Central Plains graduations make 2019 CPL race interesting
With a 63-7 record over the past six seasons – including a pair of perfect 13-0 runs and state titles in 2014 and 2018 – Central Plains has been the team to beat in the Central Prairie League. But Oiler coach Chris Steiner is dealing with some major losses to graduation. That might even the playing field in 2019.
The Oilers finally got over the hump and got back to the state finals last November, downing Solomon 52-6 early in the second half for the 8-Man, Div. II title. It was a typical win for a Central Plains team that allowed just five touchdowns in 13 games and shut out nine of its 13 opponents. The offense scored at least 45 points in 10 of those games, usually in just two quarters.
But big changes are on the way in Claflin. Multi-year starters Myles Menges, Devin Ryan, Alex Hickel, and Brett Liebl were the backbone of recent success – and the core of the Oiler basketball team that posted back-to-back perfect seasons. Steiner must fill those roles.
“We hate the term ‘rebuilding year,’” Steiner said. “My philosophy has always been that programs don't rebuild they just reload. Without sounding arrogant we like to think we have established ourselves as a program. (There were) talks before last year’s season that it might be a rebuilding year for us as we lost those eight terrific seniors from 2017. Those 2018 seniors took that very personal and that drove them all year to prove people wrong and look what they did.
“With that being said, those nine seniors from last year were a tremendous class. But our first meeting with this year’s team in the offseason I reminded these kids of that and told them it is up to them to decide how good we would be this year. I like to think they have spent the off season and summer with the same chip on their should as the 2018 team did.”
Menges was one of the state’s top 8-man passers since taking over the starting spot as a junior. Last year he threw for 1,275 yards with 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He ran for another 305 yards. Hickel led a committee of backs with 936 rushing yards on just 105 carries, and Ryan and Liebl caught a combined 26 passes for 437 yards and eight scores.
Grant Heldstab was another wideout and the team’s leading defender last year with 146 tackles. Mason Doll and Liebl each recorded more than 100 tackles in their final prep seasons, and that duo combined for 31 sacks. Menges and Ryan combined for 12 interceptions.
The losses are big, but Coach Steiner also has some big talent back. Senior Lawson Oeser finished second on last year’s squad with 675 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 78 carries. Senior Jerred Bieberle added 319 yards on 57 attempts. Bieberle led the team last year with 24 catches for 334 yards and eight touchdowns, and Oeser caught 14 balls for 190 yards.
“(Lawson and Jerred) were both starters on last year’s team and have been contributors to some loaded teams since they were freshman,” Steiner said. “Lawson was very consistent last year in the secondary on defense and had some huge games at running back, including his breakout game against Hoxie. Jerred has done a great job at LB/FB for us for the past two years. He has been such a great blocking back out of the backfield and also a great receiver for us as our leading receiver last year.”
Many teams could hang their hat on a 7-3 record. The Knights have now posted back-to-back 7-3 years though last year’s losses came against teams with a combined 33-2 record. Still, Victoria is always searching for a way to duplicate its perfect 2015 season.
Gone at quarterback is two-year starter Carson Windholz, a capable passer and runner. Walker Braun and Tyson Knoles have also graduated after helping out in the backfield. Leading wideout Caden Oberle has also graduated.
That makes junior Jayvon Pruitt the squad’s leading returner. Last season Pruitt rushed for 134 yards and two scores in a win over Macksville. He ran the ball just five times the next week against Lincoln to finish with 76 yards and two touchdowns.
The Knight defense also takes some major lumps to graduation. Senior Kirk Huser and junior Drayden Karlin returns to a defense that held four of 10 opponents to 20 points or fewer in 2018.
With a 7-3 showing, the Eagles are but another team that had another big year on the gridiron in 2018. But last year Ness City did it with most starters back from a 5-5 2017 season. This year the Eagles will have to replace some key starters to stay on the plus side of the board.
Angel Guzman and John Pfannenstiel split time at quarterback last season, and Guzman was also one of the primary threats out of the backfield. Landon Reinhardt was the other big offensive threat to graduate as the team’s leading receiver.
Sophomore Gavin Schreiber will likely see more snaps under center this season. He has a pair of backs to give the ball to in senior Hector Rodriguez and junior Edwin Rodriguez. Hector lead the team on the ground last year with 100-yard games against Macksville and South Gray. Edwin rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on just six attempts in a second win against Macksville.
Edwin Rodriguez also returns as the team’s leading tackler in 2018. He also grabbed five interceptions to lead the secondary. Senior Alex Rodriguez recorded three sacks up front for the Eagles, and junior Matthew Delaney had two interceptions last year.
As the smallest school in the league, the Cougar football team was limited to just one CPL game last fall, a 28-14 season-opening loss to Victoria. Otis-Bison won its next eight games, including playoff wins over Pretty Prairie and Central Christian before a quarterfinal loss to Dighton.
Some of the familiar names will be gone in 2019. Quarterback Anton Foust put up just more than 2,000 yards of total offense last year. Maitland Wiltse paced the team with 259 receiving yards.
