This week, leading into the high school football season, which begins on Friday night for our area teams, we’ll be previewing area leagues. Today, we start in the Mid-Continent League, where the Smith Center Redmen are the defending state champions in 2-1A, but will compete in Class 1A this season. Also, after a 12-1 campaign a season ago, Phillipsburg will look to make some noise in 2A this year. All that and more in today’s preview.
Like almost every other year, the Smith Center Redmen have high expectations heading into 2018. The makeup of the team will be a bit different after they went 12-1 and won the 2-1A state title last season, though. On offense, they lost QB Colton Hutchinson, RB’s Trace Haven and Jesse Staples and TE Brett Meyer to graduation. That foursome combined for over 3,200 of the 5,000 total yards the Redmen compiled. On defense, the top five tacklers are gone, including Avery Hawkins, Hutchinson and Dalton Kuhn who 102, 101 and 95 tackles, respectively. The cupboard is not completely bare for head coach Darren Sasse in 2018, though. Ethan Peterson is back after rushing for 625 yards and 7 TD last season and Hesston Maxwell also returns after running for just under 500 yards and 13 scores. In all, the Redmen bring back four starters on offense and five on defense. Their top defensive returner is Colby Benoit who had 76 tackles and 5 INT. KD Country 94 & Z 96.3 Sports caught up with Sasse ahead of the season and he likes the way his team looks so far in practices.
Smith Center opens their season on Friday night against TMP-Marian in Hays.
Another MCL team hoping to make noise in 1A this year is Plainville. In three seasons under former St. John’s/Tipton assistant Grant Stephenson, the Cardinals have gone 22-12 and were the state runner-up in 2016. Last year, they went 8-4 but will return just four starters on each side of the ball. However, they do bring back starting dual-threat QB Jordan Finnesy after he had a solid sophomore campaign, running for just under 1,300 yards and 13 TD and throwing for another 1,236 and 10 scores.
Elsewhere in the 1A ranks, Ellis hopes to improve on a 3-6 finish last season. The Railroaders return a veteran group with seven starters back on both sides of the ball. They did lose their top three skill players in QB Joseph Eck, RB Bryce Younger and receiver Ryan Herl. Their top returnee is FB Konnor Pfeifer who ran for 300 yards as a freshman.
Finally in 1A, Oakley is hoping for a much better year two under head coach Jeff Hennick. Hennick, who moved over from Sharon Springs, went 1-8 in his first year of coaching at the 11-man level. However, his inexperienced group is that no longer as the Plainsmen bring back 10 starters on offense and 12 guys that started at one point on defense a season ago.
The remainder of the 11-man teams in the MCL will play in Class 2A this season. The Phillipsburg Panthers are the leaders of that group. Over the past five seasons, they have gone 53-8, including a 2-1A championship in 2015. Last year, the Panthers went 12-1, falling to Marysville in the Sub-State round of the 3A playoffs. They bring back four starters on offense and five on defense, led by QB Trey Sides who threw for 775 yards and 18 TD. Also back is RB Treylan Gross who ran for right around 1,300 yards last season.
Norton will also be a team looking to make noise in the 2A ranks. The Bluejays went 7-3 last season, but bring back just four starters on each side. North Carolina commit and 4-year starter Jace Ruder is now gone at QB and Tevin Petrie is also gone after a solid career in the backfield. Those two players had some hand in nearly all of the offensive production from the Bluejays last season, including all but just over 100 of the rushing yards. The top returner for Norton is Kade Melvin, as he had 400 yards receiving as a sophomore last year.
Finally in the 2A MCL ranks, TMP-Marian will have a new look this year. Jason Cauley is gone after just two years as the head coach. Former Stanton County coach David Bowen takes over and has just two starters back from a 3-6 team last year. The most glaring loss for the Monarchs will be at QB, where they will need to replace David McFarland who threw for over 2,900 yards a season ago.