Tonight’s Class 5A District 6 football opener between bitter high school rivals Great Bend and Hays represents the full gamut.
Kickoff is set for 7 at Memorial Stadium.
“As much as you try not to make it into that, that’s exactly what it is,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “It’s the full gamut of almost every goal that your football team has set for the 2012 football season. It is really wrapped up in one game.
“It’s just a special game, and it’s Game 7 every single year. It is for a piece of the conference championship, a leg up in the district race, and then you add the fact that these are two teams that don’t like each other very much.”
Indeed. There are huge Western Athletic Conference and district implications riding on this intense rivalry game.
Both Great Bend and Hays are 5-1 overall, with the Indians (3-0) sitting at the top of the WAC perch. GBHS (2-1) is seeking to knock them off, which would secure it a share of the conference crown.
Still, that’s only part of the equation.
“Most importantly to all of us is the opportunity to be 1-0 in district play and be ahead of the ball in the playoff race,” Black said. “We’ve had six games to build up to this one and as much as you try real hard to make it another game, it’s not.
“It’s a great challenge, and (Hays is) one of the best football teams in the State of Kansas, so it’s all on the line.”
The Panthers, coming off a resounding 37-20 road win over Liberal last Friday night, seem to be hitting their stride in their ever-growing run game.
One week removed from shredding Dodge City on the road, 24-7, accumulating 487 yards of total offense, the Panthers destroyed Liberal with 458 rushing yards.
“We really feel like we’ve developed and continually gotten better,” Black said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to be right where we need to be in a game of this magnitude.”
GBHS has been successful as of late running the football, eating up clock and keeping the opposing team’s offense off the field.
Senior running back Josh Lopez, who had 13 carries for 109 yards against Liberal, leads the Panthers with a team-leading 479 yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
Junior running back Jonathan Allende has put up back-to-back 100-yard games, rushing for 107 against Dodge and 104 against Liberal while scoring three touchdowns during that stretch. He has 387 yards and five TDs on the season.
Moreover, there’s senior running back Bryce Hofmeister, who has been hitting his stride after not going out for football a year ago. A hard-hitting strong safety on defense, Hofmeister has taken on a bigger role as of late on the opposite side of the ball. He came up with a 64-yard touchdown burst, where he left Liberal’s speedy defenders in his tracks.
The Panthers have also made some strides the past couple weeks in their passing game. Quarterback Matt Marshall, who has shared snaps with Bryce Beck throughout the season, has completed 19 of 25 aerials for 237 yards during that stretch, although the duo has combined for only three scoring passes all season.
“There’s going to be a lot of things that have to be done to be successful in the game,” Black said, “but the bottom line is that our kids have to play extremely hard, executing and eliminating mistakes ... kids playing their best football at the right time of the year.”