Chapman, Smoky Valley to test power running schemes

By: Conor Nicholl for
Oct 5, 2018

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In Week 8 last season, Smoky Valley defeated Chapman, 43-12. The Vikings rushed 47 times for 355 yards and ran the ball on all but four snaps. Kyle Anderson paced Smoky Valley with 19 carries for 200 and four scores. The Vikings eventually finished 9-2, while the Fighting Irish went 1-8.

“Last year, they put on a lesson in physicality on us,” Chapman coach Kurt Webster said. “And that was our goal was to be more like them in terms of how we base block and how we get off the ball.”

Nearly a year later, Chapman is one of the state’s biggest stories. The Fighting Irish returned virtually all of their key players from a 2017 team that suffered multiple close losses. Of the team’s 234 yards against Smoky Valley last fall, 197 came from non-seniors.

Chapman has started 5-0, ended long losing streaks versus Wamego and rival Abilene and won the North Central Kansas League for the first time since 2007, also the program’s last winning season.

On Friday, the Irish travels to Smoky Valley (5-0) in a matchup of power run squads that could decide the top-two spots in competitive Class 3A, District 5. Both teams are 2-0 in district play.

“A measuring stick to see how far we have closed the gap on them physicality-wise,” Webster said. “Because really it’s the same kids that I had from last year, so we will see how far we have come.”

“We were in a lot of close games last year,” he added. “But when we got to the end of districts, and we started playing teams like Smoky Valley and Clay Center, that don’t play any cute games, they just come after you and get after you, then we’ve had trouble.”

Both teams rank in the top-seven in Kansas for rushing yards per game, according to MaxPreps’ statewide lists. Chapman has averaged 346 rushing yards a contest, while Smoky Valley is at 331.

“This is going to be a very fun game if you are a football fan,” Webster said.

Smoky Valley graduated Anderson, who rushed for 1,436 yards and 1,371 the last two falls. The Vikings have five seniors starting on the offensive line, with four returners.

“If you want to beat tough teams and teams that aren’t cute, teams that are going to come at you, we have got to change the way we practice,” Webster said. “We’ve got to change the way we block. We’ve got to embrace the physicality, and we have got to match them physically for four quarters, not just in spurts.”

Chapman senior quarterback Izek Jackson is expected to play after he missed last week with a muscle injury. Senior slot/defensive back Anthony Wasylk, a team leader, has a concussion and will not play Friday.

Senior fullback Dalton Harvey enjoyed 33 carries for 203 yards and three scores versus Abilene. He leads the team with 118 carries for 758 yards and nine scores. Smoky Valley coach Tim Lambert labeled Jackson and Harvey “special” players.

“Coach Webster’s philosophy is very similar to mine,” Lambert said.

Lambert, a Smith Center alum, is 189-83 in his third stop after successful stints at St. Francis and Concordia.

Led by the power run, he led St. Francis, a struggling program, to 15 straight winning seasons in 16 years. He went 2-7 in his first fall with the Vikings before 8-3 and 9-2 the last two seasons.

In the previous two years, Smokey Valley averaged 5.5 and 5.4 yards per carry with Anderson carrying a heavy load.

This gall, the Vikings are up to 6.7 yards per rush behind a three-headed senior attack of tailback Tim Lambert, Jr., quarterback Lane Schrag and fullback Cort Elliott. Smoky Valley has just one turnover and is plus-eight in turnover margin.

Schrag has stepped in at quarterback and passed for five scores against no interceptions. He has 42 carries for 370 yards and six scores. Elliott has tallied 84 rushes for 408 yards and four touchdowns. Lambert, a breakout star last spring with records at the state track meet, has 87 rushes for 654 yards and five TDs.

“Tim kind of took over at tailback, and he doesn’t weigh 195 pounds like Kyle did, so Cort Elliott, our fullback, does a great job of running our fullback stuff, so it’s been nice,” coach Lambert said. “Lane’s our quarterback, and he does a wonderful job running our offense, and gets loose on some long runs because he hides the ball so well and just does some really good things, so we are blessed to have three quality guys in the backfield.”

Lambert, Jr., the coach’s son, is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds. He had spent some time at receiver in the past and entered this year with 10 career catches, along with 102 rushes for 488 yards. Coach Lambert said his son has “always been pretty fast,” but struggled with weight and yards after contact. Lambert is the fourth-oldest child and oldest boy in a family of six kids.

“He just needed to get tougher and he needed to do a better job of running between the tackles and finishing runs,” coach Lambert said. “And he has done a pretty good job of that this year, and that maybe has been one of the biggest surprises.”

“That, along with his speed, he will get it up in there and get some tough yards, so that’s been his greatest improvement, and we didn’t see that until we started practice this fall,” he added.

The offensive line features Ethan Wampler (6-2, 265) at left tackle, and Konrad Peterson (6-1, 240) at left guard. Both players earned high recognition as a junior, including first team all-state Class 4A, Division II for Wampler on the offensive line. 

Jon Burks (5-9, 210) returns as the center, and Nate Grosland (6-2, 280) is the right tackle. The new offensive line starter is senior Wyatt Reid (6-2, 190) at right guard.

Senior Blake Heble has played well as a blocking tight end. Ben Elliott is the line coach in the multiple I formation offense.

“They have just done a super job,” Lambert said.

Chapman counters with its big line led by junior Kel Stroud (6-4, 265) and his brother, senior Kobey Stroud (6-1, 250). Junior center Zach Ferris (6-0, 225) and senior Erik Woodbury (6-1, 215) are also starters up front. Eight starters returned on both sides.

“When it’s mano-e-mano, we have really worked on that hard,” Webster, a former assistant at Shawnee Mission West, said. “And getting off the football.”

Chapman has three assistants with previous head coaching ties and all coached in the Mid-Continent League at one point.

“It’s got to be unique for a 3A staff to have three former head coaches on it,” Webster said. “And five out of six of our coaches are ex-college football players.”

Irish athletic director Clint Merritt, also a Smith Center graduate and former head coach at Osborne and Hugoton, is on staff this fall as the defensive coordinator. Brian Sweet coaches the defensive line.

“Clint Merritt has done just an amazing job as our defensive coordinator,” Webster said. “..(Coach Sweet) has done a great job with our defensive line, and really he has taken the same type of philosophies and ideas that we have offensively to the defensive line. We want to get off the ball.”

Former Chapman coach Tom Smith leads the offensive line. One of Webster’s first moves when he took over Chapman was to bring Smith on staff and have an old-school mentality. Smith was the last Chapman coach to win league before this fall.

“He has done amazing things with those guys,” Webster said. “We have come so far. The first contact camp we went to in the summer when I was here, it looked like a pillow fight. Now, we are getting off the ball with flat backs with the same exact kids and moving people off the ball. That’s what we want to do. Our whole goal is to get movement, whether it’s a double team or a base block.”

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