How Barton County served as the nexus for Week 1

Great Bends's Alex Schremmer all alone on the 2-point play to tie the game. (Joey Bahr/
By: by Conor Nicholl,
Sep 11, 2019

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That’s what Great Bend coach Erin Beck listed as the probability of his team beating Andover last Friday night. GB trailed 10-0 with less than a minute remaining before a blocked punt led to a safety. Among other wild events, the Panthers completed a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown on the final offensive play, and tied the game on a two-point conversion.

In overtime, Panther kicker Angel Razo, a soccer player who had never kicked a field goal before, made a 26-yarder to win the contest. Great Bend defeated Andover, 13-10, a result now referred to as the “Miracle on Morton Street.” Morton Street is where Great Bend High School resides.

“The stars just aligned for that thing to work,” Beck said. “It’s just kind of one of those situations that you kind of just shake your head and go ‘Holy Cow, how did that just happen?’”

Barton County, which has both Great Bend and Claflin-Central Plains inside its boundaries, served as the nexus for a wild opening week in Kansas high school football.

In Claflin, Ness City scored with three seconds left and defeated Central Plains, 36-30, in an Eight-Man, Division I contest. CP ended its 13-game winning streak and allowed more points than it did all last season in an undefeated state championship run.

Central Plains was 5-0 against Ness City all-time. CP is the consolidation of Claflin and Quivira Heights. While Ness City never played QH in football, the Eagles had lost eight in a row to Claflin dating back to a 13-6 win in 1949, according to Kansas Football History. An 18-12 victory in ’48 is the only other occasion when NC had beaten a Claflin squad.

“That made it a pretty good win for our kids and for our program,” Ness City coach Marc Cowles said. “It’s just the fact that they have been so good for so long that finally being able to compete with a team like that has kind of been our goal, being able to take that next step.”

For Great Bend, the game shifted when Andover’s defense delivered a goal line stand at the one-yard line with three minutes left. GB had struggled with penalties and negative plays throughout the contest. Beck labeled the stop “very deflating.”

“Extremely frustrated,” he said. “It’s hard to score sometimes down there, and Andover pinned their ears back and brought it.”

However, Beck’s mind shifted when the Panther defense went on the field.

Great Bend’s defense held Andover on three consecutive plays, and the Trojans milked around two minutes off the clock. Andover had to punt from its own end zone.

“You go, ‘Well, this is a crazy thought, but we actually just put ourselves in a better position to potentially get back in this game,” Beck said. “Because of being able to get that safety, and then knowing we were going to get the ball back – and then it’s a one-score game. That kind of made the hairs on our neck stand up as a defense.”

“You could tell that ‘Hey, if we can shut them down and get an opportunity to block this punt, we are going to have a chance,’” Beck added.

The Trojans’ punt formation was the same as its offensive formation. Great Bend brought a blitz from the strong side, or sam, linebacker. GB sophomore Evan Wedel blocked the punt with 54 seconds left to cut the deficit to 10-2. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

“He just shot a gap,” Beck said. “And really the running back came across the punter’s face, and Evan was just able to get enough of that kid to kind of get his hand up and block that thing. The crazy thing – this is why you feel like it was a .001 probability. Because if that ball doesn’t roll out of the back of the end zone, and we jump on it, and score the touchdown, it’s a lot tougher for us, because then you have to go get an onside kick.”

By rule, Great Bend received the ball after the safety. Beck brought the kickoff return team together and told them to catch the ball clean and have no penalties. Then, GB didn’t make a clean catch, and had a block in the back. GB needed to go 73 yards in less than minute with no timeouts and a new quarterback in senior Dalton Miller, a four-year starter at safety.

“That’s the greatest thing about Dalton Miller,” Beck said. “He is just so even-keeled. It doesn’t matter what the time, score, situation, the kid stays very level-headed. So he is able to get enough time, and he did a good job of getting the ball out to the sideline, and our receivers did a pretty good job of getting out of bounds and getting in a position where you could take a shot.”

In previous years, Great Bend had worked on a Hail Mary, but hadn’t done so as much this season. GB senior first team all-state receiver Alex Schremmer was the middle receiver on an “all-go” play. Schremmer is the team’s fastest player and beat the other receivers down the field. Schremmer was wide-open for the two-point conversion.

“I didn’t know he could throw it that well,” Beck said. “He heaved that thing 55 yards in the air, so it was just a miraculous play that we will never forget.”

In overtime, Great Bend’s defense continued its excellent performance, notably junior defensive end Elias Moreno (5-foot-9, 220). GB limited Andover senior Peyton Henry, who holds an offer from FCS Butler, to 22 carries for 35 yards.

Overall, the Trojans had 28 carries for 34 yards. Moreno hadn’t played much in the past, though continually halted Andover’s counter. He earned GB’s defensive player of the week. Senior cornerback Bryce Brown, a returning starter, delivered multiple big plays.

