Ball control pushes Pratt-Skyline past South Barber

Pratt-Skyline's Daniel Hacker (20) runs in a game last season. (by Everett Royer,
By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 9, 2014

Share This Story:

Pratt-Skyline head coach Jon Novotny knew Kiowa-South Barber had a terrific duo with senior quarterback Peyton Yandel and senior running back Dylan Allison. But Novotny believed the Thunderbirds’ strengths, especially their size up front, could trump the Chieftains’ talented backfield.

Skyline returned seven offensive and eight defensive starters from a 5-4 team that included 6-foot-3, 240-pound Layton Kenworthy, 5-10, 230-pound Landon Lee and 5-9, 230-pound Blake Lee, all seniors. Yandel was South Barber’s biggest returning starter at 205 pounds. Novotny’s game plan was to get yards up the middle, play ball control and “chew up the clock.”

The plan worked and Skyline, an Eight-Man, Division I program, ended a long losing streak against South Barber with a 48-32 road victory.

After the game, Novotny, in his ninth season with Skyline, talked about the last time the T-Birds defeated South Barber, a longtime power. It’s believed 1999, Skyline’s last playoff team, was the last time the T-Birds beat the Chieftains.

“It’s sure been over 10 years, I know that,” Novotny said. “It was a long time coming. They were excited, very excited. I told the boys, it was a great win, it was a good momentum builder for us, but at the same time, we need to stay grounded and understand that it’s great to get these wins in the first few weeks, but the important ones come in districts.”

It marked one of several significant statements made at the eight-man level in Week 1. Osborne pulled away to beat Thunder Ridge 52-28. Central Plains defeated Victoria 42-24. Spearville beat Madison 32-28 in the final seconds.

Osborne was No. 3 in the Division I preseason poll, Thunder Ridge was No. 1 in Division II poll. Central Plains ranked fourth in Division I, Victoria second in Division II. Spearville was No. 5 in Division I, Madison No. 1 in Division I.

South Barber was ranked No. 5 in the Division II preseason poll. Skyline finished with 63 plays, 58 on the ground. South Barber had just 42 snaps.

The Chieftains had a slight edge in yards per play (6.9 to 6.8), had 60 fewer penalty yards, and won the turnover battle (plus-1), but Skyline’s 398 rushing yards proved the difference.

“It took some time,” Novotny said. “Eventually, I feel we were able to wear them down a little bit, and were able to get a couple of stops. We didn’t stop those guys very much. They are just so explosive. Anytime they had the ball, it could be a score on any given play. We knew we needed to control the clock and get a couple of stops on defense, and that’s what we were able to do to stay on top of them.”

Quarterback Cole Patterson was Skyline’s lone graduating starter after he threw for 507 yards, rushed for 380 and accounted for 11 scores on a team that averaged 37 points per contest.

Now, Skyline doesn’t use a true quarterback, but has seniors Daniel Hacker and Dustin Weber in the backfield. The T-Birds heavily use zone read and Hacker finished with 30 carries for 219 yards and six touchdowns.

“I trust either one of those guys on carrying the ball, making the decisions ‘Do I give, do I keep,’ ” Novotny said.

Weber, who led the team with 1,412 rushing yards in 2013, collected 23 carries for 146 yards. Hacker is 6-foot and around 230 pounds, while Weber is 6-1, 160. Kenworthy plays center and the Lees start at guard. Novotny said the T-Birds ran traps between the 1-2 gaps on the interior line “all night long.” Lineman Brady McComb, the lone junior at 6-1, 190, is athletic and interchanged at guard and strong tight end.

“They are getting comfortable up front making some calls on their own,” Novotny said. “I might just call a play in the one or the two, and they decide, looking at the defense, ‘Do we trap this, do we base it, do we combo (block)?,’ things like that.”

Skyline, like many small schools, has went through cycles in Novotny’s tenure. The T-Birds posted seven, one, zero, three, five, six, zero and five wins in the last eight seasons, but had trouble against the top teams. In addition to the South Barber skid, Skyline had lost seven straight to Macksville before last season.

On Friday, Novotny was most pleased with his team’s ability to bounce back and fight. The T-Birds led 20-14 at halftime, stopped South Barber to open the second half, and then went on a 75-yard TD drive.

“That’s the kind of statement that we talked about at halftime,” Novotny said. “We needed to come out, get a stop and go right back to one of those grind and wearing them down drives.”

In the fourth quarter, Skyline stopped South Barber on 4th-and-1 at midfield. After South Barber recovered an onside kick, the T-Birds recovered a fumble at the 1-yard line. The victory marked another big road victory; Skyline is 1-3 at home, 5-1 on the road in the last two years.

“We are still in a work in progress,” Novotny said. “Our goal is to be one of those consistent teams that everybody is looking for and hoping to beat out for the playoff spots.”

With Sherraden’s help, Spearville earns big victory

Matt Fowler’s first head coaching job came at Spearville. Last week, Fowler, in his sixth season, reflected on the start of his tenure. The Lancers went 3-6, 1-8 and 0-9 in his first three seasons. At times, Spearville lost close games. Other occasions, the opponent was just better.

“You don’t realize how hard it is,” Fowler said.

But Fowler was very encouraged by the play of his then-junior high squad. Those players, now juniors, have mainly started since they were freshmen. The group has helped Spearville go 5-4 and 8-2 the last two seasons and pick up a big 32-28 victory against Madison last week. Junior Brandon Davis (team-high 116 rushing yards) scored on a 26-yard run in the final minute.

Junior Nathan Stein had 108 rushing yards, 86 passing yards, and led the team with 13 tackles, including an interception.

But junior Brady Sherraden, also a returning starter at linebacker, stepped up big. Last Tuesday, Fowler expected Sherraden to miss the first three games because of mono. The next day, Sherraden went to the doctor, retested him and checked his spleen. He was cleared to play.

Sherraden finished with 10 tackles, including seven solo, for a new career high.

Central Plains’ talent, depth leads to win

A big question mark for Central Plains was replacing Colton Zink and Evan Liebl, the 1-2 tacklers fro 2013. In addition, Zink was the No. 1 running back and a strong kicker and Liebl was the team leader. Last Friday, Central Plains had strong games behind the all-state combination of quarterback Braedan Crites and wideout Layne Bieberle in a 42-24 victory over Victoria.

But Michael Ryan (two sacks) replaced Liebl at center and defensive end and played well.

“He stepped up a lot,” Crites said. “We didn’t know if anybody was going to replace Evan Liebl … I think he is going to do it pretty well. He is pretty solid out there.”

Junior Jacob Warnken, a Hoisington transfer, had a solid game in the backfield and at linebacker in Zink’s stead.

“He has mixed really well with us, and we are really glad to have him,” Crites said. “He can play pretty much anywhere. He is our second string quarterback, too, and I think he is probably as good as I am, honestly. I would take him over any other quarterback. He can play anywhere – linebacker, we can put him on the line if we had do, but we don’t have to.”

Use your Facebook account to add a comment or start a discussion. Posts are subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.