Conway Springs again looking dangerous in CPL
Several Central Plains League teams had big years in 2018. Conway Springs posted another 10-1 record, and Douglass turned the corner with seven wins. Factor in the winning tradition at Conway, along with some talented returners, and the Cardinals remain the team to beat in the CPL in 2019.
Winning is just the way of life in Conway Springs – the Cardinals are 230-30 over the last 11 seasons. That includes back-to-back 10-1 seasons under long-time coach Matt Biehler. This fall Biehler gets back just five offensive and six defensive starters, but those starters return to key spots. Gone, however, are all-staters Chase Ast, Daniel Becker, and Zach Mercer.
Senior quarterback Collin Koester (6-0, 180) accounted for 1,680 yards last year, mostly with a team-high 1,251 yards on the ground. He also returns as a defensive leader with 72 tackles in 2018. “He was a very talented linebacker that teams had to account for,” said Biehler. “He will be an exciting player to watch in 2019.”
Joining Koester in the backfield is returning running back Peyton Winter (5-11, 160). As a junior last season, Winter rushed for 825 yards to earn first-team all-league honors. Junior Jonathan Wright (6-2, 175) is another explosive back who averaged better than 10 yards a carry last season to finish with 323 yards. Big men returning tight end Joshua Koester (6-1, 165), who had 148 receiving yards last fall as a junior. Senior Dawson Martin (5-11, 260) is the only returner starter on both lines after earning second-team league honors.
The Red Rage defense will be stacked in the middle and secondary with all three linebackers returning. Joshua Koester had 75 tackles last season and senior Jack Ebenkamp was a big contributor. Wright had 88 tackles, including 10 for loss, and Winter had 73 tackles and four interceptions.
Senior Kyler Alloway started every game in the secondary last season, and senior Cody Jones is another athletic defensively back. Senior Garrett Robinson and junior Heath Hilger round out the talented roster at linebacker and defensive back. Up front, seniors Seth Osner and Gavin Dalbom, along with junior Zach Osner should wreak some havoc.
Since a losing 2013 season, the Roadrunners have been a mainstay in the win column with nine wins in 2014 and 2016, six wins in 2015 and 2017, and seven wins last year. Chaparral posted last year’s 7-3 mark with most of its players back from 2017. This year the team takes a big hit with the graduation of Jake Burke.
At quarterback last season, Burke was an offensive powerhouse with more than 2,500 yards of total offense. The dual-threat accounted for 40 touchdowns. Defensively, Burke was one of three Roadrunners to record at least 100 tackles. Also gone is Jarrett Shelton, who led the backs with 524 yards last season. The top-four receivers have all graduated.
Senior Mace Atkins did see some time at quarterback behind Burke last year. He threw for 73 yards and netted a minus 34 on the ground. Senior Iverson Bello (5-4, 160) returns to the backfield after running for 283 yards on 43 carries last fall. Bello also returns as the only player to catch more than six balls last season. Senior Raiden Atkins (6-0, 145) and sophomore Kaden Harting (6-3, 160) will likely get more touches after combining for 115 yards on eight receptions in 2018.
The Roadrunner defense allowed 21 or more points in six of its 10 contests last year. Bello returns as last year’s leading tackler, and senior linebacker Eric Helms (5-11, 190) also recorded more than 100 tackles. Senion Kooper Kastens (6-2, 162) and senior Gage Berry (6-1, 190) were also big contributors last season.
The Bulldogs made one of the biggest turnarounds in the state last season. After back-to-back 2-win seasons in 2014 and 2015, and back-to-back 3-win seasons in 2016 and 2017, Douglass finished last year at 7-2. Both losses came against Garden Plain.
The Bulldogs must fill some big shows in 2019 to carry on that success. Zach Dressler rushed for nearly 1,700 yards last season. Quarterback Kaden Pilcher threw for 930 yards and rushed for 456 more. Together, Dressler and Pilcher accounted for 33 of the team’s 34 rushing touchdowns. Also gone are five of the six Bulldogs who caught a pass in 2018.
Junior Cole Martin saw limited time at action. He and sophomore Brady Roberts could see time there this fall. Sophomore Dalton Hilyard ran the ball 18 times for 105 last year, and junior Cole Martin finished with 65 yards on 10 attempts. Senior Keylan Jones returns as the only player with a reception last season after catching six balls for 88 yards.
Even in an “off” year, the Owls still won six games in 2018, including a 45-6 playoff win over Douglass. The win total, however, was the team’s lowest since a 4-5 showing in 2014. Ken Dusenbury must replace his top two throwers in 2019 but he gets back some from a stable of backs that rolled up nearly 1,900 yards on the ground.
Ethan McGregor and Dylan Hahn combined for most of last year’s 818 passing yards. The duo also contributed just more than 300 yards on the ground. Senior Matt Pauly (5-10, 165) returns after throwing for 76 yards and rushing for 139 more.
In all, 13 players ran the ball at least twice in 2018. Gone is Caleb Hitt, who paced the Owls with 454 yards and eight touchdowns on his 78 attempts. Senior John Nowak (5-8, 195) returns some size to the backfield after rushing for 378 yards and four scores on 55 attempts. Senior Blake Long also rushed for more than 100 yards last fall but could see more time at tight end this fall. Pauly was last year’s leading receiver, but senior Trey Smith (6-2, 180) caught 10 passes for 193 yards.
