panthers.
Central running back Malik Veal’s 6-yard touchdown run proved to be the difference in Class 5A District 7 football action at Salina District Stadium.
Veal’s fourth-quarter score with 8:20 remaining sent Central to a 20-13 victory over the Panthers (5-3, 0-2), officially eliminating them from playoff contention with one game still remaining.
“We felt like we didn’t have any momentum the whole game, until we made it 13-13,” GBHS head coach Bo Black said. “We lacked emotion all night long, and couldn’t find ways to get it done.
“It’s frustrating because you feel like there’s a lot of things you could do, but we’re just not built to take advantage of some things that they were giving us, not built for the things that you can beat them defensively, and then we couldn’t run the ball physically up front. We found ourselves in some problems all night.”
The Panthers, trailing 13-6, tied the game on the opening play of the fourth quarter on senior running back Josh Lopez’s 2-yard touchdown run and Mario Espino’s extra-point kick.
Sluggish for the better part of three quarters, Great Bend’s offense finally started hitting on some short pass plays from quarterback Matt Marshall to wide receiver-sometimes-quarterback Bryce Beck.
Marshall had 10 straight completions at one juncture, and finished 13-for-19 for 125 yards. He drove the Panthers from their own 34-yard line, highlighted by an 11-yard completion to wideout Brock Ibarra, along with 23- and 13-yard completions to Beck — the second giving them first-and-goal at the 9 and setting up Lopez’s 2-yard plunge.
Great Bend seemed to have the needed momentum for the final 10 minutes, though all that changed on one play.
Central was forced to punt after the ensuing kickoff, but GBHS sophomore returner Trent Usleton fumbled the ball and the Mustangs’ Will Oaks recovered at the GBHS 25-yard line.
Shortly thereafter, on first down from the 15, Central’s Matt Cookson’s 9-yard gain set up a first-and-goal at the 6. Veal, who scored his second TD of the game on the next play, finished with 122 rushing yards in 24 carries.
“We fumbled the snap on the extra point (in trailing 7-6 at halftime) and fumbling the punt was a huge momentum swing after we tied it up at 13-13,” Black said. “We work all year on winning games with special teams and then we have that kind of performance when it is absolutely needed.
“That’s disappointing, as well.”
During the first half, Great Bend drove 45 yards in 12 plays during the final four minutes of the second quarter for its first score of the night, pulling within 7-6 at intermission.
Beck scored on 1-yard TD plunge on third-and-goal with 24 seconds left in the second quarter, but a botched snap on the point-after was recovered by Central.
Uselton’s punt return of 15 yards gave the Panthers a first down after he spun for extra yardage to the Mustangs’ 45-yard line.
Later faced with fourth-and-7 at the Central 42, the Panthers opted to go for it, and Marshall hit wide receiver Mitch Johnson for an 11-yard gain for a first down at the 31.
Back-to-back 8-yard gains by Jonathan Allende and Lopez planted GBHS at the Central 15. On second-and-9 from the 14, Marshall hit Beck for an 8-yard gain to make it third-and-1 at the 6.
After Lopez gained two yards for first-and-goal at the 4, Beck carried for a yard before Lopez gained two more, setting up Beck’s TD.
In the opening quarter, Central broke a scoreless deadlock on a 2-yard scoring pass from quarterback Mark Vaughn to Ethan Casey, who made a diving catch in the end zone at the 2:09 mark.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Class 5A District 7
Salina District Stadium
Salina Central 20, Great Bend 13
GBHS 0 6 0 7 — 13
Central 7 0 6 7 — 20
Salina Central — Ethan Casey 2 pass from Mark Vaughn (Nathan Garlow kick), 2:09
Great Bend — Bryce Beck 1 run (run failed), 0:24
Salina Central — Malik Veal 1 run (kick failed), 3:46
Great Bend — Josh Lopez 2 run (Mario Espino kick), 11:57
Salina Central — Veal 6 run (Garlow kick), 8:20
First Downs 13 13
Total Net Yards 241 217
Rushes-yards 44-209 40-98
Passing 32 125
Comp-Att-Int 4-11-2 13-21-0
Punts-Avg 5-29.6 4-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 6-50 3-25
RUSHING — Salina Central, Veal 24-122, Matt Cookson 9-67, Mark Vaughn 7-7, Clint Ryan 3-7; Great Bend, Lopez 16-37, Beck 11-36, Jonathan Allende 7-24, Hunter Harrison 3-9, Matt Marshall 2-(minus-6), Bryce Hofmeister 1-(minus-3).
PASSING — Hays, Vaughn 4-9-1 32; JW Maldaner 0-1-1 0; Great Bend, Marshall 13-19-125, Beck 0-3-0.
RECEIVING — Salina Central, Kamen Kossow 1-17, Casey 1-2, Cookson 1-4, Maldaner 1-11. Great Bend, Beck 6-68, Ibarra 4-41, Mitch Johnson 2-16, Zac Reynolds 1-0.
Harrison, 12 tackles; Ethan Henderson, 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss; Greg Burley, 9 tackles, 1 INT; Michael Haines, 8 tackles; Bryce Hofmeister, 8 tackles; Chad Touslee, 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss; Chris Burley, 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss; Ryan Zecha, 6 tackles; Jayce Brack, 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss; Ibarra, 2 tackles, 1 INT.