Great Bend regains lead, pulls away from McPherson 29-16

Great Bend beats McPherson, 29-16.
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 11:58 PM CDT
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GREAT BEND, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - It’s been four years since Great Bend has won a season opener on the gridiron. Two of those losses were part of a 19-game losing streak that included last year’s 44-27 loss to McPherson in the first game of the season. The Panthers turned it around with seven straight wins in 2022. Friday night, Great Bend took another step forward with a 29-16 win over McPherson.

“It just feels great for these kids,” said Panther coach Erin Beck. “This has been one we’ve wanted for a long time. Since we started this thing in the summer, our focus has been to beat Mac just because they have such a good program, such a great coaching staff. Their kids always play so hard. For our kids to come out here and play the way they did, I’m just so proud of them as kids and as a team. I feel the sky is the limit for this group right now.”

It looked like a runaway early on. Great Bend forced a punt, then sophomore quarterback Daxton Minton hit sophomore Ian Premer in stride down the sideline for a 43-yard strike. Panther freshman Cooper Ohnmacht ended the next Bullpup drive with an 80-yard interception return for a 14-0 lead just 8:10 into the game.

McPherson did battle back. Senior Owen Fetsch found senior Cory Muehler for a 17-yard strike. Then senior Teegan Haines just broke the plane on a 4-yard pass from Fetsch. Great Bend blocked the point-after to maintain a 14-13 edge. The Panthers ran just 16 offensive plays in the first half compared to 43 on the McPherson side.

“I’m super proud of our defense,” said Beck. “I thought our defense played exceptional tonight. To be on the field as much as they were, especially that first half. Excluding that last drive where we fumbled, I think we had 15 snaps before that drive. That’s tough. That’s a lot of stress on a defense. When you get a defensive score, that happens.”

Great Bend was in the driver’s seat for a late score in the second quarter when Haines was able to strip the ball from Cody Miller inside the 5-yard line. The Panther still led 14-13 at the break.

That changed in the second half. The Bullpups got back up and were facing fourth-and-16 from the 29-yard line. That meant little to senior Blaise Hoover, who booted through a 46-yard field goal for McPherson’s first lead of the season at 16-14.

And it would be short-lived. Two drives later, Minton was facing his own fourth down when he rolled out and found sophomore Jacob Hall on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Premer had a long interception return to shorten the field for Great Bend, and the Panthers were able to run three valuable minutes off the clock before Minton hit senior Colton Brack on a 2-yard pass with 6:41 remaining.

After completing just two of six passes for 58 yards and the big score in the first half, Minton completed nine of his final 14 passes for 103 more yards and the two touchdowns.

“Twelve is a football player,” Beck said. “You saw it tonight. He grew up right before our eyes during the course of the game, understanding some of his reads, understanding the defense and when it’s time to take a shot and when to be smart and check it down. I’m very proud of the way he played tonight.”

Miller ran the ball 20 times for 80 yards for Great Bend. Five Panthers caught passes, led by Premer’s 70 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Great Bend travels to rival Hays next Friday in a battle of 1-0 teams.

Fetsch threw for 87 yards in the first half but finished the game with just 111 yards on 15-of-29 passing with two interceptions and a touchdown. Sophomore Keaton Crane rushed for 61 yards in the first half but was kept in check late to finish with 81 yards on 17 carries. The Bullpups will look to rebound against Augusta (0-1) in week two.