GREAT BEND, Kan. Great Bend needed a big win at Garden City in week seven to inch closer to a home playoff game. With some help from Kapaun, the Panthers landed that home game as the No. 8 seed in the 5A west bracket. Friday night senior quarterback Dalton Miller, playing in his final home game, lifted the Panthers past Wichita Heights 49-35.
Miller took the first play from scrimmage 64 yards to the house. That proved to be a drop in the bucket as Miller added three more touchdowns on the ground and two in the air. He rushed for 281 yards on 21 carries and added 158 yards on 11-of-16 passing. He completed all five pass attempts in the second half.
“I can’t say enough about the kid,” said Great Bend coach Erin Beck. “He started out the game feeling like he was going to throw up and he was a little jittery. He battled back and had an epic performance. That’s what I told him before the game, he gets one more (at Memorial Stadium). You’ve had a lot of great memories here and let’s tack another one on. I thought our team just battled. That’s what it’s all about right now, finding a way to get a win.”
Great Bend recovered the kick following Miller’s first score but was unable to move the ball. After a Heights punt, senior Gage Fritz ripped off a run of 33 yards that set up his 16-yard touchdown on the very next play. The Panthers led 13-0.
Miller was huge for Great Bend, but Falcon freshman John Randle was nearly his equal on the other side. Randle broke a 69-yard run to put Heights on the board late in the first quarter. Quarterback Dylan Depperschmidt added a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, and a short run from Randle gave the Falcons a 21-13 lead.
Great Bend drove the field late in the second half. With just 21 seconds left on the clock, Miller found a wide-open Alex Schremmer in the end zone to cut the deficit to 21-20 by halftime. Schremmer had a big night with 144 yards and two scores on 10 receptions.
Heights had strung together a long drive to open the second half before Randle fumbled the ball at the Panther 5-yard line. Senior Alex Olivas capped a big game defensively with the recovery and Great Bend never looked back. Miller capped the next Panther drive with a 7-yard run for a 27-21 score.
“That’s kind of been the MO of our team this year,” Beck said. “We know there are going to be ebbs and flows in the game. Defensively, we had several of the lows but our kids just kept battling. That’s what we love about this group, they just keep plugging away. Offensively, I thought we did a really good job in the second half of exploiting them and taking advantage when we needed to.”
The teams scored often in a wild fourth quarter. Miller rushed in from 13 yards out, then found Schremmer for the two points to bump the gap to 35-21. Randle broke free for another 40-yard score the other way.
On the next play from scrimmage, Miller had his biggest play of the night with a 72-yard touchdown run. Randle again had the answer, this time by returning the ensuing kick 85-plus yards.
Great Bend found one final dash of magic in the final two minutes. Facing fourth-and-six, Miller found Schremmer in the end zone again, this time for a 16-yard dagger.
“What goes into that play call is we had to score,” Beck said. “We were leaking oil trying to stop their attack. There are moments in a game where I just say we have to get the ball to our playmakers. When you have kids like Schremmer and Dalton and Gage, you have to find a way to get them the ball. Schremmer makes a great catch and Dalton made a good enough throw for him to go up and get it.”
Randle rushed for 195 yards on just 11 carries and added the big kick return. Heights junior Joshua Sanders added 112 yards on 17 attempts, and sophomore Adrian Patterson ran the ball 12 times for 79 yards.
Miller rushed for 213 of his 281 yards in the second half. He put up 439 yards of total offense on the night. Fritz added 19 yards on 13 carries and also had a reception.
Heights closes out its season at 3-6 overall. Great Bend moves to 5-4 heading into next Friday’s game at top-ranked Northwest. The teams met on Sept. 20. Despite two fumbles deep in Grizzly territory, the Panthers still gave the Northwest its second-closest game of the season.