Phillipsburg travels to Plainville in MCL showdown

By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 12, 2019

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Plainville senior Jared Casey, a four-year starter and one of Kansas’ top players, was one of many Cardinals who suffered cramps in a season-opening 29-22 road win versus Norton. Casey threw up on the bus ride and required a trip to the emergency room and an IV once he came home.

“Just flushed,” Plainville coach Grant Stephenson said. “And he tried to hydrate before the game.”

Casey delivered a superlative effort in the victory. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder recorded 16 carries for 213 yards and two scores. He recorded career bests for rushing yards and yards per carry (13.3) and finished with 14 tackles.

Casey, with a Fort Hays State offer, has worked on his speed in the offseason. This week, Stephenson talked with Bluejay coach Lucas Melvin, who said Casey “had gotten quicker” compared to last year.

“The line gave him some great blocks,” Stephenson said. “I thought the wide receivers gave him some great blocks. Now, going back and watching the film, too, there were a handful of plays where he definitely got extra yards from breaking tackles, which he is a big boy any way. And he knows that if he wants to play at that next collegiate level, he’s got to get faster.”

Casey’s effort punctuated a big Week 1 Mid-Continent League victory for the Cardinals, ranked second in Class 1A. Norton had a significantly larger roster size. Stephenson said he was “pretty proud” of his squad that “just battled, battled till the end.” Norton enjoyed a 58-46 edge in plays, a 19-14 lead in first downs, had fewer penalties and more time of possession. The Bluejays led in yardage, 402-367.

“The effort and the fight, that whole game was a dogfight,” Stephenson said.

The game was tied after each of the first three quarters: 7-7, 22-22 at halftime and then a scoreless third quarter.

However, Cardinal senior quarterback Jordan Finnesy, a three-year starter and also offered by FHSU, scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth off a zone read. Finnesy, a dual threat, completed 5 of 9 passes for 77 yards, and rushed 21 times for 77 yards and a score.

“Everyone was keying on Jared Casey,” Stephenson said.

Then, the Cardinals had a key interception from junior Ethan Hamilton and earned a first down to seal the victory. Hamilton, in his first career varsity start, delivered his first pick – and was one of several other Cardinals to step up in bigger roles.

“It was hot, an early September game,” Stephenson said. “Everybody was just tired and trying to push through, so everything kind of slowed down a little bit in that second half. But we got a few breaks.”

On Friday, Plainville plays host to Phillipsburg in another high-profile MCL contest. The 1-0 Panthers are the defending 2A champions, ranked first in the classification and have a 14-game winning streak. Similar to Norton, Phillipsburg lists 40 players on the roster, while Plainville has 25.

“Last year, it took us awhile to figure out how to tackle Casey,” Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said. “So, we’ve got to be great tacklers Friday night, but those are two (Finnesy, Casey) outstanding players, but they’ve got a lot of other guys that fill in and really do a nice job for them, too.”

Phillipsburg is 12-1 in the series since ’04 and has captured seven in a row versus the Cardinals – all by at least 15 points. Plainville’s only victory was a 37-21 win on Sept. 2, 2011. Phillipsburg opened with a 40-22 win versus Ellis, a game the Panthers led 26-0 in the third quarter.

“We made some mistakes here and there,” Covington said.  “I thought Ellis played very well, too, at the same time.”

Phillipsburg has not lost a regular season/Week 9 bracket game since a 34-32 defeat to Sedgwick on Oct. 9, 2015 – a stretch of 31 consecutive wins. Junior Ty Sides, a decorated player at wide receiver/defensive back, has taken over for his brother, Trey, at quarterback. Trey was a four-year starter in football and basketball.

Ty was inefficient early, though finished 9 of 16 passing for more than 100 yards. Junior Clint Gower is the fullback, and the two wingbacks are seniors Jacob Sisson and Tyler Martin. The trio is different backs than Phillipsburg has had in the past. They are smaller, quicker and are able to catch the ball in the shotgun spread offense.

“He executed our run game really good,” Covington said. “We struggled early passing. We went to some short game passing, and then we got some plays hooked up.”

Phillipsburg senior lineman Noah VanKooten, a returning first team all-league player on both sides at 6-5, 260, suffered a back injury in the summer, didn’t play in Week 1 and will miss Friday’s contest. Covington said VanKooten, who starts at left tackle and defensive tackle, is expected back some time this fall.

Still, the Panthers have plenty of experience and talent up front, a key trait of recent Phillipsburg teams. Assistant coach Joe Buresh has served every fall in Covington’s 17-year tenure (144-41). Buresh leads the line and is the veteran head wrestling coach.

Covington said Buresh focuses on good technique each practice. Phillipsburg’s philosophy is to have its big players at center and tackle, and use their smaller, faster Panthers at guard.

“We try to keep it pretty simple for them, so they can be aggressive, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” Covington said.

Phillipsburg has five straight double-digit winning seasons. Covington has never had a losing mark with the Panthers.

“The biggest growth we’ve seen is our big guys up front,” Covington said.

Phillipsburg has won the program’s only two football titles in the last four years. This season, seniors Parker Dibble (6-1, 190), Tyce Jerby (6-0, 280) and Austin Miller (6-5, 215) are returning linemen on both sides. Covington labeled Dibble “a really good guard.”

“We feel like they should be dominant,” Covington said. “I think they were upset with how they played the other night, and are challenging themselves a little more this week.”

Each one earned MCL honors on at least one side of the ball in ’18.

“They don’t have the size like Norton’s three interior guys, but they are thick and quick, and you can just tell that they are strong kids,” Stephenson said. “Yeah, that’s one of the big strengths that I think they have.”

Plainville counters with junior Peyton Rathbun at left tackle, senior Colten Wiesner at left guard, junior Jonah Smith at center, senior Josh Russell at right guard and sophomore Draxtin Hovis at right tackle. Russell returned to the game after several years away. Rathbun and Smith (6-1, 240) are the only returners up front.

Smith delivered 11 tackles, second-most on the squad, and one ahead of sophomore Ben Hansen. He started as a freshman, though has moved to outside linebacker and receiver.

Additionally, Plainville used the majority of its roster in a key role – 15 players earned a tackle. Sophomore Anders Dewey stepped up on defense with five tackles and played well in the second half.

Junior Cael Dobson, whom Stephenson labeled a “great role player,” is a backup at two positions. He returned from an injury that held him out of all but three games in ‘18. Dobson delivered three stops. Last season, he and Dewey combined for 12 tackles.

“A lot of those kids had to step in there and did really well, because they were fresh and ready to go,” Stephenson said.


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