The high school football season always seems to come to this one moment.
A make-or-break moment where a team must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
For Great Bend, that moment is tonight, when the Panthers host Salina Central at Memorial Stadium at 7.
“I’ll tell you what, over the last month, we’ve practiced well,” GBHS head coach Bo Black said. “Sometimes it shows up on Fridays. Sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve prepared well again.
“They sense the reality of what’s going on. We’ve just been taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. We haven’t spoken the word ‘playoffs’ once since last week.”
For Great Bend, which is 4-3 overall, it’s about earning that fifth win of the season.
“We’re more focused on securing a win (tonight),” Black said. “We need to find a way to play better and secure a winning season. If we do that, then we might start talking about playoffs.”
The game is a Class 5A District 7 matchup of two teams that have gotten off to a rough start in district action.
Great Bend is coming off a 47-14 setback at Hays.
The Mustangs lost 55-27 against No. 4-ranked Salina South.
Tonight also marks Great Bend’s final home game of the regular season, making it Senior Night.
“Quite honestly, through seven games, I think that the ones where we got down early,” Black said, “where we struggled running the ball and tackling, we were missing a little emotion. I’d like to see them come out with a little emotion on Senior Night.”
Salina Central is 2-5, however, its other losses come against Hutchinson, Newton, No. 1-ranked in 6A Derby and Maize.
“Their record doesn’t look good on paper, but when you look at who they’ve played,” Black said. “They’ve played Newton, Maize, Derby. They have one of the hardest schedules in Kansas, if not the hardest schedule in Kansas.”
Both teams are at minus-21 in tiebreaker points in their district, which means they need to make up the difference in this game to make a move for the district’s second spot.
Salina Central averages 29.6 points per game, while allowing 38.7.
Mustangs quarterback J.W. Maldaner has completed 87 of 181 passes for 1,233 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a 48.1 completion percentage.
He has also thrown 11 interceptions.
Maldanar also leads the team in rushing yards with 830. He has seven TDs on the ground.
“They have a great quarterback,” Black said. “He can run and throw. He’s big. He’s physical. To be honest, it’s going to be a team like what we saw last week in Hays.”
Malik Veal adds 599 rushing yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns.
The Mustangs have a pair of receivers over 400 yards.
Casey Rayas has a team-leading 493 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Kamen Kossow has three scores and 463 yards through the air.
Great Bend tailback Johnny Allende has 685 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He also has 97 receiving yards and one score.
Panthers quarterback Bryce Beck sits at 493 passing yards and six touchdowns, completing 35 of 78 passes. He has thrown five interceptions.
Beck has 365 rushing yards and six TDs.
Justin McGinnes leads Great Bend with three receiving touchdowns. He has 86 yards.
Greg Burley has a team-leading 131 receiving yards and two scores.
Defensively, Great Bend has several players flying in to make tackles.
Burley leads the Panthers with 59 tackles.
Justin Henry has four sacks, and McGinnes leads the defense with two interceptions.