Collisions and sports tend to go hand in hand. In the opening scene of 1985’s Rocky IV movie goers recall the opening scene of a Soviet boxing glove colliding with the Stars and Stripes-adorned glove foreshadowing an international bout between a Russian giant and the Itallian Stallion.
Friday's showcase collision won’t take place in a ring but on another plain where a pair of undefeated teams meet in an event that could quite possibly determine a WAC championship.
For the Panthers, a win Friday over Garden City would spell the first 3-0 start since coach Bo Black and his 2003 team’s 5-0 beginning. Great Bend is off to its first 2-0 start since 2012 following last week’s 40-29 punching of arch rival Hays. It marked the first time since 2007 the Panthers have smote the Indians at their own house in a 21-0 blanking.
Last year’s meeting against Garden at Memorial Stadium resulted in a 28-21 loss to the Buffaloes who have started 2015 with 28-14 and 21-7 wins over Olathe East and Maize. Tonight’s game against the Panthers will serve as the WAC opener for Garden City. Last season’s victory over the Panthers avenged 2013’s 28-25 loss.
“We’ve had a good, productive work week this week in preparation for this game,” said coach Tony Crough. “We’ve taken several steps to improve from what we saw on film of last week’s game.”
Like the game against Leavenworth Great Bend was able to make some needed adjustments at the break. Following a 21-18 deficit at the half the Panthers called on the defense and concentrated the bulk of their attack on the inside.
“Basically we switched from a 3-3 box to a 4-4 box,” Crough said. “We put a linebacker and defensive lineman in there as sort of a ‘back pocket’ move in case we struggled.”
While the defense readjusted, quarterback Jacob Murray and the offense kept things consistent heading into the third quarter minus some penalties.
“We really didn’t make any changes with our guys,” said Crough. “Except we were able to eliminate some holding calls on some big pass plays but we just kept moving the ball like we needed.”
A frustrated Hays team began showing signs of aggravation late in the game which resulted in short tempers being exhibited before and after the whistle.
“We try to hold our guys to high standards,” said Crough “We know those things are going to happen but we tell them that a loss of composure will always work against us. Our guys did a good job of just walking away and getting ready for the next play. But again, those things happen and sometimes kids get mad. It’s football.”
Great Bend struggled with extra points in the win against Hays due mainly to the absence of injured kicker Carlos Franco. The Panthers converted just two of their six extra point attempts both on second half runs by Murray.
“Missing Carlos has really had an impact on our PAT game,” said Crough. “Without a kicking game it’s been tough and sometimes those missed extra points can cost you. Hopefully we’ll have all our PAT personnel back soon so we can utilize our kicking game.”
Crough’s approach against Garden City is to drain the momentum from their rushing attack.
“Defensively we’re going to have to slow down the run,” said Crough. “I don’t know if we can completely stop their running game. They run the ball very well and they have some really big guys up front and they have a couple of really good running backs. So we’ll have to find a way to stop that and get their offense of the field.”
On the offense Crough says to be prepared for an aggressive Buffalo defense which has a reputation for pressuring opponents’ quarterbacks.
“They love to blitz and play a lot of man coverage,” Crough said. “We have to find a way to run the ball and expose their weaknesses while getting receivers open against their man coverage.”