In what has become commonplace the past month, the Great Bend High School Panthers have had a penchant for grinding out time-consuming drives with a stout running game.
And don’t forget the pass play, either.
Great Bend (4-3) is making final preparations for Friday night’s Class 5A District 6 make-or-break football clash with Salina South (3-5) at Salina Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7.
And, the Panthers’ drive-minded offense has been a headache for opposing defenses, as well as a key reason why they are one victory from qualifying for the state playoffs.
The district points system is out the window. Hays (2-0) has already locked up a playoff berth, even if it loses to Salina Central (0-2) on Friday night. Great Bend and Salina South, both 1-1, are battling for the other berth.
“It’s in our hands and that’s what we want,” said junior inside receiver/defensive back Brock Ibarra, who had two interceptions in Great Bend’s 27-13 triumph over Salina Central at Memorial Stadium last Friday night in Week 2 of district play. “We have to fight that much harder … rather do it ourselves than rely on someone else to get into the playoffs.”
The running game has served as a rallying cry for the Panthers, who have won three of their last four games to position themselves for the postseason. Since Sept. 30 — against the likes of Dodge City, Liberal, Hays and Salina Central — they have accumulated 1,031 net rushing yards.
Leading the Panthers is Joshua Lopez, who has totaled a team-best 632 net yards on the ground and scored eight rushing touchdowns.
“The coaches keep telling me to move my feet, keep my knees going and keep driving and get us much as I can,” Lopez said.
Only a junior, Lopez has even gained the ultimate compliment from Great Bend’s most seasoned player, senior two-way lineman Tyler Uselton.
“That’s a heckuva running back,” said Uselton of Lopez. “We opened up holes, but we didn’t have a game that we usually do (against Salina Central) and Josh did a lot by himself.
“We controlled it, but we could have controlled it better. They were sliding around on the defensive line and that maybe had something to do with it, but we adjusted well.”
Besides eating up the game clock and keeping the opposing offense off the field, the Panthers in turn keep their opportunistic defense fresh.
“It’s execution with our line and running game,” GBHS senior quarterback Mitch Kottas said of the offense. “Our line has come up big and opened holes for our running game.
“It runs off a lot of clock.”
When they’re not using Lopez, the dependable Jeremy Sigler and speed back Jonathan Allende will also be in the equation.
“It’s a three-headed monster back there,” said Kottas, excluding himself. “With everyone knowing about it, it opens up our passing game because they’re biting on the run, and it opens up the play-action pass.”
Against Central, the Kottas-to-Sell combination on the play-action worked twice for touchdowns, one for 32 yards and the other for 25.
“We knew that their safeties were going to be flowing downhill hard,” Sell said. “The coaches put in a great game plan.
“We put the play-action on and once the safety came down hard, I just flowed to the top and Mitchell made some perfect passes and there was perfect protection … both times.”