Coming to grips with the fact their season is coming to an end tonight, it makes for a bitter pill to swallow.
When the Great Bend High School Panthers take on powerhouse Salina South at Memorial Stadium in a Class 5A District 7 football game at 7, the pride factor comes into play.
“That’s what we’ve based the whole week around,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “We’re just playing for pride, and we’re disappointed we’re not playing beyond (tonight).
“We have one football game left. We have a chance to go out and do the very best that we can and play for pride.”
Tonight’s game will be televised statewide on Cox channel 22/122, along with the high-definition Cox channel 2022. It will be rebroadcast on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., along with Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m., on the same stations.
There’s also very little consolation for the Panthers in that they got off to a 5-1 start, including a three-game winning streak.
Competing in arguably the toughest all-class district in the state, the Panthers (5-3) were knocked out of state playoff contention after suffering back-to-back losses to Hays (31-13) and Salina Central (20-13) the past two weeks.
“We still feel like if we were playing in another 5A district, we would still be playing on,” Black said. “But it was tough and we had an opportunity and didn’t get it done.
“It doesn’t change the fact that it’s still disappointing. We’ve played some very good teams. We’ll be playing the best team we’ve played all year (tonight). We’re disappointed, but that’s the way life is in that regard. We have no choice but to come back and do our best and finish the best we can.”
South, 7-1 overall and 2-0 in district play, has already locked down a playoff berth. Tonight’s Hays/Salina Central winner will determine the second playoff team from the four-team district.
South, which has reeled off six straight wins, captured a share of the Ark Valley Chisolm Trail League championship and is ranked as high as No. 2 in polls across the state.
The Cougars drubbed Hays 35-6 last Friday night at Lewis Field Stadium on the Fort Hays State University campus. They had 250 rushing yards against Hays, but the status of their top two running backs is in question.
Standout running back Cody Busby (turf toe) sat out the Hays game and his backup, Mike Jones, totaled 137 rushing yards against the Indians before Jones himself left the game with an undisclosed injury.
The Panthers’ defense, which has yielded a Western Athletic Conference-low 149 points on the season, just over 18 points per game, will get a stern test from the Cougars’ run game.
Both Jones and Busby are questionable for tonight’s game, meaning Great Bend isn’t quite sure who to prepare for in South’s backfield.
On the flip side, Great Bend wants to give its seniors a good send-off before a TV audience.
Panthers senior linebacker Hunter Harrison leads the WAC with 120 tackles, 28 fewer than the school single-season record set by Matt Patzner in 2006.
“He’s one of the better linebackers we’ve have had an opportunity to coach,” Black said. “Going into the season, we expected big things out of him.
“He’s just a really complete player. He’s very intelligent. He understands the game, and he strong, fast and powerful. He’s just been an outstanding football player.”
Senior defensive back Brock Ibarra, who had an interception last week against Central, leads the conference with four picks and now has seven interceptions over the past two seasons.
“He’s had a good year, too,” Black said of Ibarra, “and Chris Burley has also played well in the secondary. We’re disappointed in the way that this is finishing, but we’re sure not disappointed in any of our kids.
“We feel like we’ve played extremely hard, and Brock and Chris Burley and the rest of the seniors, we’re really proud of them. It sure wasn’t from a lack of effort.”