Rivals Hodgeman County, Spearville battle in Fan's GOTW

Bryce Harms (11) & Hodgeman County will try and knock off rival Spearville (by Jennifer Shiew)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Sep 9, 2016

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No team has seen the rise of Spearville football and its high-octane single-wing offense like neighboring rival Hodgeman County.

In 2012, the Lancers didn’t score versus the Longhorns. The next season, Spearville lost, 38-14, to the Longhorns, the Lancers’ last regular season defeat. It marks the only contest under 32 points since the start of the 2013 for Spearville.

In 2014, Spearville ended a five-game losing streak versus the Longhorns with a 50-28 district win en route to a 10-1 season. Last year, the Lancers clinched a district title with a 46-0 victory versus Hodgeman County and eventually finished a dominant 13-0 year and an Eight-Man, Division I state title.

Lancer coach Matt Fowler “has really figured out that defense and what gives it trouble,” Hodgeman County coach Matt Housman said. “Sometimes when they play us, it looks a little bit different with us. They put in a lot more of the quarterback zone read, running up the middle, the inside traps, got us spread out, so he has made a lot of good adjustments to it, and we have got to see if we can come up with the next answer.”

Other than the 2013 defeat to the Longhorns, no team has been able to solve the Lancers’ consistent single wing.

With its great depth, speed, blocking, precision and lack of turnovers, Spearville has averaged an eight-man best 53.37 points per contest since the start of the ’13 season. Argonia-Attica ranks second at 53.2, while Hanover is third at 51.2, according to Prep Power Index archives.

“The bottom line is: we feel like if we all do our job and do what we are supposed to do, and we don’t stop ourselves, then we are going to have a great chance to score every time,” Fowler said. “We have some explosive athletes with the ball, we have some good guys up front blocking. As long as we don’t commit too many penalties, and we hang onto the ball, then we will be a tough out.”

Since the start of ’13, Hanover and A&A have been under 32 points five times, including four occasions in the state title game. Spearville defeated Hanover, 62-16, to win state last fall.

“They do a good job blocking,” Housman said. “They just have so many options. No matter what you do on defense, they can counter that, and they can pull a different guy, and they can get so many angle blocks. Whatever you do, they have an answer for, and the offense doesn’t look like a straight I formation, so it looks a little different, especially with the kids up there that haven’t seen it before.”

Last Friday, Spearville had graduated three-year quarterback Nathan Stein and running back Brandon Davis, now playing for Sterling College. Plus, junior wingback Bailey Sites is out with a meniscus injury that will likely cost him at least another month, perhaps more.

Still, the Lancers defeated Hill City, 54-8, in a game called at halftime. Speedy senior Luke Heskamp, with 1,468 rushing yards last season, started with six carries for 89 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Kolby Stein played well in his first game under center.

Junior Waylon Strecker and Granger Rodda rotated in Sites’ position. Both start at defensive back, too; Fowler said Strecker has “made some major growth” and replaced multi-year starter Clinton Stein at safety. Strecker picked off two passes.

“Not a whole lot has changed for us, and that’s kind of what helps us move along,” Fowler said. “I think the kids are comfortable in what we do.”

Spearville, with 35 players and 13 seniors, rushed 28 times for 329 yards and seven TDs.

“For a Week 1 game, we came out and we executed pretty well on both sides of the ball,” Fowler said. “Obviously, some things that we can clean up. Mostly what I saw was some very correctable things.”

Hodgeman County, which started with a 46-0 win versus eight-man newcomer Leoti-Wichita County, will travel to Spearville and nearby Ford County for Friday’s matchup.

The Longhorns, 8-2 in ’15 and 50-13 under Housman, dropped to Eight-Man, Division II this year for the first time, yielding the non-district contest.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Fowler said. “It is for a lot of reasons – those guys at Hodgeman County, they play hard, they play good football, they play the right way, they are well coached. It’s always a fun game to have.”

Hodgeman County, led by junior quarterback Jacob Salmans and four-year starter Carson Cahoon, had just three turnovers last season. Spearville had only one, which came in the state title game.

“Every time you see a fumble, especially Spearville, it’s a shock,” Housman said. “It doesn’t happen very often, you’ve got to go back years to watch film to see them turn the ball over. That offense is pretty low risk on turnovers with as much as those kids have ran that spinner series over the years.”

Salmans, in his third season as the starter, has improved as a vocal leader and making changes at the line. He went 6 of 6 passing for 98 yards with three scores in the opener.

His younger brother, freshman Eli, tied Cahoon with nine tackles. Sophomore Luke Shiew led with 13 stops.

“He is a high-motor kid, and he gets sideline to sideline well,” Housman said of Shiew.

Cahoon, who started as a freshman at linebacker on the Longhorns’ state runner-up team in 2013, finished with 67 offensive yards and a score. Cahoon and junior wide receiver Trevor Morgan (two receiving TDs) were key injury losses in 2015 but both are healthy now.

The Longhorns, with a 20-player roster, have shuffled a lot on the offensive line. Senior Bryce Harms played guard last season and moved to end. Hodgeman County has three new starters on the line: senior right guard Colton Lee and a pair of sophomores: Dellon Shelton and Ethan Eckhoff at left guard.

Shelton weighs 231 pounds, Eckhoff 212. The offensive line is bigger than the past, but the base scheme hasn’t changed. The primary ball carrier remains unclear after Wyatt Nuss graduated following a 920-yard season. Salmans, known for his arm, has improved his speed. Housman said Cahoon and the Salmans brothers will likely split carriers.

“It’s a little bit different style,” Housman said. “We’ve had good pulling guards in the past. … These guys are bigger, more ‘go get you,’ run straight at you.”

For Spearville, the line remains relatively intact with three returning seniors: Wyatt Strecker at center, Jordan Knight at guard and Wyatt Hessman at tackle. The trio is all around 6-0, 205/210 pounds. Senior Kyler Stein returns as strong side end. Three seniors rotate at the other end.

“They all really work well together as a unit,” Fowler said.

Kolby Stein replaced Nathan Stein in the backfield. He rushed eight times for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s an explosive athlete,” Fowler said. “He hits the hole hard, he blocks well. Defensively, he takes things on well. He is very smart, he is an intelligent player, but he has some explosion to go with it. One of the things we’ve talked with him about is he just needs to be himself.

“A lot of people have tried to make a lot about him taking over a spot that was manned by a great athlete for a long time for us, but he is a great athlete, too, and he just needs to be himself, and I think that he has really embraced that,” Fowler added.

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