By JIM MISUNAS
GARDEN CITY – It was payback time for Great Bend’s football team.
The Panthers played giant killer by upsetting Western Athletic Conference champion Garden City 20-7 to spoil the Buffaloes’ Senior Night Friday.
Even Thunder, a buffalo from West Texas A&M, failed to inspire the Buffaloes with pregame and halftime jaunts. The victory avenged a 21-14 overtime loss to the Buffaloes last year.
Great Bend (5-3, 2-2 WAC) qualifies as the fifth western seed and plays Goddard Eisenhower (3-5) in a home 5A playoff game Oct. 27. Garden City (6-2, 3-1 WAC) plays Washburn Rural in the 6A playoffs.
“The playoffs started tonight for us,” said Great Bend football coach Erin Beck. “Hats off to the kids. We rose to the challenge. It’s a gutsy performance against a good Garden City football team. We guaranteed ourselves a home playoff game.”
Dalton Miller scored two touchdowns and recovered a fumble as the Panthers earned five takeaways. Bryce Brown and Blake Penka intercepted passes and Kody Stapleton and Alan Miramontes recovered fumbles.
“I knew if we forced turnovers, we’d win,” Beck said. “I was so proud of our defense and the way they played. We stalled on offense and left the door open, but our defense kept slamming it shut. That’s what you need to be a championship team. Our kids never backed down and continued to fight.”
Miramontes delivered the game-clinching play when he recovered a fumble in the Panther endzone by Ryan Jarmer. Gage Fritz forced the third-quarter fumble when Jarmer was stripped at the goal-line on first-and-goal.
The Panther defense harassed Buffalo quarterback Garrett Doll. Pablo Martinez delivered two sacks and a forced fumble. Miramontes and Brock Blessing had quarterback sacks. Doll, averaging 180 yards passing, was held to 68 yards with three turnovers with the wind blowing at 25 mph.
Panther quarterback Koy Brack rushed for 124 yards and Miller added 115 yards as the Panthers gained 266 yards rushing. The Buffaloes were limited to 170 yards with five turnovers.
Backup center Tate Murray teamed with guards Trevor Fehr and Payton Doll and and tackles Aaron Clark and Aaron Wettengel to outplay a physical Garden City defensive line.
“I was very proud of our offensive line and to be able to control it,” Beck said. “We showed the ability to run counter plays. Our backs complimented each other so well.”
The Panthers shocked Garden City with a 20-0 halftime lead and earned three takeaways. The Panthers rushed for 169 yards and ran 39 plays to 22 offensive snaps by Garden City.
Great Bend’s Brack scored on a 45-yard scoring run to cap an opening 80-yard drive into a 25 mph southerly wind for a 6-0 lead. Miller made his first game-changing play when he stripped the football from receiver Tye Davis.
Miller caught a dazzling 16-yard touchdown reception on a pinpoint pass from Brack on fourth-down. The 59-yard drive was keyed by a 15-yard late hit penalty on Garden City. Miller converted a crucial first down from the 19-yard line.
Great Bend’s Bryce Brown intercepted a pass to turn back the Buffaloes at the Panther 28-yard line.
The Panthers converted a fumble recovery by Stapleton into a 11-yard scoring drive. Martinez forced the fumble on quarterback Doll. Miller dashed 11 yards for a first-and-goal and scored on a 1-yard run with 18 seconds left in the half.
Garden City’s Christian Orozco blocked a punt by Koy Brack for an 8-yard scoring drive capped by Jarmer for a 20-7 final.
5A WESTERN PLAYOFFS
No. 1 Goddard (8-0) vs. Salina Central (0-8)
No. 8 Valley Center (5-3) vs. Andover (4-4)
No. 4 Liberal (6-2) vs. Salina South (2-6)
No. 5 Great Bend (5-3) vs. Goddard Eisenhower (3-5)
No. 2 Wichita Carroll (7-1) vs. Arkansas City (1-7)
No. 7 Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (5-3) vs. Emporia (4-4)
No. 3 Maize High (7-1) vs. Topeka West (1-7)
No. 6 No. 7 Wichita Heights (5-3) vs. Newton (3-5)
PANTHERS 20, BUFFALOES 7
GB 6 14 0 0 – 20
GC 0 0 7 0 – 7
GB—Koy Brack 45 run (kick blocked), 7:23; GB—Dalton Miller 16 pass from Brack (Dani Franco kick), 9:58; GB—Miller 1 run (Franco kick), 0:18; GC—Ryan Jarmer 1 run (Anthony Flores kick), 0:27
RUSHING—GB—49-254; Brack 24-145; Miller 22-103; Fritz 7-18; GC—33-106; Quinton LaPointe 12-100; Jarmer 16-37; Avey Arana 2-2; Garrett Doll 4-(-34).
PASSING—GB—Brack 4-10-2, 34; GC—Doll 5-14-2, 68.
RECEIVING—GB—Miller 3-21; Dalton Bieker 1-13. GC—Tye Davis 3-42; Derrick Sexton 1-16; Andrew Kreutzer 1-10.