It should be a hard-hitting Western Athletic Conference high school football collision tonight in Dodge City, meaning big plays and a whole bunch of points scored — if last week’s Dodge City game was any indication.
Great Bend and Dodge City both own 3-1 records entering a 7 o’clock kickoff at Memorial Stadium — home of the Red Demons on Homecoming Night. Dodge is 1-0 in WAC games, and Great Bend is 0-1.
Last week, at Liberal, an eye-popping 62-48 shootout win for Dodge City, there was an accumulation of 978 yards in total offense between the two teams. More surprising, Liberal outgained the Demons in total yardage — 540 to 438.
“I think Dodge City is a lot like us,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said of his 5A Panthers, who lost to Garden City in their only other WAC game, at home two weeks ago. “Dodge City is still trying to find themselves. They’ve played a lot of kids in a lot of formations.
“I think there are a lot of teams like Great Bend and Dodge City right now that are trying to find some fits, and find out how many kids can play. It’s a time to put together a final stretch to get into the playoffs and make a playoff run, so I think they’re real similar to us.”
While the Demons had to rally to beat Liberal, where it committed four turnovers — including throwing three interceptions — and also missed a field goal, Great Bend had a far different type of game.
The Panthers pounded Wichita North into submission, 41-0, on their Homecoming at Great Bend’s Memorial Stadium. Their third win in four outings moved them within one of their victory totals of the last two seasons — 4-4 in 2011 and 4-5 in 2010, when they last made it to the playoffs.
Great Bend, which is playing a nine-game schedule for the first time in three seasons, built a 34-0 halftime lead against North, recovering a Redskins fumble on the opening play of the game and scoring from there — 24 yards out — on the first play from scrimmage — and built on the momentum from there.
All the while, the Panthers’ defense pitched a shutout, their first of the season, although they will be getting a much stiffer challenge tonight in the Demons.
“Dodge City has a very high-octane offense and a solid defense, but I think they’re still trying to find themselves on defense and still trying to find their 11 best,” Black said. “They’re very balanced on offense and their quarterback, Kelan Newton, is probably the best we’ve seen, to this point, in throwing the football.”
Newton has completed a WAC-best 60.6 percent of his passes — 71-for-117, which is the second-most completions in the conference to Liberal’s Britton Abbott’s 81.
“He’s a left-handed kid that has a great arm and is very accurate,” Black said of Newton. “(Dodge is) going to be in the spread and throw the ball around. They have right at a 50-50 run-to-pass ratio.
“They can get the ball to a lot of capable people and they had a big, physical offensive line with capable backs. They’re going to take advantage of what defenses give them, and they’re probably the best offense that we’ve seen for sure.”
In their passing game, the Demons have three pass-catchers ranking in the top 10 in the conference in receiving, led by Taylor Murphy’s 297 yards, fourth in the conference. He also has 16 catches, fourth in the league, and has three receiving touchdowns.
Dakota Duckett, a senior, is right behind Murphy, ranking fifth with 294 yards, while making 19 receptions — second in the WAC. He has caught four balls for touchdowns.
The third player is Jordan Doan, who has 11 catches for 144 yards and a trio of TDs.
The Panthers counter with bruising running back Josh Lopez, who ranks No. 5 in the conference with 291 yards on the ground. He has scored five touchdowns and appears now to be hitting his stride.
Jonathan Allende adds the speed dimension to the offense and has totaled 176 yards, one less than quarterback/wide receiver Bryce Beck’s 177.
Beck, a junior, and Matt Marshall, a senior, are expected to share the quarterback duties for the Panthers in their various offensive packages.
After the Panthers meet Dodge tonight, they will travel to Liberal the next week — midseason games that set the tone for the district play.
“It has a direct bearing on how the conference is going to play out,” Black said, “and also, how it prepares us for our final three games, where it’s make-or-break for a playoffs spot.
“We’re 3-1 and we feel like we’ve made some big strides. We don’t feel like we’ve put our full offensive package out there in exactly what we want to do, and it’s a really big test for us because they’re one of the better 6A teams in the state this year, we think. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better and see what we’re all about.”