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HAYS— After a four-year drought the Great Bend High School Panthers finally got the best of the Hays Indians. Down 21-18 at intermission the visiting Panthers assembled a 22-point rally in the second half and sailed to a 40-29 upending of the Indians snapping a four-game losing skid against Great Bend’s biggest rival.
The Panther’s bested their Hays counterparts in a 17-6 decision in 2010. Great Bend hasn’t had a 2-0 start since 2012 when the Panthers posted 14-6 and 28-20 victories over Hoisington and Ulysses. The last time Great Bend defeated the Indians on the road was 2007’s 21-0 blowout of Hays at FHSU’s Lewis Field Stadium.
“We can’t emphasize enough how big this win is,” said coach Tony Crough. “It’s been eight years since we’ve been here and left with a ‘W’. Our seniors wanted this win. They’ve been talking about it and we’ve been stressing it. As good as the win over Leavenworth was, this, right here, is really the first accomplished goal of the season.”
Junior quarterback Jacob Murray solidified the Panther ground assault bagging eight carries for 56 yards including a pair of trips to the Indian end zone. Murray had little trouble going to the air completing 16 of 21 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow junior Bryce Lytle picked up seven receptions for 120 yards and two scores.
Sam Witte posted a team best 16 tackles including a sack. Dominique Rideaux saddled 11 tackles and recovered a pair of fumbles, one good for six points.
“We struggled in the first half with our defense,” said Crough. “But just like Leavenworth last week, we made some critical adjustments at halftime. We put a couple extra guys in the box to try to confuse them and it worked for the first couple of series. Second half it was just feast or famine defensively and for us it was more feast.”
The Indians started the festivities as Hunter Brown hauled in a 61-yard sprint over midway through the opening period. Logan Clark’s point after kick put Hays up, 7-0 with 5:18 left in the first quarter.
Murray found Lytle on the ensuing possession on a six yard toss. The two-point conversion pass from Murray to Lytle fell short with Hays sporting a 7-6 advantage with just under two minutes left in the first.
The Panthers took the go ahead with 33 seconds remaining in the quarter as Murray scored on a six-yard run. Another two-point PAT failed but Great Bend enjoyed a 12-7 lead.
Hays would have the last laugh to close out the period as Keith Dryden scored on a 77 yard halfback pass. Clark’s extra point kick cleared the uprights returning the lead to the home team Indians, 14-12.
Great Bend turned to Rideaux as the junior linebacker recovered a fumble and returned it 21 yards at the 7:58 mark, second quarter. The Panthers were unable to convert a two-point pass from Murray to Lytle but Great Bend found themselves back up by a slim 18-14 margin.
On the next series, Brown went on an 80-yard scoring sprint at 7:46. Clark tacked on the extra point kick giving the Indians a 21-18 favor heading to the break.
Hays served as the receiving team to begin the second half but quickly found their defense back on the field just 42 seconds into the third as Thomas Bobbitt recovered a fumble and carried it down to the Indian four yardline.
Three plays later Murray found Brayden Smith from seven yards out. Murray then added a two-point run placing Great Bend back on top, 26-21 at 10:37.
On the Panthers’ next offensive series Murray hit Andrew Morss on a 57-yard pass that ended at the Hays one yardline. Murray finished off the scoring drive on a quarterback keep but was unable to connect to Lytle on the PAT. With 3:04 left in the third, the Panthers sported a 32-21 lead.
The Indians mustered one more attack to start the final quarter as Kohlton Meyers found Dryden on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Meyers then ran in the two-point conversion pulling the Indian deficit to three, trailing Great Bend 32-29.
Murray sealed the package at 5:37 on a 49-yard touchdown run on a fourth and two situation. Murray then carried in the two-point PAT extending Great Bend’s lead, 40-29.
The Panther defense kept things in check for the remainder of regulation as Hays would go on to drop their second contest of the season.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the first half,” Crough said referring to a pair of Panther turnovers and some missed opportunities. “We would get a good drive going and then get a penalty, a fumble or have a negative play or a critical incompletion or a sack. So those are the things that you have to avoid when you’re running an up tempo offense. You just have to keep moving the ball and getting positive yards.”
Crough added that increased offensive reps were an area of concentration during the week.
“One of our goals for this game was to snap the ball forty times in the first half,” said Crough “And we accomplished that with 46. The idea was that if we could use our depth a little bit more we would have a chance to wear down their defense.”
Bobbitt had a busy night going both ways for Great Bend. Bobbitt polled four tackles for a loss of two yards and added a fumble recovery for good measure. He recorded three kick returns for 46 yards including a long of 18.
“Thomas has been so unselfish,” Crough said. “He went from the leading rusher last year to a guy who was asked to change his position to a major role on our defense. He’s one of several examples of the unselfish nature of our senior class and the younger players are really buying into that.”