Great Bend vs. Garden City.
This one has all the earmarks of a defensive battle tonight in high school football action.
Kick time is 7 at Memorial Stadium.
The reason? Both teams are notorious for having defensive playmakers all over the field.
“On paper, it sure is,” Great Bend head coach Bo Black said. “I don’t think that Coach (Brian) Hill would hesitate to say that his Garden City defense is the strength of his football team through the first two weeks, and we feel like the strength of our football team is our defense through the first two weeks.
“Both offenses have struggled at times, so it could be a lot like the last two years … a low-scoring defensive battle.”
It’s the Western Athletic Conference and home opener for Great Bend, which is 2-0 after beating Class 3A Hoisington 14-6 in the season opener two weeks ago, and then edging 4A Ulysses 28-20 last Friday night.
Tonight, the 5A Panthers get to pick on someone their own size — and then some.
Garden City, which advanced to the 6A playoffs last season after coming on strong late in 2011, finished in a three-way tie for the conference championship with Great Bend and Hays.
Garden, similar to the Great Bend, likes to lay its ears back and fly to the football. Running out of a 4-2 defensive alignment, the Buffaloes have a penchant for blitz packages, along with putting continual hits on an opposing quarterback.
“They’re going to play six men in the box,” Black said of the Buffs, “and they’re just going to get after you and attack you and play very physical.
“It’s a real common defensive style that they always play. They’ve always been like that, and it will be one of the toughest defenses that we will face all year.”
Buffs linebacker Brady Bean currently ranks No. 3 in the WAC with 26 tackles, trailing only Liberal’s Mike Troutner (29) and GBHS head-hunting linebacker Hunter Harrison (28).
Bean is merely one of many playmakers Garden possesses in its blitzing scheme. In fact, the Buffs showcase the top four sack leaders in the WAC, as well as having four ranking in the top five in tackles for loss.
Bean already has 10 tackles for loss, including a whopping seven last Friday night during a 17-7 road victory over Woodward, Okla. In the season opener two weeks ago, Bixby, Okla., routed Garden 42-7.
“They’re going to stop the run first,” Black said of the Buffs, “and they’re very solid at stopping the run. Their linebackers are going to come and come fast. There’s been a lot of teaching this week in practice, making sure we can account for all of that stuff.
“The biggest concern would be picking up linebackers that are blitzing. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing. Those linebackers are coming and we’re going to have to account for them — whether we’re running or throwing the ball — and being able to account for the pressure that they’re going to bring inside and off the edges.”
Harrison is coming off a 17-tackle performance during Great Bend’s win over Ulysses last week. Defensive end Chad Touslee added 12 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and defensive back Chris Burley had 10 stops.
Linebacker Matt Marshall had nine tackles, and cornerback Brock Ibarra, who made three interceptions last season, had six tackles, along with two picks.
The Panthers’ defense will be tested by a Garden City offense that likes to throw and throw some more. Quarterback Greyson Tempel has completed 34 of 69 passes for 293 yards. He has been picked off three times.
“In the first game, their quarterback threw it 44 times,” Black said of Tempel’s 22-for-44 accuracy in a season-opening loss. “They want to be a spread team, but they’ll still get some conventional run-sets. They stayed pretty balanced in Game 2 (against Woodard), running and throwing, and they have a quarterback they feel is capable of both.
“(Hill) always wants to be a spread guy and just didn’t have the personnel to do it last year. They have a sound quarterback that can both run and throw. They do a good job of mixing it up and spreading it out to a lot of capable players.”
On offense, Black says his Panthers need to ratchet up their play.
“We need to be more a little bit more versatile in the things we’ve done through two games,” he said, “and we’re not taking away from the fact that we want to run the football. If you’re going to be a running team, you’ve got to figure out ways to do that.
“At the same time, we’re going to have to keep them honest by being successful in some passing situations.”