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Underdog Panthers challenge No. 1 Crusaders
Panthers challenge No. 1 Crusaders
Maddox Spray and Trenton Kern zack Alan Flores from Dodge.jpg


The last time, Great Bend’s football team played the “Crusaders,” they came away with a disappointing 20-14 setback against Buhler.

This time, the test against the No. 1 ranked 5A Crusaders from Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (8-1) will be an equally tough game Friday at Wichita Southeast High School. The Panthers (16-19 all-time playoffs) beat the Crusaders 31-7 in 2018 and 10-3 in 2002.

Great Bend (6-3) saw its defensive front get pushed around by Buhler’s offensive line. The Panthers were unable to establish a ground game or take advantage of Buhler’s man-to-man pass defense.

“We've learned some things from when we played Buhler,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “We’ll be prepared. We have to pick our spots running the football and mix it up. Balance-wise we’ll have to pick our spots. If we create a mismatch, we can’t miss our opportunities.”

The Crusaders feature Division 1 recruit Kyle Keya (6-5, 200) with offers from Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Kapaun’s defense is loaded with lanky, athletic players keyed by 6-3 brothers Will Thengvall and Nathan Thengvall.

“It’s the fastest defense we’ve seen. They’re the No. 1 team in 5A for a reason,” Beck said. “Kapaun’s defense stacks the box with tall athletic kids. Their linebackers have length and can run to the football.”

Panther linebackers Matthew Johnson and Trenton Kern will deal with tailback Omar Elias, who rushed for 239 yards when the Crusaders snapped a 26-game losing streak against Wichita Carroll. The Crusaders overload the defense with power plays and rely on a fullback-trap game. Quarterback Dylan Hamilton operates a run-oriented offense that will throw for back-breaking pass plays.

“Kapaun runs power I, an old school approach,” Beck said. “Their tailback Omar Elias is really good. They rely heavily on their guys up front. We’ve got to be good tacklers and run to the football.”

The Panthers’ pass defense has featured ball-hawkers Ian Premer and Cooper Ohnmacht in the secondary.

“It’s a big challenge for our defense,” Beck said. “To knock off Kapaun, they’ll have to have a championship style of defense. When our kids roll onto the field, they carry a winner’s mentality, that’s fun to see. Our guys follow our defensive leaders Matthew Johnson and Trenton Kern. Ian Premer plays like a true champion every play. We’ve got some ‘coaches’ on the field.”

Beck said if the Panthers deliver game-changing plays, they’ve got a chance for a surprise.

Last week, quarterback Daxton Minton and Premer connected for a touchdown right before halftime. Cooper Ohnmacht and Trenton Kern scored on momentum-changing touchdowns.

“Most expected 5A West to go through Kapaun, and we’ve got our chance second round,” Beck said. “We need to have things bounce our way. Our guys are playing football for each other.”

GREAT BEND (6-3)—W—McPherson 29-16; L—Hays High 27-28; L—Buhler 14-20; W—Wichita Southeast 55-0; W—Dodge City 28-0; L—Liberal 14-21; W—Ulysses 56-16; W—Garden City 35-21; W—Salina Central 38-24

KAPAUN MT. CARMEL (8-1)—W—Wichita South 72-14; W— Wichita East 43-29; L—Wichita Northwest 35-42; W—St. Pius, Columbia, Mo. 48-21; W— Wichita Southeast 70-12; W—Wichita Carroll 49-20; W—Lenexa St. James 35-14; W—Wichita Heights 33-21; W—Salina South 63-7

Panther football playoff history

GREAT BEND (16-20)

2023—5A—Great bend 38, Salina Central 24; Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 36, Great Bend 34

2022—5A—Great Bend 31, Goddard Eisenhower 27; Salina Central 40, Great Bend 35

2021—4A—Wamego 42, Great Bend 21

2020—4A—Andover Central 49, Great Bend 6

2019—5A—Great Bend 49, Wichita Heights 35; Wichita Northwest 48, Great Bend 14

2018—5A—Great Bend 35, Valley Center 18; Great Bend 31, Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 7; Maize 28, Great Bend 21

2017—5A—Goddard Eisenhower 35, Great Bend 28

2016—5A—Great Bend 70, Topeka West 31; Great Bend 16, Andover 7; Great Bend 28, Valley Center 24; Goddard High 50, Great Bend 21

2015—5A—Maize South 26, Great Bend 14

2010—5A—Wichita Carroll 49, Great Bend 13

2007—5A—Great Bend 38, Topeka Seaman 14; Wichita Carroll 17, Great Bend 14

2006—5A—Great Bend 54, Liberal 14; Great Bend 21, Topeka Seaman 14; Great Bend 21, Wichita Carrroll 14; CHAMPIONSHIP— Stilwell-Blue Valley 34, Great Bend 3

2005—5A—Wichita Carroll 23, Great Bend 0 2004—5A—Great Bend 42, Wichita Carroll 28; Great Bend 56, Liberal 13; Salina South 34, Great Bend 17

2003—5A—Salina South 26, Great Bend 25

2002—5A—Great Bend 10, Kapaun-Mt. Carmel 3; Salina South 23, Great Bend 21 

1983—6A—Wichita Southeast 35, Great Bend 7

1978—6A—Great Bend 31, Emporia 21; Wichita Southeast 33, Great Bend 15

1977—4A—Winfield 16, Great Bend 14

1973—4A—Junction City 10, Great Bend 7