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Rivalry week: Great Bend vs. Hays
Great Bend @ Hays preview - photo by Travis Hendryx

The Panthers and Indians will meet at FHSU’s Lewis Field Stadium Friday, one with a win the other without one.

For Great Bend last week’s 19-17 come from behind victory over an always tough Leavenworth team was the beginning of what coach Tony Crough hopes is a long course of momentum heading this week’s WAC opener.

Sporting a new coach and new system, the Indians suffered low offensive output in their 23-9 opening season loss last Friday at home to Olathe Northwest. Randall Rath takes over for former Hays and Panther head coach Bo Black who now is at the helm of Shawnee Mission Northwest. Black spent 14 seasons as the head man at Great Bend and one campaign at Hays.

Both schools will be playing with chipped shoulders this evening as the defending WAC champion Indians pounced on the Panthers in a 49-6 beating in 2014. Hays has won four out of the last five meetings with the Panthers. Great Bend beat the Indians, 17-6, on October 15, 2010. Hays nipped the Panthers the following season, 43-42 before posting 31-13, 47-14 and 49-6 wins over Great Bend over the next three years.

While Labor Day was celebrated last Monday the Panthers were back on the practice field to begin what coach Crough deemed as an overly fast and squeezed work week.

“This has been such a short week,” said Crough. “We practiced on Labor Day but it still always seems short because we didn’t have school so it kind of throws the players out of their normal routine. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good or productive week. Things just seemed a little out of kilter but that will change next week.”

Rath is known for his hit-the-ground-running approach on offense and Crough says that will be a focal point for the defense.

“Stop the run,” he said. “That’s one of our goals every game but that has been an emphasis this week. They probably won’t throw the ball unless they have to. They’ll try to milk the clock and make it a shorter game. Our goal is to get them into third down situations where they’ll be forced to pass in our effort to get them off the field.”

Crough said he couldn’t overemphasize what a Great Bend win over their arch rival would do for his team.

“It would be huge,” he said. “We’ve talked about taking the next step in our program. If you ask our seniors about team goals every year, one of them is to beat Hays. That’s usually one of the first things they’ll say. They’re not being quiet about it. They want to beat those guys.”  

Offensively the Panthers look to reduce the turnover tally.

“We were pleased with what we did on the offense last week,” said Crough. “If it weren’t for those couple of fumbles I believe we could have put up close to 400 yards of offense. Our offensive line has really been a patchwork group. We’ve been missing our right tackle since the season started so we’ve been trying to get some guys over there to help out and they did a good job of stepping in.”

Crough added that the Panthers have zeroed in on building the running attack this week with an improving offensive line and the tandem of Jacob Murray and Cal Marshall anchoring the back field. He noted that the new quarterback-driven offense this season can only help Murray.

“When you look at the stat sheet and watch the film from last week we made some mistakes but we had 250 yards rushing against one of the better defenses in the state so that’s a testament to our line. Cal  ran really hard. We couldn’t have been more pleased with how he performed and just how he took care of the football. Jacob also played well. The quarterback in this kind of offense is going to have good stats. He had some mistakes last week with the ball but he’s corrected those during practice so I’m confident his ball control will get better.”

Friday's showdown with the Indians marks the first of three straight road games for Great Bend but Crough said it has never been an issue of concern. The Panthers will make their longest trek of the season next week to Garden City before closing out the month at Wichita North.

“We really haven’t discussed it,” the coach said. “I think more than anything when you’re playing Hays that’s all you think about. Our guys don’t care if it’s at home or on the road or at a neutral site. They know about the following two road games but they’re focused on beating Hays.”