Jackson Heights welcomes challenge of No. 4 Olpe

By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Sep 21, 2018

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Jackson Heights posted a 6-39 record the previous five years before Caleb Wick took over the program. Wick, a Smith Center graduate, has turned the Cobras into a consistent Class 2-1A winner. Jackson Heights is 42-19 in his seven-season tenure.

However, the furthest advancement was a quarterfinals showing in ’15. Last fall, Jackson Heights opened 8-0 with multiple blowouts. Then, the Cobras fell by 18 and 16 points to Centralia and Jefferson County North.

Wick has looked at consistent 2-1A eastern state powers such as Olpe, Centralia, Colgan and Troy, and noticed the squads consistently were more battle-tested during the regular season.

Last year, Olpe, Centralia and Colgan all lost three games, but Centralia lost to Colgan in the final seconds in the quarterfinals. Then, Colgan narrowly edged Olpe in the semifinals.

Additionally, the Cobras play in the Northeast Kansas League, a conference that has the 40-point running clock rule. Jackson Heights has captured 16 straight league games, many by massive margins.

“Here in the last three or four years that I have been here, I think the Northeast Kansas League is notorious for getting teams in the playoffs, but also notorious for getting teams knocked out early in the playoffs,” Wick said. “I wouldn’t say that’s a knock on our league, but our league hasn’t been top to bottom very good the last two or three years.”

This fall brought change as 2-1A switched to 1A. Class 3A and 2A primarily start districts in Week 4, which kept Jackson Heights from playing several bigger league schools. At the statewide football scheduling meeting in Salina last fall, Wick asked his athletic director for help.

“I would really like to get challenged this year,” he said.

Jackson Heights’ schedule is significantly harder in 2018, mainly with a marquee matchup this Friday at home versus Olpe, 3-0 and ranked No. 4 in 1A. This is the second all-time meeting between the squads, first in the regular season.

In the ’15 playoffs, Olpe pulled away in the second half for a 26-6 victory. Wick labeled the Eagles, under Olpe alum Chris Schmidt, the “most disciplined team” he has seen on film in his Jackson Heights tenure.

“They are very, very well coached,” Wick said. “Coach Schmidt does an amazing job down there.”

The Eagles have permitted eight points all season, while the Cobras have posted three straight shutouts. Jackson Heights travels to Twin Valley League’s Valley Heights and Troy the following two weeks, teams that are a combined 5-1.

“We are definitely going to be battle tested this year, and even if we have some blemishes, I think that’s going to pay dividends there when the playoffs start,” Wick said.

Olpe, an independent in football, has long had challenging schedules, especially early season. The Eagles have played Sedgwick, Caney Valley, and La Crosse, among others, early in past seasons. This season, Olpe went up two classes in Week 2 and shutout 3A Burlington, 31-0. The Wildcats are 2-1. This marks Olpe’s first 3-0 start since 2010.

“We have got some senior kids that have been playing quite a bit since their sophomore year, and even some juniors that played a lot last year,” Schmidt, 99-35 in his 12th year, said. “Just our experience has probably helped us as much anything here early in the season. Scheduling kind of fits right into that, too.”

Olpe has long used a 5-2 defense and traditionally is excellent on that side of the ball. Last year, the Eagles finished third in 2-1A in scoring defense at 10.4 points allowed, trailing just Smith Center and Jefferson County North. Jackson Heights was sixth at 14 permitted.

Olpe ranked ninth in offense with 31 points a game. Schmidt credited defensive coordinator Terry Smith, who started along with Schmidt in ’07.

“He does a great job getting those kids prepared and the kids respond really well each week knowing what we’ve got to do,” Schmidt said. “What strengths we have to try to take away from the other team.”

The defensive linemen are normally responsible for taking two offensive players to help free the two linebackers. Olpe has historically not had significant size.

“We have never really been a big, big team,” Schmidt said. “Actually I think my biggest team probably since I have been coaching was the year we won state (2014). Across the front, we were pretty decent-sized, but that’s something that we kind of grew up with.”

“I remember kids being 140-pound guards back when I played, and that’s kind of the way it is now a little bit,” he added. “These kids, again, they buy into what we have got to do. We know that if we are going to get up high with them, we are probably not going to win too many ball games, so they understand that leverage is important. We try to get angles and we stay low and we crab, and we just try to tie people up.”

Schmidt said senior Jose Garcia, the team’s biggest lineman at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and senior Jacob Argabright have played well up front.

Senior Blaine Hinrichs, a returning all-state player, has 43 carries for 256 yards and six TDs and has also returned a kickoff return 80 yards for a score.

Sophomore Kynden Robert has 43 rushes for 341 yards and three scores. Junior Colby Hoelting has completed 18 of 40 passes for 184 yards with a 0/1 TD/INT ratio.

“They are a good combination,” Schmidt said. “Blaine is more of a physical runner. Kynden is kind of that scatback kid, but he has some power to him, too, but he is quick. Getting him in the hole and get through the hole, he is tough to bring down 1-on-1.”

Defensively, Hoelting has 26 tackles. Hinrichs has tallied 22 stops with 3.5 TFLs. Chance Garriott has recorded four TFLs. Olpe has forced four turnovers.

“Those kids don’t get a whole bunch of glory,” Schmidt said. “They usually don’t get a whole bunch of tackles, but if they can stop that front line from getting to our second level, we feel like we are going to do a better good job against the run, and that’s what we kind of credit our defense on is stopping the run.”

Jackson Heights with a distinct size advantage over Olpe, had a standout performance in a 14-0 road win versus league foe Maur Hill and standout quarterback Jack Caudle last Friday. Maur Hill scored 48 points in both of their first two games.

Jackson Heights runs the 4-3 that Wick learned from longtime Smith Center defensive coordinator Brock Hutchinson. The Cobras used multiple formations, and Wick said the team had a “huge improvement” in pass defense.

The team picked Caudle once and dropped three other interceptions. Three freshmen start defensively, including 6-3, 360-pounder Hudson Roles. Senior Levi Olberding is a standout cornerback, and senior Kolby Rethman was an honorable mention all-state defensive back last fall.

Offensively, junior Cooper Williams has 517 rushing yards and five scores. Rethman has tallied 241 yards. The offensive line remains young with two sophomores.

Junior Carson Williams (6-2, 225) is one of the state’s best linemen. Senior Curtis Niehues (5-10, 235) tore his labrum and didn’t play any of last fall. Junior right guard Riley Watkins (6-2, 240) hurt his neck in Week 2 and missed the rest of the year.

“We are still relatively young,” Wick said. “We are definitely not a finished product on where we need to be going into Week 8, Week 9 of the year. What I am most proud of is we have made adjustments on the fly which is hard to do for young football players.”

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