Tonight’s matchup between the Great Bend High School football team and Hays has many things riding on it.
There are a lot of storylines attached to the game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. in Hays.
There is the Western Athletic Conference storyline.
In the WAC, there are three teams that are 2-1 — Great Bend, Hays and Garden City.
There is the Class 5A District 7 storyline.
In District 7, Hays is 5-1, Great Bend and Salina South are each 4-2 and Salina Central is 2-4.
There is also the rivalry storyline, which Great Bend head coach Bo Black assures is alive and well.
“There always is (a lot of storylines),” Black said. “Usually it’s the end in the conference championship. It’s not always the end, but it usually is important in deciding the WAC champ.
“It’s always important to start off on the right foot in the district, and then there is the rivalry. I think the longer you’re here, the more you understand the rivalry.”
Great Bend is in the driver’s seat in the conference.
With a win, the Panthers would improve to 3-1 in the WAC.
Garden City plays Dodge City in Week 9, and if the Buffaloes win, they will also be 3-1.
“I am 99 percent sure, if we win, we’d win the WAC title outright,” Black said. “We have the tiebreaker over Garden City.
“If we lose, it comes down to the Garden City-Dodge City game. If Garden City wins, they win the WAC, and if they lose, I think Hays wins.”
In the district, Salina South is the team to beat.
“The Salina teams play in the best conference in the state, so they see great competition week in and week out,” Black said. “I know alot of people say Salina South is the team to watch out for, but I don’t think you can overlook either team.
“We play Salina South last, and we’d obviously like to go into that not needing a win. That starts against Hays.”
Black, who is 9-3 against Hays, said there isn’t much needed to get his team ready to play their conference rivals. The rivalry fuels the drive to compete.
“I see it more so through my kids,” Black said. “It could be sixth-grade tee ball, and my son will tell me, ‘It’s a big game. We’re playing Hays.’
“It’s always a big game. I have a good relationship with their coaching staff, and I know their boys get just as fired up to play us as we do to play them. It’s really something special.”
Another storyline is the possible return of Great Bend senior tailback Johnny Allende, who missed last week’s 43-36 win over Liberal with a contusion.
“It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Black said of Allende. “He has been cleared to play, but he’s been limited in practice. He’s done a few walkthroughs. He had two plays with us (on Wednesday), but had to stop because of the pain.
“He’s a tough kid. Obviously, we want him back. I’m sure he wants to play, but we’ll have to see. Same thing with Trent Uselton.”
Uselton, who rushed for 117 yards against Liberal, suffered a slightly separated shoulder.
Ultimately, this game will come down to which team stops the run game.
The Panthers have rushed for a WAC-leading 1,506 yards this season. The Indians are right behind them with 1,350.
With the top rusher for Great Bend questionable, the Panthers may end up relying on quarterback Bryce Beck, who has rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns, and Greg Burley, who busted out for 126 yards and a trio of TDs against Liberal.
Hays’ leading rusher is Preston Weigel, who has 784 yards and 11 scores.
“Both teams are likely going into the game with the same game plan,” Black said. “Move the ball on the ground and be physical. They have a really physical back. He is really good. He’s big, physical, fast. I don’t think we’ve faced a bruiser quite like this kid yet this season.
“It’s going to be another test for our defense.”
Western Athletic Conference Football Schedule
Great Bend at Hays, 7
Dodge City at Hutchinson, 7
Garden City at Maize, 7
Goddard at Liberal, 7