Coach Jeff Lutt is the coordinator for the stack defense. GB plays three safeties, which move all over the formation. Seniors Joey Soupiset and Alex Olivas are returning starters at outside linebackers.

“We always knew he was capable of a game like the one he had Friday night,” Beck said of Brown. “He was flying around and really came to play.”

Miller, whom entered this season with 322 tackles and 11 interceptions in his career, played all but one series quarterback and safety, an extremely rare combination at the Class 5A level. Miller told Beck on Saturday morning that he was in good condition.

“He makes our defense so good at that safety spot,” Beck said. “He ran the alley so well for us Friday night, so we knew when we moved him over to quarterback that we had to keep him on the defensive side as well, so trying to monitor that. … I thought he was going to come in (Saturday) barely being able to move, and he had a pep in his step.”

Andover kicker David Kemp is a FBS-caliber recruit. He paced Kansas with 13 field goals last season and made a 49-yarder at the end of the first half on Friday.

However, Kemp missed from 40 yards, and then also wasn’t successful from 27 to open overtime.

Beck said the biggest play in overtime came when Moreno stuffed another counter play, and Great Bend forced Kemp to kick from the right hash. Kemp had solid contact but the ball hooked right.

“‘Holy cow, we are going to have an opportunity,’” Beck said. “If he would have made it, it probably would have put a little more pressure on us to go and ‘Man, are we going to jog our new kicker out there?”

Beck has had Razo in weights class. He plays soccer and basketball. Beck has been pleased with Razo’s athleticism and positive nature. Last spring, Beck had a kicking tryout with Razo and noticed his powerful leg.

Razo works with the special teams at the start of football, and then heads to soccer practice. Razo made the 26-yarder to complete the miracle win.

“When you have got kids that don’t quit, you always have a chance, and that’s kind of how we felt Friday night,” Beck said.

Ness City pulls another upset

In the final seconds of the contest, Ness City ran a formation that Central Plains hadn’t previously seen. Sophomore Quarterback Jose Guzman and wide receiver Gavin Schreiber noticed Schreiber wasn’t covered. They made eye contact.

“Luckily, they both held their poker faces pretty good,” Cowles said. “And let the play develop.”

Guzman completed the 24-yard pass to Schreiber for the game-winning touchdown with three seconds left and 36-30 victory. It was Schreiber’s only catch of the game.

“Handled things well,” Cowles said of Guzman. “All our kids played really well, protection was good, and everything it takes to be successful on a play like that.”

Ness City lost to Central Plains, 30-14, in the season opener last year, and then 50-0 in the playoffs. From ’85-05, NC was 0-8 versus Claflin.

Central Plains suffered heavy graduation losses from the top eight-man scoring defense in at least 15 years. CP entered the season No. 4 in Division I, while Ness City was unranked.

Central Plains led 14-0, and Ness City took a 22-14 lead at halftime and extended the advantage to 30-14. However, the Oilers came back to tie at 30 in the fourth.

This marked the third straight year NC had pulled an upset with a big turnaround. In Week 8 of 2017, Ness City delivered a massive comeback in an 80-50 win versus Satanta. NC was 3-4, Satanta 6-1 entering the contest.

In Week 8 last year, Ness City trailed 20-0, though rallied to beat Hodgeman County, 28-26. HC was ranked No. 2 in Division I at 7-0, and Ness City was 5-2.

“The common thread is that our kids are learning to compete,” Cowles said. “We are improving as a team. They are getting better as football players.”

Ness City is 7-3, 5-5 and 7-3 under Cowles, though lost in the playoffs to St. Francis, Hoxie and Central Plains, all teams that advanced to the state title game. The three games came on the road as NC didn’t capture the district title and earn a home contest.

“It’s time – we need to win the district,” Cowles said. “That’s our next step is to win the district, so that we are not having to go to Central Plains for an opening round playoff game.”

On Friday, Guzman, who has taken over for since-graduated John Pfannenstiel at quarterback, completed 3 of 6 passes for 43 yards and two scores. Senior Hector Rodriguez had 14 carries for 169 yards and two scores, including TD runs of 42 and 77 yards.

On Aug. 30, Cowles drove to Spearville and watched the jamboree between Central Plains, Otis-Bison and St. John. NC, with a 30-player roster and eight seniors, elected not to participate in a jamboree and had its intrasquad scrimmage instead.

“It definitely helped us to see Central Plains ahead of time,” Cowles said. “It gave us an idea of kind of what they were going to do, especially when they got in their spread looks.”

Cowles liked the intrasquad scrimmage because it allowed him to get 16 to 18 players on film and evaluate the backups, whereas likely just the starters and key reserves would have played in the jamboree.

As well, Cowles didn’t want anyone getting hurt in a non-season action. Ness City won Friday without senior lineman Alex Rodriguez, a returning two-way starter and second team all-conference player. He missed the game because of his grandfather’s funeral in El Paso.

“Our depth is really beneficial,” Cowles said.

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