Top 5 clash in 3A featured as Game of the Week

Week 7: Beloit vs. Phillipsburg
By: Conor Nicholl for
Oct 17, 2013

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Phillipsburg entered last season’s Week 7 and Class 3A district-opening contest against Beloit with a 6-0 record. The Panthers led 20-6 early, but Beloit battled to take a 32-27 lead and Phillipsburg couldn’t come back. In Week 9, the Panthers lost to rival Norton and, despite an outstanding 7-2 season, failed to make the postseason.

“We felt like we had a chance to win the game at the end,” Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said. “Just didn’t get it done.”

In the early season 2013 goals, Phillipsburg put a high priority on the Beloit contest; Covington called it a "target game." This Friday, the Panthers have a chance to erase last season’s difficult loss in a scenario very similar to last fall.

Phillipsburg is 6-0, ranked No. 5 in Class 3A with the classification’s No. 1 scoring defense at just 37 points permitted.

The Panthers have suffered several injuries, including senior Andrew Makings, who has a team-high seven sacks, but suffered a foot injury last week against TMP and won’t play.

Sophomore Kian Stegmaier started at center, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Smith Center in Week 4. Junior end Ike Coomes and sophomore wingback Conner Weinman missed last week’s contest but are expected to play Friday. Several of the injuries have occurred in practice or junior varsity games. Outside of minor issues, Beloit has no injuries.

“We have been a little unlucky,” Covington said.

Beloit coach Greg Koenig has discussed last year’s contest a little bit to his team this week, but mainly because the Trojans held a 466-286 yardage edge, but lost three fumbles.

“We missed some tackles early,” Koenig said. “Once we made some adjustments at halftime, it seemed like we played a whole lot better in the second half. Really, even though both teams bring a lot of guys back, I don’t know that looking back on last year’s game does us much good. We have just focused on what Phillipsburg has done this year and what we have done this year and how we need to attack them on both sides of the ball, as well as on special teams.”

Beloit is 3A's No. 1 team at 6-0 with Kansas 11-man's top offense at 322 points. It paced the state with 744 points in 2012. The Panthers will host the district opener in arguably the classification’s top district with Norton (4-2) and Minneapolis (3-3).

“There are several things to it,” Covington said of Beloit’s double-wing offense. “Their kids have really bought into what they are doing offensively and they do it extremely well, and they have got a lot of really good athletes that are getting it done for them year to year. This year, their backfield is absolutely loaded.”

This marks the eighth meeting in the last nine years. Beloit holds a 4-3 advantage and has won the last three in a row. Since 2009, the Panthers are 0-3 against the Trojans, 31-8 against everyone else.

Beloit has averaged 407 rushing yards per game behind an offense paced by running backs Bowe Behymer and Tanner Niemczyk and quarterback Payton Vetter, a four-year starter.

Behymer has 82 carries for 1,008 yards and 16 scores, while Niemczyk has 62 carries for 471 yards and four TDs. Vetter lost all-state tight end Austin Budke, but has completed 21 of 43 passes for 396 yards and a 7/4 TD/INT ratio and collected 509 rushing yards and six scores.

“They are really balanced,” Covington said. “They can go in either direction. Run the football very effectively, and then when you get so many guys committed to the box, they are able to throw the football, too.”

The Trojans have been a top-five team for years, but haven't had the No. 1 ranking. Beloit has been No. 2 all season before Silver Lake’s loss last Friday. Koenig appreciated the ranking and the recognition for the players’ hard work and success, but he said it’s not “something within our control.”

“We talked about how that can be a trap for us,” Koenig said. “We don’t want to focus on an opinion poll, which is really what those rankings are, all someone’s opinion. What we have done to this point in the season won’t win the ballgame for us this Friday.”

Beloit had just four returning defensive starters and just two who are in the same position as last year. The Trojans had a defensive score in three of the first four games, but has just 2.5 sacks. Beloit had 33.5 sacks last season.

“Our defense is still based on a lot of pressure and penetration and hopefully those big plays will come as a result of getting guys experience and getting guys comfortable in their new role,” Koenig said.

Last season, the Panthers allowed just 10.1 points per game, but did it with a unit that collected 34 turnovers. This year, Phillipsburg has 12 turnovers, but has collected 20 sacks; the Panthers had 12.5 sacks all last fall.

“The biggest thing for us is this group has got a lot of pride on the defensive side of the ball, and they don’t like to get scored on, they don’t like to give up first downs,” Covington said. “The kids have really bought into what we are asking them to do. We have gone through a lot of injuries and the kids that we have substituted in have really done a nice job for us. I think the whole group has really bought in to what we are asking them to do.”

The Panthers, in their second year of the pistol flexbone, have five running backs between 113 and 431 yards. Senior Riley Juenemann, who played very well for several games after Sean Newlan was hurt part of 2012, has delivered another nice season. The 5-foot-9, 145-pounder has 690 passing yards, a 6/3 TD/INT ratio and rushed for 369 yards.

“Last year, when he came in for Newlan, we knew that he had the potential to really be good,” Covington said. “He has proved that. He is not our fastest guy, and he is definitely not our biggest guy, but he makes a lot of good decisions for us. He is a great communicator.”

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