Under the pressure of filling those shoes last season, Matthews thrived, passing for 2,650 yards with 30 touchdowns and only three picks, better numbers than Piper in all three categories. There will be a lot of defensive players hanging their heads when this kid is done with them.
And the Bullpups’ defense has made enough improvement to get them over the hump of the two shootout games they lost to some of the best teams in 5A last season. Win the league? This team could be winning a game over Thanksgiving weekend.
I just have a good feeling about the Lions this year. In such a tough, physical game, sometimes the difference can be found in the intangibles. Goddard’s intangible is that its juniors and will be playing their last season as a group before some of them put on the Eisenhower helmet next year.
The Lions also have some experience on the line of scrimmage with Austen Kilian, Joe Samaniego, James Lawson and Jacob Fatkin. Goddard lost some games last year, but of the two league games it lost, one was to McPherson, and one was a 19-13 loss at Andover Central in which the Lions were only outscored only in the first quarter of the season.
This season, I think the Lions will be ready to go from the start. Opening against Central at home will be a big plus for this team.
3. ANDOVER CENTRAL
The Jaguars lose everyone from a beastly line of scrimmage, and their starting quarterback. That is not an easy thing to deal with. But don’t count them out for a second. Matt Henrikson comes in to start on the line in his senior year. He would have been starting last year on a bunch of different teams.
And they have Alex Bontz. Bontz is a running back that no one really wants to tackle. You merely try to get in front of him because you have to as a defender. And should you manage to find yourself in a position to tackle him, you had better wrap both arms and drive all the way through the hit. Ask every single one of his wrestling opponents last year. When you tangle with Bontz he takes you down, not the other way around.
Andover Central and Goddard will start the year with a bang on Sept. 2 in a coin-flip matchup for early positioning in the league.
4. VALLEY CENTER
Here’s where we get a little crazy, so stay with me here. Yes they were 0-9 last season. But I’m saying this team will win three, maybe four games this season. You heard me. Keep your eye on the Hornets.
This is a team that got pounded around last year, but it was essentially a junior varsity team that was put out under the varsity lights. So while many of the players on the opposing teams are getting their first taste of Friday night pressure, the Hornets have been there before. Valley Center has 14 of its varsity spots filled with returning players, and nine of those positions are being filled with returning starters who were sophomores last year.
They have bulked up significantly and won’t be pushed around so easily. Valley Center returns its backfield from last season, with junior quarterback Tate Anderson who has had his feet in the varsity fire. Running back Tyler Gentry will provide some senior leadership on the field. Braden Tormey is another returning junior and had a bunch of catches last year. Ryan Scheibmeir, yet another returning junior, is a huge target at 6-foot-4 and has added nearly 30 pounds since last season, tipping the scales at 190 this year.
This team will win games.
I put Andover below Valley Center because the Hornets had a lead for a large part of the first half in the matchup between these two last year. This year, I think Valley Center has closed the gap and will be even more competitive in this game. If the Hornets are in this game at halftime, Andover could fall.
Andover has lost its skill players, but has some foundation-type players returning to the line of scrimmage. It won’t be any small task moving senior Alex Wreath, who is 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds. Add Thane Bulmer to the line of scrimmage and Jon Nye at fullback and the Trojans have the potential to give the incoming skill players a chance.
The Trojans will be tested early with a first-week matchup with McPherson, followed by Newton in the second week. Valley Center is the third game of the year and could be the difference between starting 2-0 in the league, or getting back to .500 at 1-1. The Trojans could also drop to 0-2 and have a fire to extinguish, or fall to .500 and waste a golden opportunity to take control of the league.
6. ARKANSAS CITY
The Bulldogs came to within one score of beating Andover last season, but lost by a point, finishing at 1-4 in the league. This season will be a rebuilding year and a chance for the team and its new head coach to get on the same page.
Ark City will have its leading rusher from last season, Justin Spencer, back. Keegan Murphy will also be crucial to the Bulldogs success. Murphy averaged 21.5 yards per catch last season.
But the Bulldogs will have two major problems that I see; defense and size. Ark City was porous last season and will need to get better. In two-thirds of their games last season, the Bulldogs gave up 34 or more points.
With the lack of size on this team, Ark City will have to rely on speed to get the job done and win more than a game in Div. II.
Well there you have it. Some of these picks are pretty safe, while I stick my neck out on others. How do you think the league will play out?