Nicholl: 2014 football season in review

Louie Arceo led the surprising Ell-Saline Cardinals to the 2-1A title game. (Everett Royer)
By: Conor Nicholl for
Dec 1, 2014

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Ell-Saline coach Terry King gathered his team near midfield after a last-second 26-24 loss to Olpe at the Class 2-1A state championship game Saturday at Fort Hays State University. King allowed parents, friends and fans to stand at the outskirts of the team huddle and hear his and the assistant coaches’ words.

King analyzed the contest, including some deficiencies with the Cardinals. But in his opening and closing remarks, King told his team to hold their heads high. He reminded the Cardinals they surprised many, and referred to Ell-Saline as the “Cardiac Cardinals,” its nickname throughout the postseason run.

Ell-Saline upset three ranked teams in the playoffs, Sedgwick, La Crosse and Phillipsburg, en route to a 9-4 season. Ell-Saline was unranked until well into the playoffs. The Cardinals lost to Sedgwick and Phillipsburg earlier in the fall.

“I am proud. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought that we’d even gone this far or even made it this far?” Ell-Saline all-state senior lineman Evan Morrical said after the crowd thinned.

“But it’s one thing we all had established early on in the season that we’d love to come here,” he added. “That was one thing we worked toward was coming here, and getting here was definitely an honor, and I am happy with that. Leaving here with second kind of leaves a little sour taste in your mouth.”

Ell-Saline’s season, one of the most memorable runs to a state championship game in recent Kansas history, served a unique dichotomy in 2014. The smallest three classes (and to a certain extent Class 3A with surprise semifinalist Halstead) had multiple unranked squads play deep into November, including for state titles.

The upper four classes had some surprises, especially with 4A-II Santa Fe Trail, 5A Leavenworth and 6A runner-up Hutchinson, but the favorites went to wire to wire and posted dominant years. Class 4A-II Andale, 4A-I Miege, 5A Bishop Carroll and 6A Shawnee Mission East stood No. 1 in every poll.

Carroll outscored teams 682-65. According to Tim Hostetter of, Carroll’s numbers are the best since he started doing PPI in 2003.  The Freeman Ratings, a nationwide site that works with MaxPreps, ranked Carroll as the No. 50-best team nationally. 

Carroll tied a state record when it returned three interceptions for scores against Goddard, according to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

SM East scored 600 points and set the Sunflower League record for scoring offense, according to Eli Underwood's Sunflower League Blog.

However, Eight-Man, Division II, Eight-Man, Division I and Class 2-1A had at least one surprise playing on the final weekend. In Eight-Man, Division II, Argonia-Attica was unranked after a 5-4 year as a first season of a co-operative agreement in 2013. 

This fall, A&A went 12-1, enjoyed a plus-seven win improvement and scored 759 points, one away from the all-time eight-man record. Co-coach Luke Greenwood called it a “welcome surprise.”

Even after a 52-8 state championship loss, Greenwood and co-coach Lance Vandeveer were very pleased with the season.

“It’s a bad taste in our mouth for the way we finished, but we tried to tell the boys, nobody can take way the season that they had,” Greenwood said. “We are extremely proud. Both me and Coach Vandeveer of the boys and how they have bounced back and come together. They have just done a great job all year.”

In Eight-Man, Division I, Central Plains was a six-point underdog against Spearville in the second round but won 42-40. In the finale, the Oilers were a 12-point underdog to Hanover, according to, but won 42-30. Hanover coach Matt Heuer said Central Plains “played an exceptional football game.”

“The stars have got to align,” Central Plains coach Chris Steiner said. “You’ve got to stay healthy. Then, you’ve got to have some luck. You just don’t get to this point without all that on your side. You’ve got to have hard work. That’s the key to it."

Ell-Saline came out of a topsy-turvy Class 2-1A that featured four teams (La Crosse, Phillipsburg, Meade and Olpe) that all made strong cases for No. 1 throughout the year.

“There are a lot of people that are happy we are in the position where we are at,” King said. “It’s been a fun deal. It’s been a lot of work it seems like.”

Because many of the top squads played 3A and 4A competition, every 2-1A squad took a regular season loss. Against non-2-1A teams this season, 2-1A squads finished 28-78, according to the Freeman Ratings.

(Last year, 2-1A was 42-84 against non-2-1A teams; in 2012, it was 50-77; in 2011, it was 50-83).

In comparison, 3A squads went 116-46 against non-3A squads this year. Class 4A-II teams went 67-76 against non-4A II teams.

Ell-Saline, though, contained three great offenses in Sedgwick and all-state quarterback Brylie Ware, La Crosse and all-state quarterback Jack Garcia and Phillipsburg with standout tailback Stuart Lennemann, perhaps the state’s fastest player.

In the semifinal, the Panthers ran 82 offensive plays; Ell-Saline had just 35. In the final, Olpe had 65 snaps, 21 more than the Cardinals. 

Incredibly, Ell-Saline never committed a turnover in the postseason; it forced five in the final three contests. It produced a magical run that ended just short. The season will still be remembered in a year of small school surprises.

“Always wished that you had the No. 1, but No. 2 is not bad,” Morrical said.

 Injuries play key role

One constant that Victoria coach Doug Oberle mentioned all season was health. The Knights won the Eight-Man, Division II title and managed to stay virtually injury-free all year long. The only players who missed significant time were the Kisner brothers, Collin and Lane. Lane received several carries in the state finale despite a broken leg.

“We have stayed healthy throughout the year,” Oberle said. “You can’t say that enough.”

Injuries are part of football, but this year, titles and championships were often decided in large part to health-related issues. Central Plains played without a few seniors because of injury, and junior tailback Jacob Warnken was limited in the state game, but the Oilers top players remained healthy.

“We knew things we’re going to have to go right,” Steiner said.

Hanover fullback Cody Rengstorf suffered an injury in the state game. For the second straight year, Madison, ranked No. 1 in preseason, was decimated by injuries. Osborne senior fullback/nose guard Richard Zeiters tore his knee in the playoffs. Ranked teams Thunder Ridge and Beloit/St. John’s-Tipton missed star players for lengths of time. Top-ranked Chetopa’s dominant season in Eight-Man, Division II came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinals when the Hornets were without all-state running back / linebacker Derrick Cassell.

Pratt-Skyline, a regular season surprise, had running back Daniel Hacker go down with injury in their first playoff game. In Class 3A, Silver Lake quarterback Ryan Matzke couldn’t play against Rossville in sub-state because of injury. 

Hutchinson started 2-4 behind massive injuries for the second straight year. Olathe North, the final No. 2 squad in Class 6A, went through several quarterbacks early because of injury. 

South Barber, a preseason top-5 team in Eight-Man, Division II, had early season injuries to standouts Peyton Yandel and Dylan Allison and never recovered.

Injuries are sometimes an overlooked part of the game, but being healthy and having quality depth and coaching played a huge part in the 2014 landscape.

Records fall

A bevy of state records fell, including several from Fairfield and standout back Cannon Burns. Fairfield went 5-4, mainly because it allowed 474 points, but also scored 585 points. He set the eight-man record with 2,914 rushing yards for a season and 70 points in one game. As well, he and Wakefield running back Zack Melius tied the state mark with 11 TDs in one contest.

Fairfield set records with 65 points, 482.7 yards and 427.1 rushing yards per contest. Central Plains’ Layne Bieberle set the eight-man career record for reception TDs (57). Rossville kicker Paul Steinke kicked 101 extra points for a new state mark, and did so without a miss.


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