The Great Bend High School Panthers first applied the stranglehold on Dodge City at the start of the millennium, when head coach Bo Black began his first season in 2000.
Ever since, they haven’t let go.
The Panthers, who haven’t lost to the Red Demons since 1999, put a 10-game winning streak on the line tonight against their Western Athletic Conference foe at Memorial Stadium in Dodge City.
If it is anything like last year’s game, it ought to be a dandy.
Last season, Great Bend rallied from a 27-7 halftime deficit, shutting out the Demons in the second half while coming up with some big plays in the process for a 28-27 triumph.
Especially their special-teams play.
“They totally dominated the first half of the game and dominated the third quarter,” Black recalled. “You could just feel and see the momentum change completely, when we got it down to six points.”
But not before Dodge City, which was unbeaten at 4-0 entering the game, seized early command. It came via an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown by Trey Hallman, followed by a 43-yard scoring run by Bruce Campbell and capped by Landon Head’s 32-yard interception return for a score with 19.9 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Panthers cut the deficit to 27-14 midway through the third quarter, when wide receiver Allen Holt caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Greg Hildebrand at the 7:05 mark.
Things got wild late in the quarter, when Dodge City punter Head had his punt blocked by Great Bend’s Jordan Bayse and recovered by teammate Brett McManaman in the end zone for a touchdown. It slashed Dodge’s lead to 27-21 with 16.2 seconds remaining in the period.
After both teams canceled each other out in the early portion of the fourth quarter, Dakota Ellis came up with the Panthers’ second punt block, with Bayse scooping up the loose ball near the Dodge City 25-yard line and racing for the tying touchdown with 4:02 left in regulation.
Angel Gutierrez, who made all four of his extra-point kicks and also had four kickoffs land out of the back of the end zone for touchbacks, nailed the game-winning extra point.
“Really, what happened in that last game is irrelevant, Black said. “Very, very seldom do we talk about the year before. It’s a whole new group of kids, and what happened last year doesn’t matter a whole lot.”
Nonetheless, it was one of the most memorable games of the 2009 WAC season.