BY JIM MISUNAS
Great Bend linebacker Braulio Vargas intercepted two passes to spark the Panthers’ hard-fought 16-7 Class 5A playoff victory Friday over Andover High School.
Vargas’ first interception set up Great Bend’s first touchdown. His second interception preserved a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Payton Mauler also intercepted a pass in Great Bend’s endzone.
“They were big,” Vargas said. “The first one set the tempo and the second one closed it out.
We run the same offense, so we practiced on the comeback routes. I ran to an area and he threw the ball there. I was excited to compete in the playoffs.”
The game’s biggest play came when Andover center Cooper Dreifort snapped the football past quarterback Chase Oberg out of the endzone for a Great Bend safety with 9:48 left in the third period.
Great Bend kept the 9-7 lead when Andover kicker Nathan Hammar missed a 26-yard field goal with two minutes left in the third period. Andover’s Alex Jones intercepted a tipped pass to set up the scoring opportunity.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our defense played,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “Our coaches did an awesome job preparing the players. We executed the game plan perfectly. I was very proud of the way we fought.”
The Panthers scored a valuable insurance touchdown when wide receiver Brayden Smith beat safety Oberg for a 58-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Jacob Murray with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers’ coaches had seen Oberg jump routes, so ran a specific go-route for Smith. The Trojans defended leading Panther receiver Bryce Lytle superbly.
“That was a big-time game-changer. We saw the singled-up matchup,” Beck said. “Brayden did a great job getting inside him and Jacob threw a perfect ball.”
Freshman tailback Gage Fritz sparked the offense with 76 second-half yards after starter Cal Marshall was sidelined with an injury and Murray’s running was limited by coaches. The Panthers rushed for 160 yards and added 155 yards passing.
“I was very proud of the way he ran,” Beck said. “He’s a heck of a football player who does what the coaches ask. He makes great cuts and runs hard and makes guys miss.”
No. 1 ranked Great Bend (9-1) qualifies for a quarterfinal showdown against Valley Center (9-1). The Panthers earned two playoff wins for the third time in 13 postseason trips. The victory enabled the Panthers to beat former head coach Tony Crough, who guided the Trojans into the 5A playoffs.
The Panthers’ interceptions helped offset 25 completions for 219 yards by Andover. The Trojans reached the Great Bend 8- and 9-yard lines in the second half and failed to score.
The Panthers were stuck in a 7-7 halftime tie when they failed to score after a pair of first-and-goal situations.
Quarterback Murray failed to cross the goal-line twice from the 1-yard line as the half ended when the offensive line lost the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Great Bend was up 7-0 when the Panthers' initial first-and-goal drive ended when Andover’s Oberg recovered a fumble by Murray, the Panthers’ fifth turnover of the season.
“It was very frustrating to get in the red zone and get nothing,” Beck said. “That will get you beat this time of the year. It was tough.”
An interception by Vargas set up the Panthers’ opening 34-yard scoring drive. Murray and Cal Marshall split five carries and Murray scored on a 3-yard TD with 9:17 left in the first quarter.
The Trojans’ Ben Smith caught a 15-yard TD pass from Oberg for a tying score after Nathan Hammar’s extra point at the 4:35 mark of the second period. Oberg completed six passes on the 66-yard drive.
The Trojans completed 14 passes for 132 first-half yards. The Panthers gained 113 rushing yards and added 49 yards passing.
PANTHERS 16, TROJANS 7
Andover 0 7 0 0 – 7
Great Bend 7 0 2 7 – 16
GB—Jacob Murray 3 run (Dani Franco kick), 9:17
A—Ben Smith 15 pass from Chase Oberg (Nathan Hammar kick), 4:35
GB—Team safety (snap out of endzone), 9:48
GB—Brayden Smith 58 pass from Murray (Franco kick), 10:37
RUSHING—Andover 24-103; Oberg 12-66; Robert Bundy 11-45, team 1-(-8); GB—42-160; Gage Fritz 12-76, Murray 21-50, Marshall 7-31; Miller 1-3; Bryce Lytle 1-0.
PASSING—Andover—Oberg 25-38-3, 219; GB—Murray 13-20-2, 155.
RECEIVING—Andover—Smith 10-88, Michael Bell 4-46; Evan Bell 4-37, Bundy 6-26, Jacob Brown 1-22; GB—Smith 4-87; Koy Brack 6-47, Lytle 2-15, Fritz 1-6.
Goddard 9-1 at Wichita Heights 9-1, 7 p.m.
Valley Center 9-1 at Great Bend 9-1, 7 p.m.
Wichita Heights 42, Emporia 7
Goddard 20, Wichita Carroll 12
Great Bend 16, Andover 7
Valley Center 27, Maize 13
St. James 6-4 at Mill Valley 6-4, 7 p.m.
St. Thomas Aquinas 7-3 at Topeka Seaman 8-2, 7 p.m.
St. James 53, KC Schlagle 17
Mill valley 55, Blue Valley SW 24
Topeka Seaman 62, KC Turner 14
St. Thomas Aquinas 42, Bonner Springs 14
GREAT BEND PLAYOFF HISTORY (10-12)
2016, 5A—Great Bend 70, Topeka West 31; Great Bend 16, Andover 7; Great Bend (9-1) vs. Valley Center (9-1)
2015, 5A—Maize South 26, Great Bend 16
2010, 5A—Wichita Carroll 49, Great Bend 13, Wichita Carroll finishes 2nd
2007, 5A—Great Bend 38, Topeka Seaman 14; Wichita Carroll 17, Great Bend 14; Carroll finishes 2nd
2006, 5A—Great Bend 54, Liberal 14; Great Bend 21, Topeka Seaman 14, Great Bend 21, Wichita Carrroll 14; Stilwell-Blue Valley 34, Great Bend 3 (state championship)
2005, 5A—Wichita Carroll 23, Great Bend 0
2004, 5A—Great Bend 42, Wichita Carroll 28; Great Bend 56, Liberal 13; Salina South 34, Great Bend 17 (semifinal); Salina South finishes 1st
2003, 5A—Salina South 26, Great Bend 25; Salina South finishes 2nd
2002, 5A—Great Bend 10, Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 3; Salina South 23, Great Bend 21
1983, 6A—Wichita Southeast 35. Great Bend 7
1978, 6A—Great Bend 33, Emporia 21; Wichita Southeast 33, Great Bend 15; Wichita Southeast finishes first
1977, 4A—Winfield 16, Great Bend 14; Winfield finishes 2nd
1973, 4A—Junction City 10, Great Bend 7; Junction City finishes 2nd