Joel Struckhoff (28) and Thunder Ridge made a statement with a 26-6 win over Hanover. (Photo by Julie Kuhlmann, Athol, KS)
By Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Posted: September 11, 2011 - 11:32 AM
Ness City builds momentum
Last year, Ness City traveled to Victoria for a Week 2 matchup. The Eagles were in their first year of the eight-man ranks after Ness City had played 11-man football with Dighton for several years. Plus, Ness City was under a new coach in Chris Bamberger, a Jetmore native who played linebacker at Kansas State.
Ness City lost 30-6 to the powerhouse Knights, a program that has made nine straight playoff appearances, won two state titles and picked up a state runner-up finish since 2002. The Eagles eventually started the season 1-3, won four of its final five games and reached the playoffs before they lost to Pretty Prairie in the first round.
A year later, Ness City has continued to emerge as an eight-man power.
On Friday night, Ness City defeated Victoria 22-6 at home to open 2-0. The Knights dropped to 0-2, its worst start since 1999, the program's last year of 11-man football. Ness City's victory was one of several Week 2 games that illustrated the early changes in the prep landscape this season, especially in western Kansas.
"I think the biggest thing that I take from this game is that I saw a team that got better from November to August," Victoria coach Doug Oberle said of Ness City. "I saw a team that found the weight room and just got bigger, faster, stronger and it translates over to confidence on the football field. Obviously, the second year in the system, the kids know what he is about, what he represents and how they are supposed to play and I just take my hat off to him. They did a great job tonight. Just a tremendous credit to him and his staff."
Bamberger has followed the same philosophy that he learned from his high school coach, Kevin Ayers. Ayers, now the coach at Sharon Springs, has won three straight state championships, including two at Jetmore. Ayers focuses on teaching players to handle themselves properly on and off the field and works on getting the best from his players no matter their athleticism or talent. On the field, Ayers advocates a double tight end, option offense and an aggressive defense. Ness City is similar.
"I would like to think that I do stuff that he did," Bamberger said.
Against Victoria, Ness City limited the Knights to 230 total yards and just 4.4 yards per carry. The Knights scored its fewest points in a regular season game since Week 3 of the 2002 season. Junior defensive ends Tucker VonLehe and Collin Foos combined for three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and three key plays on fourth downs. Ness City won its fifth straight regular season contest and moved to 6-2 in its last eight games.
"If you are a competitor and you see a team like this on your schedule, you always look forward to it," Bamberger said. "And our kids really did."
Outside of junior running back Dalton Dreiling (156 rushing yards), Victoria had trouble mounting any offense. They had six yards passing and 57 penalty yards, including several flags at inopportune times.
Offensively, speedy junior Garrett Flax collected 137 total yards, including 91 on the ground, and three scores. Junior running back Dalton Gantz, known for his shiftness and spin move, tacked on 68 yards on 14 carries.
"I don't think there was any question that they got off the ball on both sides faster than we did," Oberle said.
Thunder Ridge defeats Hanover
In the last several years, Thunder Ridge's progress can be marked by its signature wins. In 2008, they finished 7-3, but lost to Hanover, Clifton-Clyde and Quinter, three teams that finished 33-3. In 2009, Thunder Ridge went 6-3, but lost to Hill City, Quinter and Hanover, three squads that finished 31-5.
Last year, the Longhorns took another step. They lost to Hill City and Hanover — two teams that went 21-4 in 2010 — in the first two weeks of the season.
Then, Thunder Ridge rolled off eight straight victories, including wins against powerhouses Victoria and Sharon Springs to finish the streak. The Longhorns went 8-3 and lost to Ashland in the second round of the playoffs.
"I think it really proved to the whole team that we were really as good as people were thinking and saying," senior lineman Dakota Foreman said of the two wins. "We proved a lot of people wrong, too, that we didn't think we were as good. We kind of showed people what we were."
This fall, Thunder Ridge returned six senior starters on both sides of the ball. The Longhorns were ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man, Division II in the preseason coaches' poll, but faced a brutal first month.
"I guess we will see who is the best in the state in the first four games o the season," Foreman said in preseason.
Through two weeks, they've passed two tests — and continued to move into the elite. In Week 1, they won at Hill City, 50-0. Hill City had been 12-2 in its last 14 home contests.
On Friday, they beat Hanover, 26-6, in the KPreps.com's Game of the Week. Thunder Ridge had lost its three previous games against Hanover by a combined score of 166-58. It marked Hanover's first loss to a team that wasn't Baileyville B&B since a 24-20 loss to Macksville in the 2007 state championship.
For Thunder Ridge, everyone knows about senior running back Joel Struckhoff, who has rushed for 4,946 yards in his career, including 133 against Hanover. But senior quarterback Blane Hrabe, Foreman, senior lineman Dillon Coomes and senior wideout Austin Herman were just as instrumental in the victory.
Hrabe had played running back and end before he moved to quarterback before Week 3 of the 2010 season. In 11 games as Thunder Ridge's starting quarterback, Hrabe is 10-1 with 14 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing scores. On Friday, he completed 4-of-9 passes for 163 yards and three scores.
"That's kind of what I wanted to do," Hrabe said. "I was really excited that they offered to put me there."
Foreman and Coomes combined for three tackles for loss and helped hold Hanover to 123 yards of total offense. Herman played quarterback for Northern Valley last year before he transferred to Thunder Ridge in late summer. He collected two interceptions and caught two passes for 109 yards and a score.
Plainville moves to 2-0
The Cardinals expected to have a big season this year after they returned nine starters on both sides of the ball. Through two weeks, Plainville has been impressive with a 37-21 victory against Phillipsburg and a 42-6 win versus Ellis. The Cardinals, who are looking for its first winning season since 1994, rushed for 445 yards against Ellis' normally strong defense. It marked the first time Plainville had beaten Ellis since a 20-6 victory in 2003.
"Plainville is a heck of a team and they are going to make some noise in 2A this season," Ellis coach Butch Hayes said.
This year, the Railers have the youngest team in Hayes' nine years with the program. Ellis, on a streak of eight straight playoff berths and seven consecutive non-losing seasons, is 0-2 for the first time since 2003.
Stat of the Week
335: Offensive yards for Otis-Bison in its 50-14 Week 2 victory against Central Plains. The Cougars, which lost in the Eight-Man, Division II state title game to Baileyville last year, graduated its three veteran linemen, Dominic Trapp, Josh Krom and Robert Kolas. However, Otis-Bison did return its talented skill players in senior fullback Patrick Piper, senior quarterback Trevor Keller and junior running back Dylan Wissman. Through two weeks, Otis-Bison hasn't missed a beat with its new line and returning skill players. In Week 1, the Cougars beat St. John 58-14. In Week 2, they outgained Central Plains 335-186. Keller was 8-of-13 for 148 yards and two scores against one interception, senior Matt Crotinger had 82 receiving yards and Piper and Wissman combined for 149 rushing yards and three scores.
Otis-Bison will have two more solid tests in the next two weeks when they face Chase, a playoff team last year, this Friday. In Week 4, they'll travel to Thunder Ridge in a highly anticipated matchup.