As heartbreaks go, this one tops the charts.
Great Bend’s football team squandered a 14-0 lead and dropped a decisive 23-21 last-minute Western Athletic victory to Liberal Friday.
Liberal kicker Cesar Burciaga booted a 23-yard field goal with nine seconds life to finish off a 16-point fourth period.
The Panthers gave away the football on an interception by Francisco Terrazas and a recovery by Sean Titus on quarterback Koy Brack’s fumble on fourth-down-and-1 at the Liberal 32-yard line with the Panthers ahead 21-20.
“We need to pick ourselves off the mat pretty quick,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “It’s no time to sulk – myself included. I love this group because we’ve got a lot of character. As the leader, I’m going to coach their tails off and get them ready.”
Liberal quarterback Cyris Dunlap converted every big play. Dunlap dashed 19 and 82 yards for second-half touchdowns. Burciaga missed an extra point after he scored a TD with 7:31 left for a 21-20 score.
Dunlap’s biggest play was a dazzling 36-yard pass to receiver Tyrique Chandler, who jumped to beat the Panthers’ secondary to the football on third down and 17 yards with a minute left. Pablo Martinez’s sack forced a third-and-17 from the Panther 46-yard line.
“We made great plays, and several times we had that game in our grasp,” said coach Beck. “We were the better team for 31/2 quarters. Our defense played well enough to win the football game. But when we needed plays, we didn’t get it done.”
The Panthers (4-3, 1-2 WAC) lost a chance to clinch a home 5A playoff game and missed a shot at the WAC title next week at Garden City.
Surprisingly, the Panthers (4-3, plus 24) will still secure a home playoff game despite a loss to Garden City if 3-4 Andover (vs. Valley Center, 5-2); 3-4 Newton (vs. Goddard, 7-0); and 3-4 Emporia (vs. Shawnee Heights, 6-1) all lose next Friday.
“A win next week is important to our seeding,” Beck said.
Liberal outgained the Panthers 275-111 in the second half behind Dunlap’s big-play production. The Panthers’ final two drives ended in turnovers that Liberal converted into nine points.
“Give them credit. They outcoached us in the second half,” Beck said. “We got away from stuff that worked the first half.”
Tailback Dalton Miller delivered a 14-0 halftime lead on a pair of touchdown runs. Beck said his biggest mistake was not giving the hard-charging Miller more second-half carries.
The Panthers gained 211 first-half yards, keyed by a jumbo package that featured linebacker Blake Penka and defensive tackle Pablo Martinez as lead blockers. Liberal managed 86 first-half yards.
Miller dashed nine yards on his first touchdown. Liberal’s Tyrique Chandler flipped Miller in the air, but he landed over the goal-line for a 14-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the first half.
The Panthers covered 65 and 67 yards on their time-consuming scoring drives. Great Bend ran 24 plays on a penalty-riddled drive that reached the Liberal 13-yard line. Kicker Dani Franco missed a 30-yard field goal.
REDSKINS 23, PANTHERS 21
LHS 0 0 7 16 — 23
GB 14 0 7 0 — 21
GB—Dalton Miller 9 run (Dani Franco kick), 6:24
GB—Miller 10 run (kick), 0:18
L—Cyris Dunlap 82 run (Cesar Burciaga kick), 3:59
GB—Miller 8 run (Franco kick), 0:16
L—Dunlap 19 run (Burciaga kick), 10:09
L—Burciaga 1 run (kick failed), 7:31
L—Burciaga 23 FG, 0:09
RUSHING—Liberal—47-247; Dunlap 18-145; Burciaga 21-80; Isiah Witherspoon 4-12; Hatcher Lee 3-4; Tyrique Chandler 1-6; GB—37-191; Koy Brack 23-104; Miller 11-74; Gage Fritz 3-13.
PASSING—Liberal—Dunlap 4-5-0, 114; GB—Brack 14-23-0, 135.
RECEIVING—Liberal—Braxton Hyde 2-61; Tyrique Chandler 2-53; GB—Bryce Brown 2-28; Dalton Bieker 2-22; Miller 4-20; Ty Esfeld 3-32; Fritz 1-19; Calan Haberman 1-7; Blake Penka 1-5.