Southeast of Saline poised to stay atop NCAA
After a year off, Southeast of Saline returned to the top of the North Central Activities Association Standings with an overall 8-2 record. The Trojans are now 15-2 against league foes over the past four seasons. With a healthy group of returners back in 2019, Southeast of Saline remains the team to beat in the league.
SOUTHEAST OF SALINE
The move to Class 2A last season was a kind one for the Trojans. A perennial 7-win team, Southeast bounced back from an off 4-5 season in 2017 to go 8-2 in 2018. The eight wins were the school’s most since 2011. With several key players back in 2019, expectations remain high for the Trojans.
“We just take one day, one game at a time,” said head coach Mitch Gebhart. “We are a new team and lost some very good talent. We do have some returning and our expectations are high at the start of every season. We have had a good summer and are excited to get practices started.”
Junior Jaxson Gebhart (5-11, 165) threw for nearly 1,400 yards with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year. Senior Seth Eklund also saw some time under center with 189 passing yards with three touchdowns and three picks.
The quarterbacks lose Nick Montgomery to graduation after he led the team with 573 yards in 2018, and Daelen McKnight has transferred after finishing with 249 receiving yards. But most the other targets are back. Junior Tyler Breeding (6-0, 175) caught 23 balls for 431 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Raef Boley (5-10, 155) and Eklund combined for 224 yards last year, and junior Bryant Banks (6-0, 190) was the big-play guy with four receptions for 96 yards and a score.
The Trojan defense was effective last year with just two opponents scoring more than 21 points. The defense takes some lumps to graduation. Rudy Rodriguez and Dylan Marks each had more than 85 tackles, and McNight, Gavin Adams, and Colby Beer averaged more than 60 tackles apiece. Junior Eli Harris and Breeding each return as major contributors last season.
With at least six wins in each season over the last decade, the Trojans are always league and playoff contenders. But Beloit has not put together more than seven wins in a year since 2013, and this season third-year coach Brad Gober will need to replace some skill players to get back to that mark.
Gober does get back his two quarterbacks from 2018. Senior Hudson Gray was brilliant in the first three games last year before going down with an injury. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 485 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Senior Grant Arasmith took over after that, throwing for 601 yards with six touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Both quarterbacks were threats on the ground. Gray amasses 144 yards and two scores on just 19 carries before the injury. Arasmith went on to net 504 yards and seven touchdowns on his 95 attempts. The team will miss Tate Alvers and Zach Meier, who combined for more than 1,000 rushing yards.
Three of the team’s top receivers from a year ago are also gone to graduation. Hudson Smith and Hayden Budke led that charge with 30 combined receptions for more than 600 yards. Senior Vincent Palen (5-10, 150) returns after catching 10 balls for 239 yards. Half of those receptions went for scores.
Senior Creighton Johnson, at 225 pounds, returns to lead the big men up front. He recorded 41 tackles last season. Senior linebacker Carson Cox (6-0, 180) paced the defense last season with 82 tackles, including three sacks. Arasmith and Palen each had two interceptions.
The Lions looked good against league foes in 2018 and not so good outside of the NCAA. Minneapolis dropped a 56-18 contest to Beloit but otherwise went 3-0 in the league. The Lions won just one non-league game against Ellinwood but did suffer some losses to strong opponents like Hoisington and Class 2A champion Phillipsburg.
Six starters back on both sides of the ball should help new head coach Tom Flax, who has previously posted a record of 14-40 in seven seasons at Herington. Gone, however, are all-league running back and linebacker Tyson Villalpando, and lineman Gaton Heald.
Back is senior quarterback Derek Freel, who rushed for more than 100 yards and threw for 66 more in last year’s season opener against Republic County. He will get help up front from senior lineman Cooper Thompson and junior Keyon Baccus. Senior Crew Martin returns to the backfield as a fullback. Out wide, senior Kaden Griffin and junior John Nelson return with experience.
That same crew largely makes up the Lion defense. Minneapolis was good in its wins last season, allowing just 11.5 points a night in those games. Four teams scored at least 39 on the Lions. Baccus returns at defensive end, Thompson and Martin will play linebacker, and the receivers will double as defensive backs.
The Knights are still looking to get back on the winning side. In 2018, Sacred Heart picked up an extra game, a 56-7 playoff loss to the eventual champs from Smith Center. Still, the Knights finished at just 4-6. Some big offensive losses make the trek back to a winning record that much more difficult.
