BOX SCORE (PDF)
A 14-7 halftime lead quickly turned south for visiting Leavenworth in the third quarter of Friday night’s season opener at Memorial Stadium. The Pioneers fell victim to a 12-point rally by the Panthers as Great Bend went on to post a 19-17 come from behind win to start the 2015 slate at 1-0.
The Panthers scored first in the opening period on a five yard dash by Cal Marshall. Freshman kicker Carlos Franco converted the extra point kick and gave Great Bend a 7-0 lead.
Leavenworth adjusted and held the Panther offense to a string of four and out series while putting up 14 unanswered points to take a 14-7 lead to intermission.
The Great Bend defense, who worked the field for most of the first half, caught their second wind in the third quarter holding the Pioneers to a field goal.
That allowed Murray and the offense to assemble the genesis of their comeback as the Panthers drove down to the Pioneer eight yard line. That’s when Murray worked his magic scampering eight yards in for the score. Franco missed the extra point attempt but the Panthers were creeping towards their eventual go ahead down 14-13.
Later in the period, Murray connected to Andrew Morss on a 16-yard scoring strike. A two point conversion attempt failed but the Panthers held the lead for the first time since the opening quarter up 19-17.
Both offenses were kept in check in the final period as Great Bend went on to avenge themselves from last year’s outing with the Pioneers with the 19-17 victory.
“I’m just super proud of our kids and the coaching staff,” said coach Tony Crough. “It really looked like we were on the ropes in the second quarter but we really challenged our players to come out and compete in the second half. It wasn’t pretty and we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty but we’ll take an ‘ugly’ win over a ‘pretty’ loss any day.”
Crough noted that for some of his players Friday’s game was their first competition on the varsity level.
“We were just a little tight and nervous in the first half,” he said. “You could see some big eyes and just that ‘deer in the headlights’ look before kickoff. But they settled down at halftime and they came out playing to win the rest of the way.”
Crough said the defense responded well in how quickly they were forced to make changes.
“It boils down to adjustments and we discussed that at halftime,” Crough said. “We told the guys they needed to be more solid on the perimeter and turn things back inside.”
The Panthers sported five players on defense who recorded double figures in tackles. Payton Mauler nailed down 17 tackles for the Great Bend defense while Sam Witte and Jose Batres supplied 13 and 10 stops respectively. Dodger Beckham and Jared Maneth added 11 tackles including a sack each in the win.
Offensively, the Panthers fought against a Leavenworth defense that has a tradition of quickly shutting down their opponents’ running attack.
“They were putting seven guys in the box which dictates to us that we need to throw the ball,” said Crough.
“But really the short passing game is an extension of our running game. Even though on the stat sheet a two or three yard pass is still recorded as a pass, to us it’s just a long hand off. We told the guys at half about eliminating foolish penalties and just being more consistent with our blocks and moving the ball.”
Murray led the ground game with 22 carries for 108 yards and his third quarter scoring run. Marshall’s first quarter touchdown was part of 15 rushes and 92 yards for the night.
Crough said the win against the Pioneers will help the team formulate this week’s practice in preparation for next Friday’s rivalry game at Hays.
“You just have to assume that winning is always going to help more than losing,” said Crough. “Again, it’s hard to know what makes our guys confident and what doesn’t. As long as we win games we’ll be able to build our momentum against our next opponent.”