Chase, South Central look to change recent playoff trend

By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 2, 2015

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Coach John Wellman has enjoyed a 37-12 record in his five years at Chase. That includes 9-0 regular season records in 2014 and 2015.

Last season, the Kats lost at home, 58-34, to Pike Valley in the first round of the Eight-Man, Division II playoffs. It marked the Kats’ fourth consecutive defeat in the first round since 2010 and their closest playoff game during that span.

This season, Chase again brings a perfect mark with nine blowouts versus a soft schedule into Tuesday’s home matchup against Pike Valley. Like 2014, the Kats have the weakest strength of schedule in Eight-Man, Division II, according to preppowerindex.com.

Outside of a state runner-up finish in 1986, Chase has not won a playoff game since 1973. The 9-1 and 9-0 records the past two years are the best regular seasons in school history.

This season, though, Wellman believes he finally has the squad to break through. He called this fall his best team.

“Part of it is I have improved as a coach and part of it is this is really the first year where we truly have the talent to do it,” he said. “In years past, we had three or four really good players, but then they might be surrounded by other starters that really maybe aren’t quite ready, but we just didn’t have other options.

“I really feel like this year, all eight of our starters on both sides of the football are good, solid football players,” he added. “And it allows us not to have to hide anybody, which a lot of eight-man teams do that. They have to hide a player here or there.”

Chase is part of an intriguing collection of eight-man teams that have put together great seasons but haven’t had recent success in the playoffs. That group also includes Eight-Man, Division I’s West Elk (9-0), St. Francis (9-0) and South Central (8-1).

All four teams won their districts and have first-round home games. West Elk has never won a playoff game in school annals, South Central has lost three straight first-round games dating back to 2007, and St. Francis is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and their first occasion since moving to eight-man.

Chase has a much different roster construction than in 2014. The Kats had one senior last fall, and five this year. Each player has gained 10-15 pounds and improved strength.

“It’s time for us to make that next step,” Wellman said. “We would be obviously really disappointed if we don’t.”

Chase runs a lot of option, especially speed plays on the outside with junior Kebren Julian, a state powerlifting champion. Wellman called the speed option the home run play; Julian averaged 10 yards a carry last fall but suffered injury Week 9 against Burrton. Chase had to move some players around for the playoff game and had little depth.

Senior Brendon Clark is the top quarterback and linebacker in the Wellman era. He has rushed 89 times for 1,231 yards and 31 rushing touchdowns. He has completed 14 of 26 passes for 364 yards with 12 scores against no interceptions.

Chase has outscored opponents 493-44 and ranks No. 3 in the class in offense and No. 1 in defense. Wellman has noticed a big defensive improvement from 2014. Last season, the Kats entered the playoffs with a 504-114 margin. Opponents have completed 33 percent of passes with a 2/9 TD/INT ratio.

Wellman said Chase has “the most balance by far” across the line in his years. Sophomore Dalton Rose starts at center. Wellman called physical senior right guard/nose guard Riely Munoz (6-1, 275) an all-state caliber player. Junior Brandon Enfield starts at left guard. Junior Conner Hill starts at end and will play some fullback. Senior Kyle Kizzar is at end, and senior Isaiah Bramwell starts at fullback.

Enfield, Rose and Bramwell play at defensive end, Clark, Hill and Julian play at linebacker, and Kizzar and junior Justin Oberle play defensive back. Linebacker has improved from last year. Two starting outside linebackers versus Pike Valley are backups now. The D-line has displayed great motors and put pressure.

“All flow really well, and all have really great speed,” Wellman said of his linebackers.

Pike Valley, with its great rushing attack led by sophomore Lane Peters, collected 457 total yards and 377 on the ground in 2014 versus Chase. Peters has 1,392 yards this season.

“Obviously, they are going to get some yards, they are going to put together some first downs,” Wellman said. “We just have to be able to not give up those big long runs and make them drive the field, and when we do get them into a bad down and distance, we need to get off the field. We struggled with that a little bit last year.”
 

Line paces South Central

South Central opened with a 60-14 road victory against Ashland, one of two losses for the Bluejays. In Week 2, South Central played top-ranked Spearville to 6-6 after the first quarter, the only time the Lancers haven’t led by at least 22 points at the end of the first 12 minutes.

However, South Central eventually lost 52-6. Coach Matt Smith felt “pretty good” after the first quarter and “pretty decent” at halftime even trailing 22-6. Smith noticed the small things, such as continuing and finishing blocks, finishing tackles and gang tackling, need to improve.

“Gut check,” Smith said. “Film wasn’t so kind the following Monday.”

South Central defeated two eventual playoff teams the following two of the following three weeks: 48-14 against Satanta and 44-14 versus Kiowa County. Now, the Timberwolves (8-1) will face Solomon (8-1) and standout quarterback Jake Tiernan in the first round.

“One of the best in the state,” Smith said of Tiernan. “Especially completion percentage, he does a great job of that.”

Senior Hayden Fletcher is in his third year starting at center. He broke his foot after the Spearville game in 2014 and didn’t play the rest of the season. Senior Michael Colter starts at guard. Sophomore Cabe Lindsay, the JV running back as a freshman, has stepped in at guard. Seniors Alec Konrade and Tanner Kay have blocked well at end.

Together, the line has formed an offense that’s amassed 351 yards a game, including 245 rushing. Junior quarterback Gerald Morehead has rushed for 1,161 yards and passed for 853 with 37 total scores.

The defense permitted 23.6 points per game in 2014 and 11.8 this year. South Central has forced 34 turnovers.

“It starts up front with those guys, and they make us roll on offense,” Smith said. “If we struggle offensively, it’s because we are struggling up front blocking. I tell the kids all the time it doesn’t matter how good your back is, if you are not getting any blocking, then the backs are going to struggle, and our backs know that, and they complement the kids all the time.”

South Central is 2-7 all-time in the playoffs since Coldwater and Protection consolidated. The T-Wolves lost at Central Plains (230 round-trip miles) each of the last two seasons in 8-2 and 6-4 years. During the trip, South Central stopped at Great Bend High School so the players could stretch their legs.

SC is 13-1 at home the last three years, and Smith is pleased Solomon is driving the 382-mile round trip to Coldwater – especially after the T-Wolves took a bus to Emporia last weekend to support the volleyball team at 2A state.

“We are not on a bus for three or four hours,” Smith, a Protection graduate in his 10th year, said. “That’s great. The last couple of years, we have gone to Central Plains, and that’s a long trip, even for us.”

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