Trojans ride key win into showdown with No. 4 Osborne

Artwork by Joe Wachter; background photo courtesy of Logan-Palco Athletics
By: Conor Nicholl for
Oct 4, 2016

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On Sept. 28, Logan-Palco coach Mike Jenner sent out a tweet that read “David Thompson…..Beast Mode!!!” on his account @jenman1326. It displays a 32-second clip from Thompson’s Week 4 performance against Stockton when he rushed 36 times for 333 yards and five scores in the Trojans’ 56-30 victory.

The clip starts with a line: “Thompson the Beast. One Bad Dude.” Thompson receives the carry and runs to his left. He breaks a tackle, then trucks an opposing Tiger near the sideline. Next, he cuts to the middle and runs down the field.

Near the goal line, Thompson bowls over another Stockton player before he crossed the end zone. The crowd responds with cheering and audible noises when Thompson contacts an opposing player.

“Instead of juking them or trying to go around them, it’s fun just hitting them and knowing that they can’t tackle you by themselves,” Thompson said.

Last week, Thompson, a junior, and Logan-Palco delivered another impressive performance in a 50-28 home win versus traditional power Victoria in its Eight-Man, Division I, District 4 opener.

Thompson rushed 32 times for 224 yards and three scores, and Logan-Palco improved to 5-0 with its biggest win in years. It marked the most points Victoria has allowed since a 68-56 win at Beloit St. John’s-Tipton in Week 6 of the 2014 season.

“It’s very fun actually,” senior quarterback/defensive back Josh Van Laeys said. “I hand it off, and then I carry out a little fake, and then I get to turn to watch the show, because you never know what he is going to do.”

This week, the Trojans have a marquee matchup at Osborne, 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in Division I. In Week 7, Osborne travels to Victoria, 2-3, but riding a streak of 14 straight playoff berths, the longest current run in eight-man football.

“It’s been a blast,” Jenner, a longtime coach in his second season with the Trojans, said. “It’s fun out there watching these guys, watching how hard they work in practice. It’s like I told them, ‘The last quarter of the Victoria game, I just kept telling myself over and over, ‘these guys deserve it.’”

In some ways, Logan-Palco is similar to Pike Valley, who is ranked third in Division II, and lost 34-32 at Osborne in Week 4. The Trojans watched tape from the Osborne/Pike Valley game at the conclusion of Monday’s practice.

“I told the guys, it’s a very winnable game,” Jenner said. “It just comes down to execution. There’s no secrets in football, it’s who executes the best.”

Logan hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, Palco since ’06. The teams had put together some solid teams before the co-op but had a combined 13 straight losses to Victoria since 2006 before the victory.

“It felt good, because we weren’t the school that everybody got to run over anymore,” senior quarterback/defensive end Josh Van Laeys said. “We got to show that we are a contender now, and we can play with anyone.”

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Thompson leads Kansas eight-man players in rushing yards with 126 carries for 1,098 yards and 20 scores, according to MaxPreps. He ranks in the top-nine nationally for carries and yards among eight-man rushers. In postgame, Thompson, after carrying the ball 30-plus times, believes he could still run some more.

“He finishes games a lot of times stronger than he starts them out, and it’s almost like the more he touches the football, the stronger he gets,” Jenner said. “I am sure he would like a little break here and there, but he gets a little perturbed at me at practice when I pull him out and put him in a different position.”

Last season, Thompson tallied 171 rushes for 1,319 yards and 18 scores. Including 2015, he has exceeded 100 yards in seven straight contests. The quiet, reserved Thompson called leading the state in rushing a “good feeling.”

“I run the ball for the team and do what I can do to push the yards,” he said.

Logan-Palco is in its fourth year of a co-operative agreement and fashioned 4-5, 5-4 and 7-2 marks the first three seasons. Last year, the Trojans opened 6-0 before big losses to playoff qualifiers Atwood-Rawlins County and St. Francis.

This season, Logan-Palco’s first four victories came against squads that have combined for one victory. However, the Trojans returned a key core, led by Thompson and Van Laeys, a starter under center the past three falls.

“A lot of our success this year has been just maturity, guys coming back and knowing the system, and just playing together hard as a team,” Jenner said. “That’s what I told the guys at the end of (2015). I said, ‘You guys have to dedicate yourself in the weight room, and just get stronger and faster, and it will pay off in the end,’ and so far, knock on wood, it has this year.”

Van Laeys, the only senior who plays, is the son of longtime successful Logan volleyball coach Robyn Van Laeys. Josh’s older sister, Kodi, was an all-state player when the Trojans won the Class 1A, Division II volleyball championship two years ago.

“He is like my coach on the field,” Jenner said. “He can let me know what things are going on, and I can make adjustments with my play calling. That’s a big help for me. We don’t have all the fancy headsets and somebody up in the booth.”

This season, the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Van Laeys has thrown for 322 yards with four scores against no interceptions and rushed for 232 yards and eight scores. He has just one turnover in the last two seasons.

“For three years now, he has basically lived in the weight room in the summertime,” Jenner said of Van Laeys. “It pays off. It’s hard sometimes getting high school kids convinced how important that weight room is, but I think hopefully we’ve finally got these guys convinced.”

The offense has delivered 7.7 yards a rush and 9.5 yards per pass attempt, up from 6.2 and 8.3 last fall. Additionally, Van Laeys has 254 career tackles, 44 for loss. Van Laeys and Thompson are the team’s biggest starters weight-wise.

“He likes to run the football, so if it’s not there, he will pull it down, and he will take off,” Jenner said. “He is a fullback in a quarterback’s body.”

Logan-Palco lost three of the top six tacklers with two graduations and Riley Nyp’s summer transfer to nearby Plainville.

But junior outside linebacker Blake Bouchey has emerged with a team-high 72 tackles after he finished with 48 last season. Thompson, the middle linebacker, and Van Laeys have 57 and 54, respectively. Jenner called Bouchey the team’s most improved player.

“He has done a fantastic job on the defensive side, but I think his biggest improvement is at guard on the offensive line,” Jenner said.

The line has had some changes. Freshman Cody Brown started the Victoria game at fullback, and sophomore Bodey LeRoux played guard. The pair flipped as the game developed. Sophomore Matt Kirkendall starts at center with junior Riley Allen the leading receiver at 11 catches.

Defensively, junior Lane Stapleton is at end across from Van Laeys. Freshmen Jed Peace and Brown alternate at nose guard. LeRoux also plays at linebacker, while Allen and junior Colton Greving are the defensive backs in the 3-3 look.  Allen has two interceptions for a team that is plus-7 in turnover margin.

Jenner said the defense started slowly this season but has been the “most improved” unit through five weeks.

The “bend but don’t break” defense permitted Victoria 318 yards, 20 fewer than Logan-Palco. The major difference came on third/fourth down. Logan-Palco, which never trailed, was 7 of 11, while Victoria finished 6 of 17.

Bouchey and Thompson are two of the team’s four players from Palco, which has just 24 students, tied for second-fewest in the state, according to the recent KSHSAA classification release earlier this fall.

Thompson was born in California and moved to Palco when he was still very young. He is the second-youngest of five brothers. Part of his hard-hitting mentality comes from watching pro and collegiate football players “truck” others on You Tube with his younger brother, Micah.

“Honestly, I think sometimes he would just as soon run over you as run around you,” Jenner said. “…. He has got a lot of talent and a lot of heart and desire, and he actually seems to get stronger the more times he touches the ball.”

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