Second-year coach Garrett Galanski did double the win total from 2017 to 2018. This year he gets back senior quarterback Mac Hemmer. Hemmer threw for just 568 yards last year but those stats are misleading. Hemmer had thrown just 11 passes prior to week eight and nine wins over Republic County and Ellis, in which he threw for 432 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 110 yards in the loss to Smith Center but threw four picks in that loss. Gone to graduation is David Anderson, who led the team with 912 passing yards last season.
The ground attack also suffered some key losses to graduation. Paco Garcia was the workhorse last year with 174 carries for 699 yards. Anderson was third on the team with 104 rushing yards. Back this season, junior Jared McCartney and senior Power Landon combined for nearly 200 rushing yards in 2018.
Last year’s wideouts featured a heavy 1-2 punch in Trace Leners and Charlie Skidmore, who caught 58 passes for more than 1,100 yards and 14 of the team’s 16 receiving touchdowns. Both are gone to graduation. Landon finished third on the team with 13 receptions for 136 yards, and senior Ethan Buckner made the most of his three catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The Knight defense was still good last year, holding six teams to 20 points or fewer. Sacred Heart held four opponents to a touchdown or fewer, and held powerhouse Ell-Saline to just 14 points. Leners, with 111 tackles, was the only Knight to record more than 55. McCartney and junior Gus Campa return as big contributors. Landon and junior Caleb Gililand combined for five interceptions.
The Broncs will have a third coach in as many years after Jordan Echer stepped down following last year’s 3-6 season at Russell. Otis Hendryx will take over the program. Hendryx posted a 3-23 record in three years at Thunder Ridge from 2015 to 2017, but brings a lifetime record of 62-73 to Russell.
Hendryx will have some big players to replace. Last season Austin Price threw for 1,016 yards and 11 touchdowns. Price also led the Broncs with 490 yards on the ground and, in all, three of the four players who strung together more than 100 yards on the ground have graduated.
Senior Jacob Sohm (6-5, 150) was an effective thrower last year with 256 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions on 22-of-36 passing. Sophomore Jesse Whitmer (5-10, 166) also showed promise out of the backfield last season with 256 yards on just 31 attempts. The top two receivers are gone from last year, but senior Rhett Pospichal (5-7, 135) caught 19 balls for 209 yards. Senior Hunter Reddig (5-9, 165) and junior Braydon Gibson (6-0, 160) should also emerge as targets.
The Broncs allowed just 25 total points in a 2-0 start over Ellsworth and LaCrosse last year. After that, six of the final seven opponents scored at least 28 points. Whitmer returns as the team’s leading tackler and he had an interception in 2018. Pospichal recorded 55 tackles and had two interceptions, and seniors Hunter Reddig and Ceaonte Walston also return as big contributors.
After a 6-3 run in his debut at Ellsworth, Josh Homolka’s Bearcats fell to 2-7 in 2018. Part of those struggles came against a tough schedule that included losses to Hoisington, Phillipsburg, and Cimarron – teams that went a combined 30-5 last fall. With dual-threat quarterback Morgan Kelley back, the door is wide open for more success in 2019.
The senior Kelley (5-10, 156) threw for 991 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions last season. He finished strong with a combined 465 yards in weeks seven and eight against Norton and TMP. Kelley also finished strong on the ground with nearly half of his 415 total yards coming in the final two weeks of the season.
Homolka also gets back the speedy Kash Travnichek in the backfield. Travnichek ran the ball 56 times last season for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Luke Sharp (6-0, 180) returns with some size after picking up limited carries in 2018.
If any one position took a beating to graduation it was the group of receivers. Two of the three Bearcats with at least 100 yards last season have graduated, and Bransen Schulte led that pack with more than 400 yards.
Faron Kraft was unable to end Republic County’s 10-game skid last season. Instead, the Buffs will take a 19-game losing streak into the 2019 campaign. That’s reasonable, given the team had just one senior last year. That means the Buffs get back a squad hungry to put the losing streak in the past.
Junior Cody Dahl took over at quarterback in week three last season, finishing the year with 418 passing yards but completing just 32 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions and four touchdowns. Senior Tate Lapo started the season under center, throwing for 102 yards in the first two games.
Out of the backfield, junior Kaleb Talkington proved to be last year’s biggest threat with 693 yards and five scores on 128 carries. A nice second punch, junior Jared Baxa added 419 yards and two touchdowns on 79 attempts. Lapo, Dahl, and sophomore Nevan Benyshek each rushed for more than 100 yards last season.
The points allowed are what might be expected on a team riding a long losing streak. The Buffs surrendered at least 37 points in all nine games last season, and five of the nine opponents scored at least 54 points. Senior Hunter Hartner and junior Tyler Stindt return as the leading tacklers from a year ago. With just a senior lineman on last year’s squad, virtually the entire defense returns with some experience.