Competition grows in top-heavy NWKL for 2019 season
Big changes are coming to the NWKL in 2019. St. Francis, Hoxie, and Dighton dominated the league last fall, but two of those teams suffer some serious losses to graduation. Legendary coach Kevin Ayers is out at Wallace County, and Rawlins County and Quinter return some talent in an effort to escape from the league’s basement.
With deep playoff runs in three of the last four seasons, including a runner-up finish in 2016, St. Francis has emerged as one of the premiere 8-man powers in Kansas. Last season, first-year head coach Nick Fawcett led the Indians to an 11-0 start before his squad ran into a Central Plains team that eventually completed a perfect season.
Changes are definitely coming in 2019 as Fawcett must replace his top rusher and top two receivers from a year ago. But he does get back one of 8-man’s top quarterbacks in Brady Dinkel, who rushed for 1,049 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He threw for another 388 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
The loss of Jordan Raby out of the backfield is a big one. Raby was a workhorse in 2018 with 216 carries for 1,425 yards. Junior Shadyron Blanka returns with big-play potential after taking 38 carries for 302 yards and four touchdowns last season. Blanka also caught three passes for 87 yards as the leading returning in that department.
The Indian defense was stout last season with four shutouts and holding four more opponents to two touchdowns or fewer. Gone are Tiernan Poling and Hunter Helton, both with 90-plus tackles in 2018. Blanka finished third on the team with 85 tackles, junior Adam Krien recorded 74 tackles, and Dinkel, senior Jayce Nider, and junior Jesse Baxter each had at least 55 tackles. Krien was the main force up front with 11 sacks.
The 2018 Indians graduated some big pieces from the 2017 team that went 12-1 and claimed the school’s first football state championship. Even so, last year’s squad went 9-2 with losses only to St. Francis and Central Plains – teams that went a combined 24-1. This fall Lance Baar must replace a quarterback, but he returns a powerful backfield.
Jared Kennedy was a key part of the offense last year, throwing for 948 yards and adding 564 more on the ground. He accounted for 26 touchdowns.
But the Indians are still a run-team first, stringing together more than 2,700 yards on the ground last fall. Senior Wylie Weems returns as last year’s leading rusher with 1,211 yards and 16 touchdowns on 201 attempts. Senior Dylan Weimer averaged even yards a carry (6.9), rolling up 798 yards and 13 scores on his 116 attempts.
The Indians lose leading wideout Jarrod Dible to graduation but Weimer and Weems were second in line last year, combining for 368 yards on 27 receptions. Senior Ben Aumiller added 111 yards on six receptions.
The Hoxie defense did allow some points in 2018: seven of 11 teams scored at least 20 points. Weems and Weiner return as the leading tacklers with 111 and 89, respectively. Beyond that, Baar must replace five players with at least 50 tackles in 2018.
The top-heavy portion of the NWKL in 2018 included Dighton, which advanced all the way to the Div. II semifinals and finished the season at 9-3. The three Hornet losses came against Hodgeman County, St. Francis, and Osborne – teams that went a combined 31-5. But much of last year’s offense is gone with the graduation of Blair Hoffman and Dalton Hoffman.
Blair Hoffman was the driving force of the offense, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,627 yards with 37 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He also rushed for 865 yards and 11 more scores. Out of the backfield, Dalton Hoffman paced the ground attack with 874 yards and 10 touchdowns, all on 119 carries. Also gone is David Cramer, who accounted for more than half of the team’s receptions to finish with 992 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Senior Marcus Rowe returns after rushing for 158 yards on 30 attempts last year. Rowe also caught 18 balls for 210 yards, and senior Kaden Bradstreet added 220 yards on 16 receptions.
The defense also takes a big hit to graduation as both Hoffmans and Cramer each piled up more than 105 tackles. Blair Hoffman and Cramer combined for 252 tackles. Rowe finished fourth on last year’s team with 69 tackles, and Bradstreet, senior Tyler Walker, and junior Ariel Arevalo each flirted with 50 tackles last season.
The Red Devils may be on the way back up. After going 8-2 in 2014, Decatur had failed to win more than three games in any season from 2015-2017. That changed last season with a 4-5 showing, and losses largely to 8-man powerhouses. With several key pieces back in 2019, the Red Devils could get back on the winning side of things.
