This could be a banner year in the Golden Belt area for high school football. Great Bend, Larned, Hoisington, LaCrosse, Central Plains and Ellinwood are all looking for big improvement and solid seasons.
GREAT BEND- The Panthers are coming off of a 3-6 2014 campaign that saw them lose their first three games before righting the ship under new coach Tony Crough. The WAC conference looks to be wide open this year and the Panthers should make a move up in the standings. Just four starters return on both sides of the ball but a solid season by the junior varsity should add firepower. A home opener against Leavenworth is winnable, followed by three road games.
The Panthers will show a lot more offense than in 2014 and should be able to put plenty of points on the board. This football team might be sitting at 4-0 after those first four games with Dodge City and Liberal coming to town for key conference games. This should be a lot more fun this year for Great Bend fans.
LARNED-The Indians return six offensive starters and 3 defensive starters from a disappointing 4-5 season. The Tribe had a number of those coulda/shoulda games that turned into close losses. A lot of firepower returns offensively as most of the skill positions are returning starters led by quarterback Evan Skelton and all-conference running back Landon Erway. Coach A.B. Stokes will be trying to find more ways to get the ball into the hands of wide receiver Isiah Perez.
The first game of the season, at Hoisington, could very well be for the Central Kansas League championship. Those two rivals battled to an overtime thriller last year with the Indians winning 21-20. Converting in the “Red Zone” will be key for the Indians as numerous forays there last year did not result in points. Look for a very strong running game from Larned this year.
HOISINGTON- Coach Zach Baird is in his second year and year one was a dandy as the Cardinals finished 9-2. Tons of talent return led by junior quarterback Tyler Specht, junior running back Hunter Hanzlik and senior running back and Mr.-Do-Everything, Steven Dolechek.
Coach Baird’s Flexbone offense puts a premium on offensive line blocking and the Cardinals did it extremely well in 2014. It is an offense that leaves a lot of bruises on opponents’ defense and this year will be no exception. Key game for the Cardinals is that first one, on the artificial turf when the Larned Indians come calling. That should be a dandy football game.
LaCROSSE- Is the run over for LaCrosse. Did coach Jon Webster, starting his 7th year, lose too many skill position players? That’s the key question concerning the Leopards. They must replace almost all of last season’s offense. That won’t change the emphasis on tough football. LaCrosse may fall back a little but they will still be a factor in the playoff picture.
CENTRAL PLAINS-What do you do to top a 2014 season that produced a 13-0 record and a state championship. Well, how about a repeat? The Oilers compete in one of the best football leagues in the state, the Central Plains League, so by the time the playoffs come along they are battle tested. Senior quarterback Braeden Crites passed for over 4,000 yards last year and he has Jacob Warnken to run the football.
Warnken led the CPL in rushing last year. Another state championship? Don’t bet against it!
ELLINWOOD-New coach Jason Duval inherits a ball club that went 3-6 in 2014, the Eagles inaugural season in 8-Man football. The biggest difficulty for Ellinwood is that league, the Central Plains League, that has some outstanding football teams. The Eagles return four starters on each side of the ball . Look for improved defense as Ellinwood continues their adjustment to the 8-Man game. The Eagles are on the rebound and look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Friday nights were made for football. We’ve got an abundance of good teams in our area this year. Get out and enjoy it!