Victoria is no stranger to marquee matchups in its season opener. Since 2008, the Knights have always opened with Central Prairie League foe Macksville, which was often a ranked team in the preseason.
The Knights went 4-2 against the Mustangs with two contests decided by two points apiece and two others within 22 points.
“They always put out a good football team,” Victoria coach Doug Oberle said.
The last two falls, Victoria has played CPL rival Central Plains in Week 4, the final game before district play starts. In 2014, Victoria will open in another high-profile matchup at Central Plains.
The Knights are ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man, Division II and Central Plains is second in Eight-Man, Division I. It marks one of three games against a current top-three squad for Victoria.
“We have joked about maybe doing a two-hand touch flag football game,” Oberle said, referring to Central Plains coach Chris Steiner. “Obviously, they are a league team and neither one of us are necessarily going to shy away.
“We are going to play our league teams, but obviously a great football team,” Oberle added. “They have got a lot of experience coming back. They have got some great athletes. Coach always does a good job with those guys. It’s a tough first game for us.”
Victoria, on a stretch of 12 consecutive playoff berths, the longest current eight-man streak, is 2-1 against Central Plains since the Oilers formed four years ago from a consolidation with Claflin and Quivira Heights. Last season, Central Plains finished 9-2; Victoria 10-1.
“You usually would prefer a little easier game in Week 1 to work all the kinks out,” Steiner said. “We’ve got some new guys playing some new spots. They all look good at it, but you don’t know until you really get into game speed.”
In Week 4, the Knights won at Central Plains, 66-28, though lost then-senior quarterback Sam Ottley for the season with a knee injury. Victoria rushed for 348 yards en route to 430 total yards, while Central Plains had 309 total yards, but missed on several opportunities.
“I told our guys year in and year out, nobody gets their ticket punched to Newton in Week 1, and nobody gets told to stay home,” Oberle said. “We’ve just got to get better at that first game, and hopefully we are lucky enough to pull out a win, but obviously we have got to play extremely well, and we’ve got to catch some breaks.”
Many of the key players, especially skill-wise, return for both teams. For Victoria, fullback Lane Kisner collected 22 carries for 199 yards and three scores in the win, while tailback Bryan Dome had 13 carries for 92 yards and a TD. Quarterback Brady Dinkel went 3 of 3 passing for 43 yards and two scores after he took over for Ottley. The trio all returns for the Knights.
Central Plains returns seven offensive and six defensive starters, including junior quarterback Braedan Crites and senior all-purpose threat Layne Bieberle. Crites had a 38/4 TD/INT ratio last season, while Bieberle had 1,740 all-purpose yards and picked off 10 passes.
“It’s better to have good people on your schedule,” Dome said.
In district play, Victoria will play at Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton in Week 6 and at home against Thunder Ridge in Week 7 in district play. The squads are ranked first and third, respectively, in Eight-Man, Division II. The rest of District 7 includes Northern Valley and Natoma, which both finished with winning records in 2013, and traditional power Otis-Bison.
“Obviously, we know Thunder, we know St. John’s/Beloit, we know how good both of those teams are,” Oberle said. “Natoma had a great year last year, Northern Valley had a great year last year, so I really feel like our district top-to-bottom is as good as anybody. If we don’t get better each and every week and stay healthy – we’ve got to do those things.”