Junior Gavon Uehlin finished the season strong by throwing for 100-plus yards in each of his final four games. On the ground he slowed late in the year but still finished with 284 yards. Seniors Dawson Kempt and Colton Ketterl combined for nearly 900 yards of rushing offense. Ketterl picked up his 427 yards on just 84 attempts.
The Red Devils do lose two of their top three receivers from a year ago, but Kempt finished second on the team with 15 receptions for 134 yards. Sophomore Hunter Garner made the most of his two receptions last season for 55 yards.
In the four wins, Decatur defense allowed just eight points a game with a pair of shutouts. Kempt piled up a team-high 108 tackles and Uehlin and junior Alex Askew split 68 tackles. Uehlin led the defense with two sacks.
Dual-threat quarterback Jose Chavez made the most of his 205 pounds last season, throwing for nearly 1,000 yards and rushing for more than half of that. He put up 180 yards in a 74-44 loss to Northern Valley to end the season. The Jackrabbits finished the season at 4-5. After a slow start to the decade, Greeley County has become a perennial 4-win team, but the Rabbits still have not posted a winning season since 2010.
The task is all the more difficult in 2019 with the loss of Chavez. Also gone is Axel Sanchez, who finished second on the team in rushing and topped out with 105 yards in a win over Wallace County.
Junior Jacob Miller saw limited time at quarterback in 2018 and is a steep drop in size from Chavez. Most of the carries and rushing yards are gone to graduation, leaving junior Seth Williams to maybe fill the gap after a handful of carries in 2018. Miller led the team in receiving last season, followed by junior Manuel Chavez.
Wallace County featured one of the premiere 8-man teams for a decade with playoff trips in each year from 2006-2016. The Wildcats stumbled backwards in 2017 with a 3-6 showing, then duplicated that record last fall. Now Hall of Fame coach Kevin Ayers has moved to Little River.
The Wildcats also lose a lot of firepower on the field. Luke Johnson led the team in rushing and threw for more than 400 yards. Junior David Korbe was second on the team in rushing last season, and senior Corbin Smith completed the backfield last year. Senior tight end Cody Seader joins Korbe and Smith as the returning skill players on offense.
The Wildcat secondary was hit hard by graduation, and Johnson was also the team’s leading tackler in 2018. Korbe and Smith will again be leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
The Buffs took a hard fall from a 7-1 showing in 2017 to a 2-7 record in 2018. But a young team means Matt Smith can get Rawlins County back on track after a 14-3 record in his first two years at the school.
A run-first team, the Buffs get back most of last year’s experience. Junior quarterback Travis Chvatal (5-11, 155) led that charge with 782 yards on 127 carries. Chvatal also threw for nearly 600 yards. Cyrus Green, a 195-pound junior, rushed for 704 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns last year. Green also led the receivers with 309 yards on 25 receptions. Not far behind, senior Tanner Hayes caught 13 balls for 199 yards.
The Buffalo defense gave up its fair share of points last season: all nine opponents scored at least 30 points, and eight of the nine opponents put up at least 44 points. The good news is virtually the entire defense returns with experience. Green led the way with 124 tackles, Chvatal had 67 tackles, and senior Henry Kastens and junior Kendrick Woody combined for 152 tackles. Kastens led the team with six sacks, and Chvatal picked off a pair of passes.
The Bulldogs needed a change. After winning four games in 2014, Quinter dropped its next 28 games heading into the 2018 season. The skid grew to 33 games before the Bulldogs topped Wheatland-Grinnell 54-20 last October. With most of last year’s team back, Quinter is in position to make big gains in 2019.
A trio of backs accounted for virtually all of Quinter’s 1,244 rushing yards last season. Senior Kasen Ostmeyer threw a few passes but was a much bigger threat with 559 yards on 139 carries. Junior Tucker Gillespie added 486 yards on 108 attempts, and junior Collin Blackwill netted 173 yards on 59 carries. He also led the team with 276 passing yards.
The biggest offensive losses come at wideout as Clay Mader and Conner Havlas accounted for 187 of the team’s 336 receiving yards. Ostmeyer returns as the leader with seven catches for 86 yards.
As the record might suggest, opponents scored against Quinter last season: seven of nine opponents scored at least 46 points. Junior Dusty Pister returns after leading the team with 94 tackles last fall. Gillespie added 74 tackles, and Blackwill had 52 tackles.