Phillipsburg losses could shake up MCL in 2019
Phillipsburg flirted with state titles in 2016 and 2017. Finally, the Panthers put together a perfect 13-0 season to win last year’s Class 2A state championship. The title caps a 36-2 run for the Panthers over the past three seasons. Big changes in Phillipsburg could mean big changes in the league standings.
The Trey Sides era is over in Phillipsburg. As a 4-year starter at quarterback, Sides helped the Panthers to a 47-4 record. As a senior, Sides threw for more than 1,100 yards with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He rushed for more than 200 more. Defensively he had two interceptions.
The Panthers were still a run-first team in 2018. Gone is Treylan Gross, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards, and Nathan Moon, who rolled up more than 800 yards. In all, long-time coach J.B. Covington loses his top-four rushers.
Junior Ty Sides returns after leading the Panthers with more than 400 receiving yards last season. Senior Austin Miller was also a top-four receiver on the squad.
As good as the offense was in 2018, the defense also did its job. The Panthers held 10 of their 13 opponents to 14 points or fewer, and six of those opponents scored six points or fewer. Covington loses some bigtime tacklers in Moon, Kasen Keeten and Tanner Ragsdale – each with more than 100 tackles in 2018. Ty Sides grabbed a team-high three interceptions last year, and seniors Tyler Martin and Jacob Sisson return for a talented secondary.
Finally, the Panthers say goodbye to state record holder Jonathan Hunnacutt, who scored his 217th points last October to become the state’s all-time leading scorer among kickers. He has taken his talents to Fort Hays State University.
The only thing standing between the Redmen and a perfect 26-0 record over the past two seasons is Phillipsburg. Smith Center has pounded most of its opponents over the past two seasons, including a 43-7 rout of St. Mary’s Colgan in the 2017 Class 2-1A state title game, and the 59-0 romp of Olpe in last year’s 1A championship.
A trio of backs has been pivotal to that success. In 2017, then juniors Ethan Peterson, Hesston Maxwell, and Colby Benoit combined for 23 touchdowns. Last year the group rushed for nearly 3,300 yards and 50 touchdowns.
“From 2017 we lost both running backs and our quarterback and last year’s guys stepped up and filled those roles,” said coach Darren Sasse. “We will look for the same thing this year.”
Still, Smith Center tends to reload rather than rebuild. Senior Trenton Colby (6-0, 160) returns to the quarterback spot after throwing for 362 yards and rushing for another 289 yards in 2018. Senior Colton Shoemaker (5-6, 140) averaged better than 14 yards a carry to finish with 276 yards and five scores on just 19 attempts last fall. Junior Griffin Kugler (6-1, 160) led the team with 204 receiving yards on four receptions. Half those catches went for scores. Sasse gets back most of his line in seniors Joel Montgomery (6-0, 180) and Brell Spiess (5-11, 190) and junior Charlie Timmons (6-1, 220).
Minus the Phillipsburg game and a 27-point game against Sedgwick, the Redmen defense allowed just an average of 3.6 points a game in its 11 other contests. Eight players last year recorded at least 79 tackles, and three are back in 2019. Senior Jaden Atwood led that group with 102 tackles, junior Charlie Timmons had 82 tackles, and Colby had 79 tackles. Not far behind are Kugler and senior Aaron Moss. Timmons and Colby each recorded four sacks, and Kugler and Colby each had four interceptions.
The other powerhouse in the MCL has been Plainville. The Cardinals have posted a 28-7 record over the past three seasons, including a 9-3 mark in 2018. Naturally, the schedule has included tough games against the likes of Phillipsburg and Smith Center, and all three losses last season came against those two schools.
With the loss of some key players around the league, Plainville can again expect to contend with some big names back in the lineup. With the graduation of Trey Sides in Phillipsburg, Plainville senior Jordan Finnesy returns as the league’s premier quarterback in 2019. Last season Finnesy threw for 1,511 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He finished second on the team with 956 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Another giant weapon out of the backfield is senior Jared Casey, one of the biggest backs in Class 1A who rushed for a team-high 962 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Finnesy loses three of his top-five favorite targets to graduation but Casey’s 22 receptions for 324 yards were second on last year’s squad, and senior Cody Crawford was a big-play guy with 295 yards and five touchdowns on just 11 receptions.
