Great Bend High School has emerged in the driver’s seat in the Western Athletic Conference football race.
The Panthers, who entertain Liberal (1-4, 0-3) tonight at 7 at Memorial Stadium, moved into sole possession of first place after dismantling defending WAC champion Dodge City 28-7 last Friday night.
Great Bend (2-2, 2-0) doesn’t want to take a back seat to anyone, providing it seeks the ultimate WAC hardware.
“We’re really happy with the way we played,” said GBHS head coach Bo Black of the Panthers’ win over Dodge, which made it to the Class 6A state semifinals last season, having its unbeaten season end against eventual state champion Wichita Heights.
“Obviously, we shouldn’t be overconfident about anything. We’re 2-2 and just trying to get better. If we win a conference championship along the way, that would be fantastic.”
Dominating the likes of Dodge City has bolstered the Panthers’ mind-set, too.
“It’s just the confidence factor,” Black said. “Dodge City is a team where all you heard in preseason was that they were going to play for a state championship and it’s all about state championships there now.
“Obviously, they’re a quality opponent and we talked about running the football and running the football and we were able to do that (against Dodge City). We want to build on that. I’m a firm believer that if you can run the football, everything’s better.”
Great Bend rolled up 297 of its 331 total net yards on the ground. It was led by junior fullback Josh Lopez, who finished with 154 yards in 24 carries, including touchdown runs of 10 and 11 yards.
“We feel like we have a pretty good flow back there with Lopez at times, Jeremy Sigler at times and Matt Marshall at times,” Black said of his running backs. “We really think Jonathan Allende is going to bring some things to the table with speed and quickness.
“We’re just trying to develop some things that we’ve been running, and it’s still all based around running behind the right guard, Tyler Uselton (6-foot-4, 327-pound senior).”
Junior left guard Lucas Westhoff suffered a fractured hip against Dodge City and has been lost for the season.
The Panthers’ John Verbeck (6-3, 327, senior) also helped anchor the offensive line by moving to right tackle. Black said that Braden Jones (5-9, 167, junior) has been used at the left guard position and will continue to see action there.
The big picture for the Panthers, naturally, is winning a conference championship, along with building a full head of steam in district play and capturing a district crown and a berth in the 5A state playoffs.
By beating Liberal tonight, Great Bend can clinch at least a share of the conference crown with only one conference game remaining — Oct. 14 at Hays, the Panthers’ first of three district games.
The other district games include Salina Central at home on Oct. 21 and at Salina South on Oct. 28.