BY JIM MISUNAS
Great Bend’s rally from a two-score deficit against Dodge City was triggered at the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers’ offensive line escorted quarterback Jacob Murray into the endzone three times in Friday’s 34-27 comeback Western Athletic Conference football victory on Homecoming Night.
Great Bend’s attacking defensive line dictated the tempo after Dodge City quarterback Dawson Williams scored his third touchdown for a 24-14 lead with 9:33 left in the third period.
Murray directed the Panthers’ offense to three consecutive touchdown drives for a dynamic victory over the defending Western Athletic Conference champions.
State-ranked Great Bend (4-0, 2-0 WAC) broke a three-game losing streak against Dodge City (2-2, 0-1 WAC), which beat the Panthers 51-7 last year.
Murray scored three rushing touchdowns and completed TD passes to Brayden Smith and Bryce Lytle for a 415-yard offensive night. He rushed for 217 yards and scored on runs of 3, 34 and 41 yards. Lytle caught a 12-yard touchdown and Smith grabbed an 82-yard touchdown aerial.
The Panthers gained 181 yards rushing in the second half.
“You feel you’re on top of the world when you’re running the ball like that,” said 6-foot-9 offensive tackle Aaron Clark. “Jacob (Murray) makes us look amazing. We were able to execute what we’re coached to do. We did well in the clutch moments after we struggled early in the game.”
Murray directed an 78-yard scoring drive capped by Lytle’s touchdown reception with seven minutes left in the third period.
The Panthers took some inspiration from Homecoming King Payton Mauler.
“Our offense got us going,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “The defense fed off what Jacob (Murray) was doing leading the charge on offense. Payton Mauler rallied that defense that second half. It was a good team win. We won the third quarter. Winning close games is what a championship team does.”
Murray ran six times and completed a 10-yard pass to Lytle on the Panthers’ go-ahead 64-yard drive for a 27-24 lead. Murray capped his second-half rally with a 34-yard cutback run for a 34-24 lead.
“Jacob is a football player who’s a competitor,” Beck said. “It’s fun to watch No. 7 with the ball in his hands.”
Linebacker Max Jerke sacked Williams for a loss and linebacker Blake Penka dropped RB Tylor Garcia for another Dodge City loss.
Dodge City quarterback Williams was a one-man rushing crew with 247 yards on 30 attempts. Dodge City rushed for 330 yards on 56 attempts behind a solid offensive line.
“Williams is fast and strong, runs with patience and trusts his offensive line,” Beck said. “He’s crafty. They are a power-counter read team where he’s reading the defense. The defense has to be sound in their assignments.”
Great Bend’s Murray rambled 41 yards for the opening touchdown to cap a 7-play, 63-yard drive.
Dodge City led 17-14 at halftime, keyed by a pair of Panther penalties for unnecessary roughness and a late tackle.
The Red Demons, trailing 7-0, faced a 3rd-and-10 when the Panthers were flagged for a late tackle. Kicker Carlos Fernandez booted a 27-yard field goal when coach Beck declined a major blocking penalty that would’ve pushed Dodge City out of field goal range.
The Panthers built a 14-3 lead when Murray lofted a perfect 82-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brayden Smith. Williams dashed 75 yards off a play fake on the next play for a 14-10 score.
Dodge City faced another 3rd-and-11 from the Panther 31-yard line when the Panthers handed the Red Demons a first down on a defensive penalty. Williams scored on a 6-yard touchdown with 1:24 left in the half.
Murray threw for 144 yards and the Panthers gained 239 first-half yards. Dodge City rushed for 196 yards with no passing attempts.
PANTHERS 34, RED DEMONS 27
Dodge City 0 17 7 3 — 27
Great Bend 7 7 14 6 — 34
GB—Jacob Murray 41 run (Carlos Franco kick), 2:54
DC—Carlos Fernandez 27 FG, 10:02
GB—Brayden Smith 82 pass from Murray (Franco kick) 9:39
DC—Dawson Williams 75 run (Fernandez kick), 9:22
DC—Williams 6 run (Fernandez kick), 1:24
DC—Williams 23 run (Fernandez kick), 9:33
GB—Bryce Lytle 12 pass from Murray (Franco kick), 7:00
GB—Murray 3 run (Franco kick), 1:26
GB—Murray 34 run (kick failed), 9:49
DC—Fernandez 26 FG, 2:45
RUSHING—DC—56-330; Williams 30-247; Tylor Garcia 25-86; team 1-(-3); GB—33-276; Murray 24-217; Marshall 8-61; team 1-(-2).
PASSING—DC—Williams 3-7-0, 39; GB—Murray 11-19-0, 198.
RECEIVING—DC—Garcia 1-22; Derick Blansett 1-20; Juan Gomez 1-(-4); GB—Bryce Lytle 8-105; Koy Brack 2-11; Smith 1-82.