Andale looks to stay atop AVCTL-IV
The Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League-IV was simply loaded last year. In the six-team league, the top four schools combined to go 31-10 on the gridiron. Andale advanced all the way to the Class 3A semifinals, and Wellington advanced to the Class 4A quarters. Each of the teams is hoping to duplicate and expand upon last year’s success.
Another fall and the question is still the same: how many games will Andale win? Since a 5-6 2011 season, the Indians have won at least nine games each year since. Andale went 13-0 in 2014, 12-1 in 2017, and 11-1 in 2018, advancing all the way to the Class 3A semifinal game.
The Indians dominated both sides of the ball last year, scoring 35 or more points in 10 of 12 games. The Andale defense blanked five-straight opponents early in the season and held 10 of 12 opponents to 14 points or fewer.
Coach Dylan Schmidt, back for a third season, has posted a 23-2 record in his first two seasons in Andale. This year his chief concern is replacing 18 seniors from last year’s squad. His offensive and defensive lines also lose size. On the plus side, he gets back seven of the 11 starters from last year’s crushing defense.
Six starters are back on the offensive side. Senior Easton Hunter takes on the role of quarterback with junior Eli Rowland and senior Mac Brand behind him. The 175-pound Rowland averaged eight yards a carry last season on his 56 attempts. Senior Scotti Easter returns as a wideout, and seniors Creighton Camp and Carson Fair each anchor the O-line at 205 and 215 pounds, respectively. Fair was a second-team all leaguer on both sides of the line in 2018.
First-team all-stater Brand returns to lead the defense after earning the league’s defensive MVP honor at linebacker last season. Junior Cayden Winter, 240 pounds, was a first-team all-league defensive lineman last season. Easter as a defensive back and junior Caden Parthemer at linebacker each earned first-team all-league honors last year. Hunter was a second-team all-league defensive back.
After a 5-5 2017 campaign, the Crusaders put the ball in the hands of seniors Michael Ledbetter and De’Andre Washington to improve to 8-3 in 2018. Wellington won a pair of 4A playoff games before bowing out to perennial power Goddard. Now Coach Zane Aguilar must fill some big shoes to continue that success in 2019.
Ledbetter and Washington were part of a pass game that helped open up the Crusader offense. Ledbetter threw for 95 yards in a win against Rose Hill and 80 yards in the loss to Goddard. Washington caught three passes for 61 yards in the Rose Hill win and accounted for nearly all the catches in the Goddard loss.
This year Aguilar expects junior Berkeley Wright and senior Gage Cunningham to duke it out for the quarterback spot. Wright sat out last season and Cunningham went down with a season-ending injury in game one last fall.
Senior Zander Vargas, 5-6, 175 pounds, returns as a capable running back. He gets some help up frioont from big men like senior Kanden Young (180 lbs), sophomore Hagen Wright (232 lbs), and senior Jake Soria (190 lbs).
The Crusader defense was solid in 2018, allowing more than 14 points just four times, and Aguilar gets most of the squad back. He will have to replace two corners and a safety, including Washington.
The Wildcats were cruising right along last year. Mulvane opened the year at 1-2 with losses to Andale and College but won five straight heading into the Class 4A playoffs. Then quarterback Tab Creekmore went down with a gruesome leg injury on the first play from scrimmage. Ark City went on to pull the 29-26 upset to end Mulvane’s season at 6-3.
Creekmore, now just a junior, threw for 1,386 yards, 19 touchdowns, and nine interceptions last season. He netted 73 yards on 68 rushes but found the end zone three more times on the ground. Creekmore does lose his top-two receivers in Drew Ellis and Jacob Walker, who accounted for 1,230 yards and 14 touchdowns on a combined 64 receptions.
Senior Cole Diffenbaugh returns as one of the top backs in the league. As a junior, the 173-pounder rolled up just more than 1,200 yards a game. He averaged more than 134 yards and a touchdown a night. Diffenbaugh also caught 13 passes for 385 yards as a big-play threat with six touchdowns.
Both sides of the line took some lumps to graduation. Blake Scott returns to nose guard after recording 67 tackles in 2018. The Wildcat defense allowed 20 or more points in five of its nine showings last fall. Senior safety Caleb Mader led the team last year with 77 tackles. Seniors Trey Greer, Tanner Nelson and Tyler Lanzrath bring some experience to the linebacker position.
After a 13-1 showing in 2015, the Spartans tailed off to a 12-9 record over the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Last fall Collegiate bounced back to 6-3 with losses only to Wellington, Andale, and Hesston, teams with a combined 25-8 record.
The Spartans won the six games in spite of major losses from 2017. This year’s biggest loss is that of long-time coach Mike Gehrer, who spent 22 years on the sideline with Collegiate in two stints, finishing with an overall record of 183-58. Troy Black takes over for the 2019 season.
Also gone is quarterback Gabe Fisher, who routinely put up 100-plus yards a night in the air. He threw for 268 yards and three scores in the season finale against Hesston. Fisher was also the team’s leading threat on the ground. He put up 195 rushing yards in a win over Trinity Academy. Fisher’s favorite target, Paxton Meares, has also graduated.
Senior Aidan Walsh, 5-10, 183-pounds, returns some size and power to the backfield. He rushed for 143 yards and four touchdowns on just 21 attempts in last year’s win over Trinity. He averaged more than 10 yards a carry and just missed the century mark in a win against Rose Hill.
Walsh leads the defensive returners from his spot at linebacker. Senior Jack Fox and junior Michael Fair also return on the defensive side.
The Fighting Indians last posted a winning season in 2013. Since then Clearwater has come close with four-win seasons, including a 4-5 showing under first-year head coach Jeremy Scheufler. That’s a far cry better than the 1-8 season the Fighting Indians put together in 2017.
Junior Tanner Cash (6-2, 180) rushed for more than 1,000 yards as the quarterback last season. His return puts the Fighting Indians in a position to win more games in 2019. Joining Cash in the secondary is senior Drake Beatty (6-0, 170) who also returns as a wideout.
Last fall, Lee Weber took over a Rose Hill program seeking its first winning season since 2011. After a 1-8 showing in 2017, the road was going to be long and hard. In the end, the Rockets put up another 1-8 record in 2018. The one win: a 42-7 thumping of winless Independence.
Things may not get much easier in 2019 as Clearwater graduated most of its offense. A pass-first offense, Tyce Carlson threw for better than 1,500 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. By contrast, the Rocket netted just 216 yards on the ground last fall.
The top-four Rocket receivers from a year ago are gone. That group accounted for nearly 82 percent of the team’s receptions and 83 percent of the receiving yards. Junior Spencer Nolan is the lone returner after grabbing 10 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown last season.
The Rocket defense allowed 36 or more points in six of nine contests last season. Seniors Mason Lane and David Leck paced the team last year with 74 and 67 tackles, respectively.