Since Tony Crough decided to leave Great Bend’s football program last winter for Andover, he always told himself he was going to return to Great Bend and watch his former team play in the playoffs.
On Friday, Crough will do just that when Andover travels to Great Bend for a Class 5A second-round game.
“I always planned on going and watching them play again, but I just didn’t think it was going to be in this capacity,” Crough said.
Crough was in Great Bend for the past three seasons, the last two as head coach, and in 2015 led the Panthers to their first playoff appearance since 2010.
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He still keeps in contact with several on the Great Bend coaching staff and has followed the team’s success this season, as Great Bend has ascended the 5A rankings during its 8-1 season.
“I knew they were going to be good this year and I’ve been pulling for them every week,” Crough said. “This will be the first week where I probably will not be pulling for them. It’s a unique situation. Hopefully I played a small role in that success with what we taught them the last few years and I’m just really proud of the success they’re having this season.”
Breaking down film this week has been a strange experience for Crough, watching the players he was practicing every day with just a year ago.
He says he still deeply cares about the Great Bend players, especially this senior class, which entered Great Bend the same time he did in 2013.
“It’s going to be strange on Friday,” Crough said. “There will be times when I’m watching and I’ll see them make a great play and I’ll have emotions about it because I know them and I care about them and I want to see them succeed. It’s going to be a little weird, for sure.”
In Great Bend, first-year coach Erin Beck says the players are well aware they will be playing their former coach on Friday. But it’s not the rallying cry or even something he thinks the players will think about much before or during the game.
“I think our kids are more excited to be playing football in November,” Beck said. “We respect Andover, but our kids are a mature group and they understand this is a football game. Tony Crough doesn’t play for Andover. We’re playing the 11 guys on the field, so we haven’t really harped on that whole lot.”
The actual matchup on the field will pit two explosive offenses against each other.
While Crough’s spread offense has revitalized the offense at Andover, as it is averaging 30 points and 392 yards per game, Great Bend has one of the most potent offenses in 5A with its averages of 44 points and 448 yards of offense.
Great Bend already has two 1,000-yard rushers in tailback Cal Marshall (1,012 yards) and quarterback Jacob Murray (1,154 yards, 23 touchdowns). Murray also has 1,607 passing yards, as receiver Bryce Lytle (62 catches for 878 yards and nine touchdowns) has become a deadly threat this season.
Andover is a little more pass-heavy with quarterback Chase Oberg throwing for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns. Evan Bell leads the state in receptions with 88 already to go with 1,183 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tailback Robert Bundy leads Andover in rushing with 839 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“You can see a lot of similarities there,” Beck said. “I think this game is going to come down to which defense has guys that step up and shut down the playmakers. I think the team that can take away what the other offense does is going to come away with the win on Friday night.”
The playoffs already raise the stakes and now with Crough facing his former players, the emotions on Friday for Andover’s coach will be heightened.
“I know the heart of those kids and I know they’re winners and it’s a little scary because I know what they’re capable of,” Crough said. “But when it comes down to it, it’s high school football. The players are the ones who are going to be the ones making the plays.”