But Travis Starr does return some firepower. Senior Bevan Gradig ran the ball 46 times for 392 yards and four scores in 2018. Senior Seth Hoopingarner averaged nearly nine yards a carry, finishing with 331 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore Logan Thille could also get more action in 2019 after running the ball 28 times for 187 yards as a freshman. Hoopingarner and Gradig were No. 2 and 3 on the team behind Wiltse in receiving yards. Sophomore Kaden Foust threw just two passes in his freshman year but returns with some snaps under center.
The Cougar defense held last season, allowing just 36 points in a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season. Gradig and Foust return as two of the team’s top-four leading tacklers a year ago. Senior Hunter Mitchell and junior Nathan Roth also return as key defensive figures.
Last year’s tough schedule included losses to Central Plains, Victoria, and a pair of losses to Ness City. The result was a 4-5 showing from a team that went 7-3 just a year earlier. The ‘Stangs lose one of the top quarterback-receiver combinations in 8-Man, and that makes the climb that much more difficult in 2019.
Kolton Mead threw for more than 2,500 yards in his final two prep seasons. Last year he threw 25 touchdown passes compared to just five interceptions. Karson Waters was one of 8-Man’s top receivers for three years. He wrapped up his prep career last fall with 736 yards and 17 touchdowns on 53 receptions. Also gone is Darien Miller, who caught 12 balls for 236 yards in 2018.
Senior Skyler Evans returns as a leading offensive and defensive player. He led the ground attack last fall with 518 yards on 124 attempts. His 19 receptions were second-most on the team for 167 yards. Defensively, Evans recorded 58 tackles.
Junior Michael Seward saw limited touches on offense last year and will likely see more in 2019. Seniors Zane Johnson and Harley Blaske split 157 tackles last year as the defensive leaders. Blaske was also big in the secondary with three interceptions.
Tiger fans are hoping the downward trajectory has run its course. St. John won three games in 2016, two games in 2017, and went a winless 0-9 in 2018. Robert Hall takes the reins from Mike Simpson to become the fourth Tiger football coach in as many years.
Junior Jorden Taylor is a favorite to be quarterback this fall. Junior Andrew Miller will be one of the featured running backs, and seniors Trey Fisher and Dalton Nemec top the group of wide receivers.
Former Kinsley and Southern Miss player turned coach Kyle Burkhart finally got that first win at his alma mater in 2018. After an 0-19 start dating back to 2016, Burkhart’s Coyotes defeated St. John 36-24 in week two of last year’s season. Kinsley went on to pick up one more win against Kiowa County in a 2-7 year.
Burkhart will have to throw some new names into the lineup. Kellen and Bryce Herrmann were valuable pieces on both sides of the ball, and Tyler Gearhart was an athletic wideout and defensive back who earned all-league honors as a kick returner. Andrew Fagan and Bret Gleason will be missing on both sides of the line.
With a small roster, both in numbers and size, in 2018, the Leopards were not helped by the recent mix-up in classifications that meant more games against bigger schools. LaCrosse still managed to post a 3-6 record though the three wins came against Ellinwood, Republic County, and Oakley – teams with a combined 7-27 record last fall.
Longtime coach Jon Webster is a proven coach at the school, however, and he has back several skill players from a year ago. Senior Hunter Morgan did most of the quarterbacking, throwing for 860 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Senior Keldon Day threw just 10 passes, completing three of them for 87 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
LaCrosse should have plenty of power out of the backfield in 2019. Morgan is a capable runner who netted 409 yards on 96 attempts in 2018. Sophomore Colby Stull was good in his freshman season to the tune of 532 yards on 123 attempts. Day ran the ball 65 times for 295 yards.
All eight Leopards who caught a pass last year are back in 2019. Day caught 13 balls for 167 yards, and Stull and senior Kaden Depperschmidt put up nearly identical numbers, splitting 373 yards and seven touchdowns on 19 receptions.
Webster will also have most of his defense back. Senior Michael Showalter led last year’s team with 84 tackles, followed by senior Kalen Thielenhaus with 53 and Morgan with 48. Stull and senior Brad Pfannestiel combined for five interceptions.
After a few seasons in the 8-Man ranks, the Eagles moved back to 11-Man football in 2018. Ellinwood still managed a 2-1 start to the season but dropped its final four games of the season to finish the year at 3-6.
Coach Alex Birney will have back several of his skill players from 2018. The big absence will be that of Kody Koetter, who accounted for more than half of the team’s 1,200 rushing yards last fall.
Senior quarterback Kyler Doll gained steam last year, throwing for 805 yards, eight touchdowns, and 12 touchdowns. His two favorite targets will be back in 2019. Senior David Hammeke caught 32 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns, and senior Ryan Niles added 182 yards and a score on his 30 catches. Hammeke and Niles also accounted for 358 yards on the ground last season.
The Eagle defense allowed at least 40 points in five of its nine games last year. Hammeke returns as the team’s leading tackler, and Aiden Ricker ranked fourth on the team last season as a sophomore. Niles paced the defense with four interceptions in 2018, and Hammeke grabbed two passes for the defense.