Louisburg-Paola rivalry has major implications

By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Oct 19, 2018

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Mike Dumpert is in the Paola Hall of Fame. He has spent 38 years with the Panthers, including the last 18 as head coach. Paola has one non-winning season since ’06 and has won two state titles with a pair of runner-up squads in school history. The Panthers are long known for their running backs and power football.

“The one thing we really can’t count on year in and year out is speed,” Dumpert said.

This fall, Paola have again relied upon its summer program and option power football.  However, the Panthers do have some quick, speedy players, along with great backfield depth and a highly intelligent team.

The rare strengths have produced the state’s second-best scoring defense for all 11-man classes. Paola paces 4A with just 25 points permitted and five shutouts. Only 3A Andale (20 points permitted) is better.

The Panthers have scored 295 points, second-most in 4A, trailing only McPherson’s 352. The differences have yielded a 7-0 mark and matched last fall’s 7-3 squad.

Six players have had a 100-yard game. Dumpert believed that not even the state teams in ’84 and ’94 had “this much depth” at running back.

“I guarantee we have never had this much speed before in our backfield,” Dumpert said.

On Friday, Paola, ranked No. 3 in 4A, plays host to fifth-ranked Louisburg (7-0) in the long-standing “Rivalry on K-68.”

The two squads are approximately 14 miles apart and play a similar brand of hard-nosed football. The winner earns the No. 1 seed in 4A East and the Frontier League title. Paola is 6-1 in the last seven matchups and 10-5 since ’04.

“These were goals we talked about at the beginning of the season, and now it’s maybe an opportunity to see them through to fruition if we take care of business,” Dumpert said. “But don’t fool yourself, it’s still just an ol’ rivalry game, and if we are both 0-8, both communities are going to show up, and it’s going to be a good football game just because of the success of the two programs and the proximity.”

The Frontier League has long been a run-heavy, defensive-minded league. Louisburg, with longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Lohse, has outscored teams 204-59 and ranks No. 11 in offense and third in 4A in scoring defense.

“Our kids this year have done just a great job of becoming students of the game, rather than just players of the game,” coach Robert Ebenstein said.

Senior Austin Moore has rushed for 1,009 yards after he tallied 1,154 in a 6-3 season last fall. Ebenstein labels Moore “the ideal football player.” Moore is a 4.0 student, has delivered big plays in all three phases and is the leading tackler. He has received FCS-level interest.

“With Austin, I think it’s more of just him as a person and his personality and his skills, just translate over to being an all-around stud,” Ebenstein said.

Louisburg returned four offensive linemen starters, including highly touted junior left tackle Brayden White (6-4, 245). Louisburg has had the size advantage against most teams and should again versus Paola.

“Our style isn’t scoring 40, 50 points,” Ebenstein said. “Our style is scoring once a quarter and keeping them from scoring, and that’s kind of what we preach in long drives and big possessions and making stops on third down.”

Senior Kiefer Tucker, another captain, starts at left guard. Senior Noah Larson is the center, junior Garrett Harding, out for part of the fall, is the right guard. Senior right tackle Jon DePriest is the only new starter. Tucker and Larson start at defensive end.

Ebenstein, on staff since ’12 and in his second year as head coach, said this season is the best his offensive line has communicated.

“They talk through their blocking assignments, and they kind of just look at each other, and they give those nods and those points, and they just can kind of read each other’s minds a little bit without having to say exactly where they are going and what they are doing,” Ebenstein said.

Louisburg has won two games by a combined 11 points, including a Week 4, 28-21 victory versus K.C. Piper. The Wildcats completed a 4th-and-goal from the 31-yard line for a key score. Louisburg has earned a pair of victories in heavily rainy and muddy conditions on grass fields. In those contests, the opponents had six turnovers, Louisburg zero. The team has a saying “Hogs in the mud.”

“The offensive line is yelling it from all the way across the field during practice, so I think that just kind of feeds into our identity and their personality,” Ebenstein said. “In both games, I have challenged them, the team that takes care of the ball is going to win.”

Junior quarterback Madden Rutherford took over for senior Blue Caplinger, a longtime signal caller at the younger ranks. Caplinger, a captain, has been unselfish and moved to running back and blocked well. Rutherford is just shy of 600 passing yards. Senior Brayden Gage, the fourth captain, has been a key offensive playmaker.

“That was a really tough conversation, and Blue handled it like a man, and like a true teammate,” Ebenstein said.

Paola’s consistency comes in part due to its small and close-knit coaching staff. Mike Smith, Todd Weaver and David Kane run the offense, defense and special teams, respectively. All three played for Dumpert, who would like to coach at least five more years.

“I don’t want to work anywhere else,” Dumpert said. “I don’t want to work with anybody else. These guys are, other than my immediate family, there is nobody in the Earth than I am closer to or feel stronger about. I mean, I have really seen these guys grow up from junior high kids and some of them have been with me for over 20 years now.”

Two years ago, Paola finished 4-5 and missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Dumpert said the Panthers had rare intangible issues. Last fall, the Panthers had a three-win improvement.

“Not the most talented team that I have ever had, but when I give it up, they might be my most favorite team,” Dumpert said of last fall. “They had the intangibles in spades. They did everything right. They played hard. They were very smart. They were unselfish. This year’s group learned from them.”

Paola graduated its first team all-league quarterback and first team fullback and 95 percent of the squad’s rushing yards. In the option offense, the quarterback and fullback form the all-important mesh point. This year, Dumpert has been “most pleased with” the mesh point coming together with new players.

“This is an intelligent bunch,” he said. “They have been asking me a lot of questions. They want to understand the scheme. They want to understand the play beyond just their assignment, the bigger picture, and that’s been real refreshing.”

Senior quarterback Seth Richmond has 10 rushing scores, while junior Connor Hasz, listed at 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, has shown great toughness and acceleration. Sophomore Garrett Williams and Hasz have six rushing scores apiece.

Gavin Stark has four, and Brendan Ohlmeier and Evan Phillips have each recorded two. Hasz is the leading rusher with around 500 yards. The offensive line has three starters under 200 pounds.

“It forces us to be really technique sound,” Dumpert said of the size. “We obviously have to get off the ball, and I am really big on that. If there’s one thing I probably ‘hang our hat on type of thing,’ we take a lot of pride on how fast our offensive line gets off the line of scrimmage.”

The defense has four pick-sixes and especially played well in the secondary with Richmond, Williams and Hasz leading the way. Ohlmeier was a first team all-league player in ’17 with a team-high 115 tackles. He is the defensive leader at middle linebacker.

Dumpert said the defensive ends have pass rushed well. Junior defensive end Clay Essex was a first team all-league pick in ’17 and starts on both sides for another strong defensive year for the Frontier League. Seniors Kip Rogers, Jeff Schartz and junior Javier Castillo have seen significant time at defensive line/end.

“It goes back to people that precedes even me,” Dumpert said. “I know there are some really good programs that have been good for a long time that started defensively. We may be a little bit behind the times in some ways to some leagues, but this is still a run-based football and stop-the-run league, and if you can’t do that, it’s very hard to win in this league.”

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