St. John's-Tipton completes four-year turnaround

At 6-foot-4, Blujay WR Luke Eilert has posed matchup problems for opposing defenses. (Everett Royer)
By: Conor Nicholl for
Nov 12, 2013

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BELOIT – Beloit/St. John’s-Tipton junior quarterback Trey Dubbert stood in the middle of the team’s and town’s celebration following the Bluejays’ 22-16 Eight Man, Division II second round home victory against Victoria last Saturday.

His teammates and various parents wore smiles and snapped photos of the victory that moved St. John’s-Tipton into Saturday’s sub-state championship game at 11-0 Wallace County. In addition, it capped a major turnaround for one of the state’s smallest schools.

After a sub-state run in 2009, the Blujays had no juniors and seniors in ’10 and went winless. The program won just two games in 2011. Last year, it moved to 8-2, and this season it sits at 11-0.

“We just knew that one day we wanted to be where we are now, and we knew the only thing that we have to do is work hard and keep pushing through every day, because we knew most of the times going in that we were going to lose,” Dubbert said. “But that we had to give every play our best, and do our best, that way we could get better and be where we are now."

In addition, Beloit, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, is 11-0 and will play host to Sedgwick on Friday night in a quarterfinal contest. St. John’s-Beloit has made one state championship game, in 1996, under former coach Curt Christians. That squad, dubbed “The Energized Eleven” had just 11 players and is one of more famous small school playoff runs in Kansas history. Tipton was runner-up in 1984.

Last season, the Blujays lost at Wallace County, 56-6, in the first round of the playoffs. At that time, though, coach Keith Kresin said his program was still “developing into a quality team.”

“We were ready to play, but we turned the ball over there to start with, and we played a good first quarter, but then things kind of snowballed from there,” Kresin said. “I look for the boys to go out there focused, ready to play, and they are going to compete hard. … As long as the offensive and defensive lines can have a little success, we will be in the ball game, and we will leave our cards on the table. I like our chances if everything goes right, and we don't turn the ball over."

This season, the Blujays have earned success behind two main areas: athleticism and experience.

“You go from being freshmen and sophomores to juniors and seniors,” Victoria coach Doug Oberle said. “They have played a lot of games… Just very athletic on both sides of the ball. Defensively, I think they do a really good job of running to the ball, and they do a good job of tackling."

In 2010, the Blujays had just 12 players and opponents outscored them 463-74. Only 34 points came against KHSAA opponents. Connor Eilert started as a freshman at quarterback and threw for 607 yards with four scores against nine interceptions. No one reached 200 yards rushing.

"Can't be more prouder of them,” Kresin, 21-18 as the Bluejays’ coach, 92-49 in his career, said. When they were freshmen, that's when we've just got to hang tough, hang together as a team. Good things will come if you continue to work hard. Again, they worked at it, and they wanted to compete, and they wanted their Friday night dream.”

In 2011, Eilert and Dubbert shared time at quarterback. Eilert also led the team with 458 rushing yards. Last season, the Blujays received 1,510 all-purpose yards from all-state running back Eriq Perez. Dubbert started at quarterback, and Connor Eilert, Dubbert and Luke Eilert finished 1-2-3 in tackles.

“They just had the will to prepare to make themselves better,” Kresin said.

This season, the Blujays have seven seniors and returned every skill player expect Perez. They played in a tough district that had every team, except Stockton, finish with a winning record. St. John’s/Tipton avoided a first round matchup at Wallace County with a 42-38 Week 4 victory against Thunder Ridge – the first district loss for the Longhorns since Week 7 of 2009.

Dubbert is one of Kansas’ top eight-man passers with 63 completions in 109 attempts for 1,082 yards and a 20/3 TD/INT ratio. The 24-player roster has five Blujays between 155 and 926 yards. Connor Eilert leads the team in rushing, but rarely carried the ball in the first half against Victoria. In the second half, he had nearly all of his 71 yards and milked the clock.

“Connor is probably our hardest straight up runner, and always in junior high and starting before I came to high school, he was always quarterback,” Dubbert said. “He was always doing a ton of running.”

The 6-foot-4, 178-pound Luke Eilert has 26 catches for 483 yards and 12 scores and posed a big matchup problem for Victoria. The Knights covered him with the corner and normally brought the safety over the top. Still, he hauled in four catches for 77 yards and a TD.

"Luke is my favorite target,” Dubbert said. “He has huge hands, which makes it easy to catch. With him being able to jump over everybody, it makes it a lot easier for me to lay it in there for him, because he can go up and get the ball most of the time when we get it for him."

On Saturday, St. John’s/Tipton took a 22-0 lead in the first half, but Knights responded with 16 second-half points.

Victoria had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but St. John’s/Tipton picked off a pass with 86 seconds to go and its own 35-yard line. A few minutes later, the celebration started, a journey that started four years ago.

“Emotionally, (Victoria) had everything going,” Kresin said. “But we found a will just because we had a really strong heart and we stuck together as a team.”

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