Another season of Mid-Continent League football is upon us and it looks as though there will be plenty of talented teams at the top yet again.
Last season, two MCL teams took home state football championships as the Phillipsburg Panthers went 13-0 and won the 2A title and the Smith Center Redmen, who lost only to Phillipsburg during their 12-1 campaign, won their second straight championship, winning the 1A trophy after taking 2-1A in 2017.
Smith Center returns seven starters on offense and six starters on defense from last season’s state title team. QB/DB Trenton Colby is the top returner after throwing for 362 yards and five touchdowns last season and rushing for another 289 and three scores. Defensive linemen Joel Montgomery and Jaden Atwood are back after each registering over 100 tackles and double digit tackles for loss. Many players will need to step up at skill positions on offense as the top three rushers from last season, Ethan Peterson (1,348 yards, 18 TD), Colby Benoit (1,280 yards, 24 TD) and Hesston Maxwell (665 yards, 8 TD) all graduated. They also lost their top two tacklers on defense, as Logan Zabel (149 tackles) and Austin Hobelmann (119 tackles) are both gone. Even with many players needing replaced, head coach Darren Sasse points out that they’ve had to do it before.
Smith Center opens their season on Friday night at home against TMP-Marian.
As far as the Monarchs are concerned, they have another new head coach this season. Jay Harris, the former junior high coach takes over the high school program. He returns seven starters on offense and six on defense from a team that went 3-6 in 2018.
Back to the top of the league standings from last season, Phillipsburg will have some key players to replace as well from their 2A state title team. QB Trey Sides, who threw for over 1,000 yards and 20 TD last season as well as RB Treylan Gross who ran for just under 1,200 yards and 18 TD are both gone. The Panther defense also lost their top seven tacklers to graduation. Ty Sides is expected to move to QB, as he had eight touchdowns as a receiver last season. In all, the Panthers return five starters on offense and six on defense in 2019.
Also in Class 2A from the MCL, Norton looks to make a significant improvement after going just 4-5 last season. They return nine starters on each side of the ball, including Kade Melvin at QB. Last season, Melvin threw for 1,419 yards and 12 TD and had another eight rushing TD. LB Brandon Vacura is the top returner on defense after making 98 tackles last season.
One of the biggest challengers in the 1A ranks for Smith Center could be the Plainville Cardinals yet again. Grant Stephenson enters his fifth year as the Cardinals head coach. He has just five starters back on offense and six on defense, but two of those returnees are important skill players from a team that went 9-3. QB/DB Jordan Finnesy is back after throwing for over 1,500 yards and 19 TD and rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 scores. Finnesy also had eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries on defense. Jared Casey is back after putting up 1,286 all-purpose yards and adding 91 tackles and 11 TFL on defense.
Elsewhere in 1A, Ellis has eight starters back after going 3-6 last season. Their top returner is RB/LB Konnor Pfeifer who had 70 tackles and seven TFL and ran for 331 yards and three scores.
Oakley went 3-6 last season. Jeff Hennick comes into his third season as the head coach for the Plainsmen. Five starters return on offense and seven on defense. QB Eric Cain (373 yds, 3 TD passing), RB Ethan Abell (411 yards, 8 TD rushing) and WR Ellis Slack (632 yards, 7 TD receiving) are the top skill players back.
Three teams still remain in the 8-man ranks in the MCL. Hill City went 5-4 last season and brings back six starters on each side. They do lose QB Conner Born who ran for over 1,300 yards and 23 TD and threw for another 13 scores. RB Dalen Journigan (668 yards, 11 TD rushing) is the top offensive returner and LB Brody McDowell is back after a 110 tackle season.
Trego brings back six starters on offense and five on defense on a team that was 4-5 last year. Their top offensive returners are TE Dillon Dunn (426 yards, 4 TD receiving) and WR Carter Minson (418 yards, 8 TD receiving) and LB Hunter Price is back after registering 80 tackles last season.
Finally in the MCL, Stockton returns six starters on both sides after going 3-6 in 2018. Top returners are LB Jace Hull (58 tackles) and RB Troy Rogers (276 yards, 2 TD rushing).