The speed of the football game for Great Bend High School needs to accelerate into turbo mode tonight, when the Panthers (1-1) entertain Class 6A top-ranked Wichita Heights (3-0) at Memorial Stadium.
Almost to the point of a blur.
“The speed of the game definitely has to rise,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “I think a big part of it is to take care of your responsibilities and when we have a guy that is in a position to make a play, we have to make the play. Our speed has to rise, and our physicality of tackling has to be there as well.
“The biggest thing offensively, when you talk about speed, it’s hard for us to simulate the speed of Heights’ defensive line. Our offensive linemen are going to have to be in a position to be able pass-protect, run-block and coming off the ball … that will be the big key.”
Kickoff is set for 7.
Great Bend unleashed a grind-out-it, smash-mouth brand of football in a 21-13 Western Athletic Conference victory at Garden City last Friday night. The Panthers will need to be able to mount time-consuming drives, as well as playing at a higher rate of speed to compete with Heights, which is coming off a 69-0 massacre of Wichita West.
“You know, more than anything (the Falcons are) just a really, really good football team and we can sit here and talk about how good of a football team they are,” Black said. “It’s just a great challenge for our kids. It allows us to get better, play our tails off and find ways to get it done.”
The defense will need the same smash-mouth mentality that it had last Friday at Garden City. By continually jamming Garden’s Raul Silva, one of the top wideouts in the WAC, at the line of scrimmage, the Panthers limited Silva to just one catch for eight yards during the win.
Now they have to figure out a way to limit a nest of Falcons playmakers by flying to the ball and playing at a faster and higher level against a superior opponent than it faced seven days earlier.
Black likens Heights’ quarterback Matt Reed, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, to “a right-handed high school version of a little Michael Vick,” the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He is just a great running threat and runs their offense really smoothly,” Black said of Reed, who has totaled 152 rushing yards. “Their tailback (Dreamius Smith, 6-0, 180, senior) has committed to Kansas.”
Smith has accumulated 409 yards in 31 carries for a 136.3 yards-per-game average in the Falcons’ run-first, pass-second offensive scheme. They have only thrown nine passes thus far, completing six for 176 yards.
“Our offense has been adequate to this point,” Wichita Heights head coach Rick Wheeler said. “We had a great test in Week 1 with Bishop Carroll (winning 21-0), but we haven’t played a team the caliber of Great Bend since then.”
Heights beat Wichita Nort 35-0 in Week 2. The Falcons have yet to allow a point, although the verdict is still out on the offense.
“Whether we have really improved since Week 1 is really hard for us to tell, especially offensively,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler is wary of Hildebrand, especially the way the Panthers quarterback excelled running an array of quarterback keepers and passes during the fourth quarter in rallying Great Bend to a 28-26 road win last season. It included a game-winning 3-yard touchdown pass to graduated playmaker Allen Holt with five seconds remaining.
“Hildebrand just killed us last year,” Wheeler said. “He ran on us and he threw on us. He had an outstanding game and had an outstanding performance.
“We have a lot of respect for that young man, and the type of player and leader that he is. He dismantled us pretty good.”
A one point last season, Heights was 2-4 and quickly going nowhere. But the Falcons experienced a midseason revival, which they rode all the way to the state championship game, falling to Olathe North.
“We have a lot of the same players,” Wheeler said, “but last year’s team is a different team than this year’s team. We went into district play at 2-4 and as the year went along, we got better from week to week.
“We kind of a got on a roll. This year’s team, it’s a different team, but they experienced the ups and downs that you can face in a season. They started off 2-4 and ended up in the state championship game.”