OTIS, Kan. - Victoria coach Doug Oberle made two changes midway through fall camp. He switched Josh Schulte, one of the team’s two seniors and a first-year starter, from tight end to center. He brought junior Trenton Engel down from linebacker to defensive end, a position he’d never played before.
Additionally, Oberle heavily focused on the fundamentals and defense, notably tackling. Junior Jayvon Pruitt spent the offseason working on his strength, speed and hands.
The position switches and improvements yielded another impressive start for Victoria in a 42-14 victory at Central Prairie League rival Otis-Bison in the season opener Friday night.
“Trenton has been huge,” Pruitt said. “He’s stepped up from last year, not really seeing the field at all to playing both sides of the ball, I am really proud of him. And Josh stepping up playing center for us this year is huge, and he’s gotten a lot better at defensive end from last year, seeing a lot more playing time.”
In a rivalry that produced close games the last three falls, Victoria churned out several long touchdown drives in the first half, led 30-0 at the break and 42-0 early in the fourth quarter. O-B sophomore quarterback Kaden Foust tallied a pair of late rushing touchdowns.
“I am not surprised at all,” Pruitt said. “The difference between this year and past years, we brought more energy and a lot more intensity than we have in the past, and I feel like that was definitely a big factor in this game.”
Pruitt and senior lineman Kirk Huser were the lone returning starters for the tradition-laden Knights, a 7-3 squad the last two falls.
“Came in with a lot of question marks,” Oberle said.
Otis-Bison is ranked No. 10 in Eight-Man, Division II, and Victoria is just outside the top-10 in Division I.
In the first half, Victoria limited Otis-Bison to 1 of 5 passing for 27 yards and 22 rushing yards. O-B senior Seth Hoopingarner left the game in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, though O-B coach Travis Starr believes he will play Week 2.
“Probably defense and tackling, something that we needed to improve on, and yeah, we did really well – really well today, so I would say that was the best improvement this year,” Pruitt said.
Schulte had played center in eighth grade, and then tight end the last three falls. He is also a cross country runner and spends the mornings running before football practice in the afternoon. Schulte is expected to run in his first meet 11:20 a.m. on Saturday in Hays.
On Friday, Oberle said Schulte “did a great job” against O-B’s experienced line.
“I learned a lot about the importance of a first step and getting off the ball,” Schulte said of playing center. “Moving the right direction right away because the other guy is going as soon as the ball is snapped. We play tight end, a lot of times, you are getting on a linebacker, who is multiple yards off the ball and you have time, whereas a nose guard is right in front of you.”
Oberle labeled Huser’s defensive performance “really good,” that included a sack and tackle for loss. Offensively, Huser had a pancake block to spring a big run from sophomore quarterback Grant Schoenrock. Pruitt played virtually no defense in ’18.
He finished with 101 total yards, all but one coming in the first half, and two touchdowns. Defensively, he set up a third quarter score on a strip sack. Engel picked up the ball at Otis-Bison’s five and ran it in for a score.
“We’re trying to mix and match, get the best product on the field,” Oberle said. “I was really impressed with Trenton at d-end tonight, and the other guys played solid, too, no question about it.”
Schoenrock, known for his calming and confident personality, finished 6 of 8 passing for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 16 times for 85 yards and a score. Defensively, he delivered a big hit for a forced fumble.
“Grant threw the ball well when we asked him to,” Oberle said. “That was a surprise. … He did a great job at quarterback.”
Victoria opened the contest with a 10-play, 60-yard drive and led 8-0 after a six-yard run from junior Drayden Karlin. After the Knights’ forced a turnover on downs, Victoria moved 49 yards and scored on three-yard run from Pruitt.
“They got after us early,” O-B coach Travis Starr said. “Offensive, defensive line, they controlled every part of that. We tried a bunch of different things defensively, and they just out executed. They were playing hard.”
After another defensive stop, Victoria went 53 yards and led 24-0 with 7:02 left in the first half.
“I thought it would be a very close, hard fought game,” Schulte said. “I thought we could win it if we played well, and we definitely did play well.”
On fourth down, Schoenrock rolled out to his left and found Karlin in the end zone. Karlin caught four passes for 42 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sophomore Nate Windholz delivered 56 rushing yards.
“Nate, early on, we kind of got in his ear, and I thought after we talked a little bit on the sideline, Nate ran really well,” Oberle said. “I thought he protected the ball well. Drayden has got to be a guy that we’ve got to get the ball in his hands in different places, and he’s got to understand that.”
With five seconds left in the half, Pruitt moved the lead to 30-0. Foust guarded him well, though Pruitt hauled in the 10-yard score.
“That’s another thing that I have been working on - my hands,” Pruitt said. “I mean, that’s something you have got to have as a running back as well. You can’t just run the ball, so I have been working on catching in traffic like that, so what you do in practice correlates to the field.”