Throwing out the games against Smith Center and Phillipsburg, the Cardinal defense allowed less than 10 points a night, largely against Class 2A and 3A teams. Throw out a 28-point game against Ell-Saline and the average falls to 7.5 points a night in the other eight contests.
The defense takes a few more lumps to graduation than the offense but Casey was second on last year’s squad with 91 tackles, and Finnesy was not far down the list with 57. Junior Peyton Rathbun recorded 45 tackles, including 3.5 sacks. Finnesy was a force in the secondary with eight interceptions.
After picking up 19 wins in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and 14 wins in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Bluejays dropped to 4-5 in 2018. The brutal schedule included losses to Plainville, Smith Center, and Phillipsburg, then Hoisington and Lakin teams that went a combined 17-5.
Last year’s squad also had some gigantic shoes to fill at quarterback and running back. The good news this season is most of the skill players are back. Senior quarterback Kade Melvin threw for 1,419 yards and rushed for 569, accounting for 20 touchdowns.
Three of last year’s top-four backs return. Junior Gavin Sproul rushed for 307 yards, and seniors Luke Wahlmeier and Brandon Vacura combined for 354 yards. Melvin loses his top receiver in Hayden Wiltfong, who caught 33 balls for 412 yards, but he gets back most of his receiving corps. Sproul made the most of his eight receptions to finish with 307 yards and three scores. Senior Carter Jones finished with 265 yards on 21 receptions. Vacura and junior Jonah Ruder combined for 166 yards on 19 catches.
Three of last year’s top-four tacklers are back, led by Vacura with 98. Wiltfong, Melvin, Sproul, and senior Alex Auker also made serious contributions in 2018. Junior Christien Hawks had three sacks up front.
The MCL does not make it easy but the Railers enter 2019 looking for their first winning season since a 6-4 showing in 2015. Ellis has posted back-to-back 3-6 seasons with two victories coming against a 3-6 LaCrosse team in 2018.
Last year’s squad rolled up about 1,000 more yards on the ground than it did in the air. That means the loss of Cade Lewis to graduation is that much bigger. His 663 rushing yards last year accounted for nearly half of the team’s total. Lewis also caught a team-high 12 passes for 169 yards. Auntonio Jones, who led the team with 218 receiving yards on nine receptions, is also gone to graduation.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Senior Zach Eck and junior Tegan Cain split time at quarterback last year. Cain threw for 317 yards and all four of the team’s touchdowns to go with five interceptions. Junior Konnor Pfeifer was second on the team last year with 331 rushing yards on 77 attempts. Cain netted 115 yards on the ground.
The defense allowed at least 28 points in six games last season. Pfeifer returns as last year’s leading tackler at 70, and right behind him are seniors Jake Eck and Brian Carbajal, juniorToby Woodworth, and sophomore Mason Gottschalk. Sophomore Tyson Jiminez paced the defense with two interceptions in his freshman campaign.
David Bowen’s goal was to turn around the Monarch football program. Bowen, now at Baldwin City, went 3-6 in his one year with the school and now the task of putting together the first winning season since 2011 falls to Jay Harris. To do so, the Monarchs would need to string together more than three wins in a season for the first time since that 5-4 showing in 2011.
With a total of 13 starters back, Harris is working with some experience. Sophomore Bryce Seib picked up some valuable varsity basketball experience last winter and will likely play quarterback this fall. Senior running back Colby Dreiling returns behind him, and the pair will be protected up front by seniors Ryan Richmeier, Eathan Atherton, Weston Pfeifer, and junior Marcus Lagree. Senior Carson Jacobs and sophomore Jace Wentling return with experience as wideouts.
Offenses largely had their way with the Monarch defense in 2018: four of the first five opponents scored at least 40 points. To be fair, that brutal portion of the schedule included games against state champs Smith Center and Phillipsburg, as well as powerhouses Plainville and Hoisington.
Some lean times had fallen on the Oakley football team since a 7-4 record in 2015. The Plainsmen won just two games over the next two seasons. With a strong group back in 2018, Oakley climbed the ladder to 3-6 overall. This year the Plainsmen again deal with some key losses.
Kade Hemmert accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team’s passing yards last year as a senior. Also gone is last year’s leading rusher in Morgan Rains, who ran the ball 100 times for 448 yards and three scores.
