shake-up once the new rankings are released next week. A touchdown pass from Austin Bertron to his cousin Bryce Carlstrom with just three seconds remaining gave North Park a 31-25 victory over #2 Fleming. It was North Park’s first win against Fleming since the Wildcats from Walden in program history.
North Park has a chance to move to 2-0 on the season, and 2-0 in the North Division, when they travel to #4 Peetz on Thursday. The Wildcats are 2-3 against the Bulldogs since moving down to six-man in 2012, but have won the last two meetings. Last year, it was a wild 60-56 win that saw Blayden Fletcher rush for 232 yards and three scores. Fletcher started this season off with 144 yards and three touchdowns against Fleming, and Nic Martin added 121 yards. Martin was an honorable mention all-state recipient last year. Bertron helped out by completing four passes, all to Carlstrom, for 42 yards and two TDs.
Peetz returns a very good core from last year’s squad, led by junior Bryson Long. Long rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in that loss to North Park last season. He also threw for another score. As a sophomore, Long averaged nearly 45 yards per completion, throwing for 627 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs. His 895 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns were second on the team. Logan Sircy, Tre Fehringer, Zach Holtz, Gage Travis, Hunter White, and Cooper White all return after combining for close to 2900 all-purpose yards in 2016.
Leading off the Friday schedule is a rematch of last year’s title contest. Top-ranked Flagler (Hi-Plains last year) travels to #3 Cheyenne Wells, looking to make it two straight wins over the Tigers after taking a 66-44 victory in the 2016 championship game. Both teams were hit hard by graduation and will have a different look when they meet this time.
Kyle Klann is the leading returnee for Flagler in passing (129 yards), rushing (149 yards), receiving (27 receptions/554 yards), tackles (124), interceptions (three) and fumble recoveries (four). He is joined by Dustin Rico, who caught 21 passes for 319 yards and two scores. Rico finished fourth on the team last season with 73 tackles, and he led the unit with three sacks and three forced fumbles. Nathan Sayles will also help on both sides of the ball, as he returns after recording 223 total yards of offense and 57 tackles.
Cheyenne Wells returns its second leading rusher and receiver from 2016 in the person of Wyatt Fishler. The senior ran for 579 yards and eight scores and also caught 32 balls for 387 yards and eight more touchdowns. His 52 tackles last season were fifth on the team, third among returning players. Beau Roth leads in that stat with his 77 stops a year ago, and Quade Pelton checked in with 66. Those two combined for over 500 all-purpose yards, with most of the damage coming as receivers.
Curt Connelley, a member of the 2007 state champion basketball team at Kit Carson, will lead the fifth-ranked Wildcats into their gridiron opener on Friday in his first game as head coach of his alma mater. The Wildcats will host Idalia, who they beat twice last year (57-18, 61-16). Chris Bryan combined for 186 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the two games. Bryan was the team’s leading rusher last season, gaining 584 yards on the ground. His 950 all-purpose yards were second on the team, first among those on this year’s roster. Joe Bryan (358 yards), Cordell Farmer (278), and William Hornung (220) also bring experience on offense. Hornung’s 79 tackles were third on the squad last season.
Idalia made the playoffs last season after only winning two games. That’s a tribute to the strength of schedule that the Wolves faced. Seven of their eight regular season opponents also made the playoffs, helping boost Idalia’s RPI to a top-16 ranking. This year, they will have to find someone to fill in for a pair of players who made quite the impression in the 6-man all-state game this summer. Erick Enriquez was named player of the game for the North after running through the South defense for three touchdowns, and Charlie Bator was involved in almost every special teams tackle. The Wolves will have a young squad this season, as only two seniors are on the roster.
Another key match-up on Friday has #6 Stratton/Liberty hosting #7 Genoa-Hugo. Stratton/Liberty took an 84-34 win last year, with Tyson Lichty throwing for 160 yards and three scores and Jacob McCormick rushing for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Phillip Pickard was on the receiving end of all three scoring tosses. Caid Smith was a bright spot for the Pirates in defeat, piling up 321 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
The Knighted Eagles return almost all of their key players from a year ago. Lichty threw for 1040 yards and 19 TD as a sophomore, with Pickard being his top target (24 receptions, 504 yards, 9 TD). The ground attack returns McCormick with his 1254 yards and 18 touchdowns, as well as Eltan Yarger (441 yards, 8 TD) and Ethan Richmond (304 yards, 8 TD). Pickard (108 tackles) and Yarger (96 tackles) were the top two defenders in 2016.
A lot of Genoa-Hugo’s hopes will be ride on the shoulders of Smith, who was a second team all-stater in 2016. As a junior, Smith racked up over 1700 all-purpose yards, doing a bit of everything for the Pirates. Helping carry the load will be Nicholas Knutson, who led the squad in receptions last year. Those two were also huge on defense, with Smith registering 106 tackles and Knutson recording 74.
Last season, Eads and Otis met for the first time since 2011 and the Eagles came away with a 40-34 victory. Friday night, #8 Eads will welcome the Bulldogs into their territory, looking to make it two straight victories in the series. The Eagles will need to find someone to replace Fred Turner, who rushed for 198 yards and five touchdowns in that contest a year ago. The most likely candidate is Trevor Randel. Last season, Randel ran for 721 yards and 12 touchdowns, finishing second to Turner in both categories. Trey McDowell will help on offense, as he threw for 247 yards last year. He’s also the only player on the roster who caught a pass last year.
Otis is looking to improve upon last year’s 4-5 mark. Bringing back last season’s leading passer, Ty Hunt (442 yards) and rusher, Bryce Miracle (756 yards) will go a long way to accomplishing that. The defense will need to step up for the Bulldogs to make the kind of noise they are hoping to this season, as that unit gave up 54, 53, 68 and 63 points in their final four losses of the season.
Ninth-ranked Arickaree/Woodlin lost a pair of postseason honor recipients to graduation last year, but hopes are high as they head into the season-opener at Walsh on Friday. Part of that is due to the fact that the Indian-Mustangs return Kevin Ramirez, who rushed for 178 yards and four touchdowns in last season’s 52-38 win over the Eagles. The junior also intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in that victory. Keeping him healthy will be the biggest key for Arickaree/Woodlin, as he missed half of last season with injuries. Michael McCaffrey returns for another season at quarterback, but his top three targets from last year are gone.
After hitting the ground running in their first season of six-man, the Walsh Eagles have struggled the last two years. Back in 2014, the Eagles went 8-2 and reached the quarterfinals. In the last two seasons, they have managed a total of six wins, posting three each season. Bill Forgey takes over the reins this year and he will only have one senior on his roster and just four of the nine players were part of the program last year.
A game of note from outside the top-10 has Deer Trail hosting Prairie on Friday night. This marks the return of the Eagles to six-man after not fielding a team the last two years. Chris Wehner has been tasked with reviving a program that only has three players with previous high school experience. Seniors Cole Reed, Dawson Eldringhoff, and Mitchell Stoumbaugh were freshmen on the 2014 squad that went 0-8.
Prairie is coached by Justin Kerns, who began his coaching career as an assistant at Deer Trail from 2006-08. He picked up four players from Pawnee when the Coyotes were unable to field a team. That pushes his roster to 18, giving the program some much needed depth. Two of those key pickups are Trey Moore, who finished third on the Coyotes with 72 tackles, and James Krist, who was second with three sacks. Kerns also returns a number of top performers from his own squad, including Trenton Holzworth, Mitchell Dollerschell, Coltin Hove, and Patrick Thompson, all of whom had over 250 all-purpose yards last year.