Defensively, junior Anthony Hays returns as last year’s leading tackler. Nowak added 59 tackles, and Smith, Pauly, and senior Cooper Leis also return as big contributors.
A 4-5 season may not look like much on paper but it was monumental for a Dragon football team that won just six games in six seasons between 2012 and 2017. That run included a 31-game losing streak. Josh Corbett, who took over for first-year head coach C. J. Madison midway through the season last year, has stepped aside for new head coach Colton Koenigs.
Gone are quarterback Bo Gooch and second-leading rusher Taylor Douglas, but the Dragons do get back last year’s leading rusher in senior Luke Baker. Baker will have plenty help up front with returning linemen senior Trevor Stanley, juniors Brycent Ashley and Enrique Montano, and sophomore Nolan Reynolds.
The Dragon defense allowed its share of points last fall. Belle Plaine allowed a season-low two touchdowns in a 42-14 win over Wichita Independent in week three of the season. After that, the final six opponents averaged better than 40 points a game. That number is skewed by a pair of blowout losses to close the season. Baker returns at linebacker and Stanley, Montano, and Reynolds return up front.
The Eagles went 5-5 in 2017 with a big upset win over Pratt to advance in the playoffs. Kingman has otherwise not posted a winning season since a 6-3 run in 2014. Curtis Albin spent nearly a decade as the head coach in Kingman but he has moved on to Goddard. Tanner Hageman takes on those duties in 2019 with a pair of former Ellinwood coaches (Dusty Beam and Kyle Kriegh) assisting.
Hageman starts with just four offensive and five defensive starters back from last year’s squad that went 3-6. The biggest losses come at quarterback with the graduation of Riley Krehbiel, and at running back with the loss of leading rusher John Molitor, who also paced the Eagle defense in tackles.
Senior Hayden Albright (5-11, 165) will get more touches out of the back field in the absence of Molitor. Senior Michial Milford (5-10, 165) and junior Dalton Freund (5-11, 170) return at wideout, and junior Austin Bell (6-0, 205) brings some size to the offensive line.
Defensively, Bell remains up front and Albright, Freund, and Milford make up a healthy portion of the secondary. Senior Caden Hageman (5-9, 165) and junior Seth Krehbiel (5-10, 175) will play at linebacker, and senior Jake Rohlman (6-2, 190) will play defensive end.
The Cardinals had posted winning seasons from 2013-2017, including a 9-3 run in Shelby Werhman’s first year in 2017. Last year Cheney backslid to a 2-7 record with wins only against Haven and Wichita Trinity – teams with a combined 3-15 record. This season Wehrman gets back 27 retuning letterwinners in an effort to get back on the winning side.
Leading the offensive returners is senior running back Riley Petz (6-1, 160). As a sophomore, Petz rushed for better than 1,300 yards. Last season he was a flex player, gaining more than 1,000 yards of total offense. “Riley is a tough and explosive player who makes things happen when he is around the ball,” said Wehrman.
Wehrman also gets back senior Seth Teague (5-8, 155) at running back, and seniors Tyler Blasi (6-0, 205) and Zac Block (6-1, 185) on offense. Blasi won the starting role last year before going down with an early injury, and Block followed just a few weeks later with an injury. Up front, the Cards have nice size in senior Zane Smith (5-6, 245), and juniors Braden Black (6-1, 240) and Landen Ayers (6-1, 220).
Teague leads a group of seven defensive starters as a 3-year starter who led the team in tackles last season at linebacker. Senior Jonas Abernathy joins Teague after recording 32 tackles in just four games last fall. Petz, Blasi, and Block make up an athletic secondary, and Smith returns as the leader up front. Sophomore Quincy Thomas returns after picking up minutes at safety in his freshman campaign.
Fourteen was the number for the 2018 Knights. Trinity put up 14 points in each of its first five games and finished with 14 points in all but two games on the season. Unfortunately, the defense gave up at least 29 points a night and surrendered 43 or more points in seven games. The result was an 0-9 record for Wes Miller in his first year at the school.
Now some rebuilding begins as Miller must replace Nate Adler, who threw for more than 2,000 yards last year. Adler also ran for a team-high 377 yards. Two of the top three Knight receivers have also graduated.
Junior Ethan Penner did get some reps under center last season, completing half of his 12 pass attempts for 63 yards. Senior Andrew Nordberg finished second on the team in rushing last year and should be a leader out of the backfield. Senior Mark Hedstrom paced the Knights with 42 receptions for 665 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Senior Cal Kelly was another threat with 24 catches for 364 yards.
Call it a numbers problem. The Panthers have gone the wrong direction over the past few seasons, winning four games in 2015 and working down to a winless 2018 season. A power in other sports, the Panther football team has not posted more than four wins in a season since 2012.
Just 14 players are out for this year’s squad. All of the skill players are new except two returners, who were not among the statistical leaders in 2018.
“We will do the best we can with the few kids we have,” said third-year coach Eric Swenson. “I know they will do their best as they are really good kids and fun to work with.”