But some big pieces are back. Junior Eric Cain actually threw more passes than Hemmert, finishing with 373 yards, three touchdowns, and seven interceptions on 27-of-75 passing. Senior Estin Slack returns as a serious threat with 23 receptions for 632 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Out of the backfield, junior Easton Abell finished just behind Rains with 411 yards and eight touchdowns on 81 attempts, and senior Aidan Stephenson amassed 212 yards and three scores on just 16 carries.
The defense started out well enough in 2018 with two shutouts in the first four games of the season. The schedule got more difficult after that as Oakley dropped its final five games of the year and surrendered at least 24 points in each contest. The top-two tacklers from 2018 are gone but Slack and Adell return as key contributors on that side of the ball.
HILL CITY (8-Man)
The MCL’s three 8-Man football teams combined to go just 12-15 in 2018. Hill City led that trio with the only winning record at 5-4, including a 2-0 showing against Trego and Stockton. The Ringnecks graduated quarterback Conner Born, and that could shake things up in 2019.
Born did plenty as a dual-threat last season, rushing for 1,316 yards and 23 touchdowns on just 131 carries. He completed nearly half his pass attempts for 843 more yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
At 190 pounds, junior Jayce Hamel will be bigger than the average quarterback. He saw limited time under center last fall and will likely step into the lead role this season. In front of him of some big returners, including senior Jacob Larsen at 194 pounds and sophomore center Cody Presley at 201 pounds.
The Ringneck backfield should have nice size this season with Hamel and senior Dalen Journigan (6-2, 180). Journigan ran the ball 68 times for 611 yards last year, and Hamel added 351 yards and seven scores on 38 attempts. Junior Brody McDowell returns as the team’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 441 yards a season ago.
Journigan was a defensive force last year with 110 tackles. Hamel and McDowell each added 60 tackles as part of a 3-headed monster that held five of nine opponents to 20 points or fewer in the always busy 8-man game.
The Golden Eagles finished last year at 4-5, doubling the 2017 win total. This year Trego will be looking for its first winning season since 2015.
The task is made all the more difficult with the loss of Keagan Shubert and Dallas Schneider. As quarterback, Shubert threw for nearly 1,100 yards and added another 191 yards on the ground. Schneider’s 874 rushing yards were 69 percent of the team total and he accounted for 12 of the tema’s 20 rushing touchdowns.
Trego is otherwise doing well in the skill set. Junior Kobi Shubert completed better than half his 42 pass attempts last year for 389 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. The top-five Golden Eagle receivers are all back, led by 6-2 senior Dillon Dunn, who went 426 yards on his 36 receptions last season. Right behind him, Carter Minson caught 26 balls for 418 yards and eight scores. Seniors Hunter Price and Cooper Desormiers combined for 464 yards on 31 receptions.
The defense will need some fine tuning after allowing 48 or more points in five of last year’s nine contests. Price was second on last year’s team with 80 tackles. Further down the list, Dunn and senior Colby Burkhart combined for 74 tackles.
The Tigers won just three games in 2018 but the first came against a Sylvan-Lucas team that finished the year at 6-4. In all, Stockton’s brutal schedule featured losses against powerhouses St. Francis, Victoria, Clifton-Clyde, and Osborne.
Last year’s win total was a reflection of some returning talent that will be gone in 2019. Quarterback Brady Beougher split nearly 1,100 yards of total offense on the ground and in the air, accounting for 21 touchdowns. Jalen Basart is also gone after rushing for 220 yards.
Stockton is looking at a much smaller quarterback in 2019. Beougher came in at 6-3, 175. Senior Trevor Miller (5-7, 145) and junior Leighton Colburn (5-7, 140) both took snaps behind Beougher last year. The Tigers get some more size in junior running back Troy Rogers (5-11, 180), who finished second on the team last year with 276 rushing yards on 39 carries. Senior Ben Rogers (6-0, 160) was a big-play receiver last year with 190 yards and four touchdowns on just eight catches. He will also get some carries.
The Tiger defense allowed at least 40 points in six of its nine games last season. Basart was huge with 105 tackles as a senior. Back this year, junior Jace Hull was second on the team with 58 tackles in 2018. Ben Rogers and Troy Rogers combined for 98 tackles, and senior Trevor Miller and sophomore Rylan Basart each recorded 40-plus tackles last year.