Talk about an instant classic.
How about a district classic?
That was the case last Friday night in Hays.
In a Class 5A District 6 football opener, as well as a Western Athletic Conference showdown, Great Bend High School and Hays had a gallant battle that featured numerous lead changes and nearly 800 yards of total offense.
What’s more? The game went into overtime tied at 35 before Panthers running back Jonathan Allende scored on a 10-yard scoot to the end zone on first down during their initial four-down series, giving GBHS a short-lived 42-35 lead after Mario Espino’s extra-point kick.
Hays answered on its four-down series with fullback Mark Mathis scoring on a 3-yard run to pull the Indians within 42-41, thus setting up a make-or-break conversion.
After Great Bend’s Connor Sell was flagged for offsides, the ball was moved half-the-distance to the goal line — from the 3-yard line to 1½ yards from paydirt. Hays’ do-everything David Cardinal tumbled into the end zone for the two-point conversion, lifting the Indians to a 43-42 win.
Cardinal, a 5-foot-9, 207-pound junior, haunted the Panthers defense with 287 of Hays’ 332 rushing yards and scored four long touchdowns — spanning 44, 75, 64 and 33 yards.
Hearkening back to the gut-wrenching loss, which catapulted Hays into a first-place tie with GBHS in the WAC standings, it wasn’t hard for Great Bend head coach Bo Black to detect a sliver of silver lining.
“We played really good,” Black said. “We struggled trying to tackle No. 25 (Cardinal) quite often, but for the most part, offensively, we played our best game all year.
“Defensively, we just didn’t make the tackles when we needed to, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re physical tacklers.”
To be certain, Great Bend’s 387 total offensive yards — including 201 passing and 186 rushing yards — was a shining aspect, a complete performance that the Panthers will need again tonight when they host Salina Central in the second district game for both. It will also be Great Bend’s regular-season home finale.
Senior quarterback Mitch Kottas completed 15 of 22 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns against Hays, including a 14-yard spiral to senior running back Jeremy Sigler in the right flat, where he sent the game into overtime with his touchdown reception and Espino’s extra-point kick with only 40 seconds left in regulation.
Great Bend was able to keep up with Cardinal and Co. because of steady blocking and another stellar performance from running back Josh Lopez. A junior, Lopez had 121 yards in 26 carries and scored two TDs on 2- and 12-yard runs.
This brings Salina Central to the forefront. Although the Mustangs don’t have a workhorse like Cardinal, they like to spread their wealth with team speed, along with the strong arm of quarterback Jackson Rolfs in their big-play passing game.
Rolfs has completed 60 of 109 passes for 1,068 yards, nine touchdowns and only five interceptions. Two of his top targets are Kyle McQuaige, who has 17 receptions for 396 yards and three touchdowns, and JW Madlaner, who has 10 catches for 298 yards and four scores.
Their running game is led by slashing Malik Veal, who has 760 yards in 137 carries and 12 rushing touchdowns thus far. He is one of four backs for Central that have gained 228 yards or more this season. McQuaige, a dual threat as both a runner and receiver, has 316 yards in 36 carries and seven TDs; Rolfs has 291 yards in 41 carries and has scored four times; and Matt Cookson has 228 yards in 34 carries and one TD.