HAYS — Unbelievable.
This one was absolutely, positively captivating and spell-binding. It was nothing short of brain-twisting, mesmerizing and downright heart-wrenching.
Great Bend High School kept answering after Hays’ supremely talented running back, David Cardinal, kept ripping out the Panthers’ hearts with long touchdown runs during a Western Athletic Conference and Class 5A District 6-opening football clash Friday night at Lewis Field Stadium.
Even after Cardinal scored his fourth touchdown during regulation, a 33-yard scoring sprint with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers answered back with running back Jeremy Sigler coming free in the right flat and the game clock winding down. The surreal image of his 14-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on a perfectly thrown ball from quarterback Mitch Kottas with 40 seconds left in regulation enabled Great Bend to tie the game at 35 and send it into overtime after Mario Espino’s extra-point kick.
Yet, it all came down to a two-point conversion in OT. Cardinal put his stamp on the game by tumbling into the end zone from just over a yard out as Hays pulled out a unforgettable 43-42 victory over the Panthers and clinching a share of the WAC championship in the process.
“You go from the top of the world to the bottom of the ocean in a hurry there in the last minute,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said.
Cardinal was the catalyst, serving as a one-man gang by torching the Panthers for 287 net rushing yards in 23 carries, including touchdown runs spanning 44, 75, 64 and 33 yards.
“He’s probably the best we’ve seen in a couple years,” Black said of Cardinal. “He was the difference in the football game.
“Outside of the outcome, it was a great football game. It’s just disappointing. I’m proud of the kids and how they competed and how hard they played. We played really, really good. It’s just disappointing to play that well and not win the football game.”
The two teams combined for nearly 800 yards in total offense, including 401 from Hays and 397 from Great Bend. The Panthers held a decided margin in first downs (22-9), but Cardinal’s game-changing performance stole the show.
Great Bend (3-3 overall) and Hays (6-1) will have to share the WAC crown with 3-1 records, although there could ultimately be a three-way tie for first, providing 2-1 Garden City beats defending WAC champion Dodge City when the two teams meet in 6A district play.
More importantly, it puts the 0-1 Panthers (minus-1 in the district points system) in a precarious situation in the district race as they try to make the state playoffs. Hays is 1-0 and plus-1 in the points system. Salina South (plus-3) is 1-0 after beating Salina Central (minus-3) in another nail-biter in District 6, 44-41 Friday night.
Great Bend hosts Salina Central on Friday night at 7 at Memorial Stadium in the regular-season home finale. The Panthers travel to Salina South for the district finale the following week.
“The playoffs start for us next week,” Black said. “It’s the safe assumption that you’ve got to win to keep playing and we’re still in control of our fate.”
It appeared the Panthers had all the momentum entering overtime. After all, they answered Cardinal’s 33-yard scoring jaunt by driving 65 yards in the final 2:28 for the tying touchdown. Kottas, who had his best passing game of the season, completed 15 of 22 passes for 201 yards and two scoring passes.
Kottas had a 12-yard completion to Spencer Bayless and a 29-yard strike to Blake Reif to advance the yard markers before hitting Mauricio Uribe on first-and-10 from the Hays 24 for a 7-yard completion along the sideline, where he was thrown down after it appeared he was already out of bounds.
No flag was thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct, a no-call that drew the ire from Black.
“I thought that was questionable,” Black said.
Black had a similar beef with a pass interference call that set up Cardinal’s 33-yard go-ahead TD run to give Hays a 35-28 lead. Indians quarterback Austin Unrein threw into double coverage and wide receiver Adam Deterding drew a belated flag after a pass interference call was planted on the Panthers at the 36.
“I thought it was a very questionable call,” Black said.
Yet, the Panthers kept coming back and divine intervention seemingly transpired after Kottas had a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the 16 set the stage for his scoring strike to Sigler to tie the game at 35.
“It kind of reminds me of my sophomore year,” said Sigler, a senior standout, “of the game with Hays that went into overtime and they beat us.
“We’ve just got to watch film and get better from it and move on to the next game.”
Great Bend junior running back Joshua Lopez spent the evening riddling the Hays defense by churning out yards in chunks. He had his third straight 100-yard rushing game, accumulating 121 yards in 26 carries and scoring on 12- and 2-yard runs. He had 72 yards in 16 carries in the first half alone.
“We tried really, really hard … and the defense did really good,” Lopez said. “I was in shock. The game’s over, and we just need keep working hard and to come back and start again on Monday.”
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Class 5A District 6
Lewis Field Stadium
Hays 43, Great Bend 42, OT
Great Bend 7 7 7 14 7 — 42
Hays 7 7 6 15 8 — 43
Hays — David Cardinal 44 run (Austin Unrein kick), 9:55
Great Bend — Mitch Kottas 1 run (Mario Espino kick), 2:35
Great Bend — Mauricio Espino 11 pass from Kottas (Espino kick), 7:23
Hays — Adam Deterding 26 pass from Unrein (Unrein kick), 4:29
Hays — Cardinal 75 run (kick blocked), 11:43
Great Bend — Josh Lopez 2 run (Espino kick), 0:33
Hays — Cardinal 66 run (Cardinal run), 10:27
Great Bend — Lopez 12 run (Espino kick), 6:08
Hays — Cardinal 38 run (Unrein kick), 2:37
Great Bend — Jeremy Sigler 14 pass from Kottas (Espino kick), 0:40
Great Bend — Jonathan Allende 10 run (Espino kick)
Hays — Mark Mathis 3 run (Cardinal run)
First Downs 22 9
Total yards 397 401
Rushes-yards 56-186 39-332
Passing 201 69
Comp-Att-Int 15-22-0 2-5-0
Punts-Avg. 5-32.0 5-42.0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1
Penalties-yds 5-35 4-35
RUSHING — Great Bend, Lopez 26-121, Allende 10-56, Uribe 1-8, Sigler 3-5, Kottas 16-(minus-4); Hays, Cardinal 23-287, Mathis 6-24, Urnrein 6-13, Emilio Mitchell 2-9.
PASSING — Great Bend, Kottas 15-22-0 201; Hays, Unrein 1-3-0 26, Cardinal 1-1-0 43; Alex Delton 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING — Great Bend, Mauricio Uribe 5-51, Connor Sell 4-49, Blake Reif 2-44, Sigler 2-32; Hays, Jake Sedbrook 1-43, Adam Deterding 1-26.
Hunter Harrison 11 tackles, Sigler 11 tackles, Sell 10 tackles, Chris Burley 10 tackles (fumble caused, 1 tackle for loss), John Verbeck 9 tackles, Matt Marshall 7 tackles, Greg Burley 7 tackles (fumble recovery), Chad Touslee 7 tackles, Tyler Uselton 7 tackles, Stu Hogg 5 tackles, Jayce Brack 4 tackles (I tackle for loss)