Perhaps Great Bend High School’s performance Friday night in the Class 5A District 6 football opener confirmed that the Panthers are indeed primed for the stretch run of the season.
At least that was the case Friday night, when their defense shut out Hays for 3 ½ quarters during a 17-6 win at Memorial Stadium.
Besides giving up a late score, after the outcome wasn’t in doubt, the Panthers prevented Hays from making game-changing plays, a byproduct of a consummate team effort where gang-tackling was the concentration.
Linebackers Dakota Ellis and Jeremy Sigler led the Panthers with 13 tackles apiece. Ellis had a team-high nine solo stops and also had a tackle for loss.
Connor Sell and Ian Sheppard had 11 and nine tackles, respectively, from their defensive backs position. Both players had interceptions, and Sell eight solo tackles, and Sigler and Sheppard each had seven unassisted tackles.
“Our D is the strength of our team, I think,” said Great Bend linebacker/running back Dakota Ellis, who also scored the Panthers’ final touchdown on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Greg Hildebrand. “We stepped it up tonight. This was a big test for us, and I was just glad that we got the victory.
“(Hays) is a really good team, but us playing three of the top teams around — Heights, Aquinas and Dodge — really helped us know how good we are.”
Wichita Heights, St. Thomas Aquinas and Dodge City are all undefeated teams, part of an elite all-class list of Super 10 teams. The trio of undefeated teams account for all three of 3-3 Great Bend’s losses.
“If we had not played them, I don’t think we would have been ready for this game,” Ellis said. “Playing teams that are so good have really made us a lot better. You play the best and you get better, win or lose. I think that’s what has happened with our defense.”
Despite getting outgained on the ground by a sizeable margin, 254-103, Great Bend stood firm, especially during third- and fourth-down plays that went awry for Hays.
“The coaches stayed up all week, working on a game plan,” Hildebrand said. “Obviously, it was great and we just executed. We fly around to the ball and made our reads.
“We just executed.”
Added Panthers lineman Tyler Uselton, “It was a bend but don’t break kind of deal,” he said. “We gave up yards, but when it came down to it, we made big stops when we had to.”
According to defensive back/wide receiver Logan Buehler, it was about accountability.
“Responsibility is what you focus on,” Buehler said. “We had a great week of practice, and everybody took on their responsibilities. We switched some things a little bit and tried to confuse them. We played our hearts out, and what else can you do?
“Every day after, it was like, we can’t wait until next year. Three-hundred sixty-five days later, we took it to them.”