Many people believe that this may be one of the most open fields in 6-man in quite some time. This is evidenced by the fact that five teams received first place votes in the preseason CHSAANow polls, including the defending state champion, Peetz.
However, the Bulldogs are not the favorite as the new campaign begins, as that honor falls upon the team that Peetz defeated for the title last November, Stratton/Liberty. The Knighted Eagles must replace Jacob McCormick (1827 yards, 28 TD rushing) and Phillip Pickard (12 sacks, 31 hurries), but they look to have the pieces to do so.
Eltan Yarger was second on the team in rushing with 582 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he accomplished those numbers on just 53 attempts. Expect him to see more of the workload as a senior. Tyson Lichty is back to lead the offense at quarterback, bringing with him nearly 1700 yards and 37 touchdowns through the air in his career. His younger brother, Jaret, was the top receiver last season, and the siblings each recorded four interceptions on defense.
That defensive unit returns most of its key cogs, with Yarger (120) and Levi Shean (118) leading a group that sees six of its top seven tacklers back from last season. Â Also back is Owen Clapper, who led the squad with seven interceptions.
The lone top-five team to not garner a first place vote was Kit Carson, who comes in at #2. The Wildcats are favored to win the new look South East division, that now includes Granada. Kit Carson reached the semifinals last year, knocking off previously unbeaten Prairie in the quarters before falling to Peetz.
Kit Carson did not win the division last year, as Cheyenne Wells claimed a 14-6 victory over the Wildcats on a blustery afternoon in late September. Curt Connelley’s squad returns almost everyone from a year ago, including the top seven rushers, led by Jayden McCombs-Farmer (899 yards, 17 TD). TJ Conaway and Cordell Farmer each threw for over 500 yards last season, and both are back for another go round.
The biggest loss to graduation was William Hornung, who finished 2017 third in receptions and tackles. Conaway (104) and Farmer (96) led the team in tackles, while Joe Bryan (94) and McCombs-Farmer (84) rounded out the top five.
The second team out of the East Central in the polls is Otis, who collected one first place vote. The Bulldogs nearly ended Stratton/Liberty’s postseason run in the quarterfinals last year. Just a few weeks after suffering a 63-6 loss to the Knighted Eagles in the regular season, the Bulldogs led for most of the playoff contest, eventually falling 40-32.
Opponents can expect to see a healthy dose of Bryce Miracle, who rushed for 1675 yards and 32 touchdowns last year. Otis also brings back Ty Hunt and Christian Nation, who each gained over 200 yards on the ground. Hunt returns as the leading passer for the Bulldogs, having thrown for 612 yards and nine scores.
The defense was very good for Otis over the first six games, as they held opponents to a total of 65 points. However, over the last four games, the Bulldogs surrendered 196 points, including 70 in a playoff win over Genoa-Hugo. Three of the top four tacklers from last year are gone, leaving Miracle (113 tackles) as the top guy to return. Nation (95) and Landston Schaffert (88) will provide experience on that side of the ball.
One of the teams to make it through the 2017 regular season without a loss was Prairie, and the Mustangs begin this season at #4. Justin Kerns led the Mustangs to a North division title in his first year at the helm and he brings back a very experienced, very deep roster. Gone are Trent Holzworth and Coltin Hove, who both played in the 6-man All-State game this past summer, but Prairie will have a roster of 25, with nine seniors.
Mitch Dollerschell is back for another season at QB, having thrown for 343 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He’ll have a pair of experienced runners in the backfield with him, as Patrick Thompson and Trey Moore will look to assume the featured roles in the offense. Wyatt Schnug, one of eight Pawnee players on the squad, is back to anchor the line. His 12 receptions led the team last year.
Thompson is the top returning tackler, having registered 51 stops as a sophomore. Carson Holzworth (43) finished third. Eight other players who recorded at least 10 tackles will also return. That includes James Krist, who tied for team honors with four fumble recoveries.
Peetz finds itself in a strange position in 2018. As the defending champion, the Bulldogs will wear the bullseye every week, but after being hit hard by graduation, they will also play the underdog role. The preseason #5 team, Peetz is the second of four North division teams in the poll.
While it would take a bit of time to recite all of the key players lost from last year’s squad to graduation, it is much easier to name the top returnees. That list begins with Bryson Long, who is ready for his senior campaign. Last year, Long tallied 904 yards rushing, 216 passing, and 127 receiving. His 1247 yards of total offense led the Bulldogs. He also tied for third with 80 tackles.
Stepping into the role of QB will be Zach Holtz, who has seen reps at that spot throughout his career. He was just one of nine last year, but he could provide the Bulldogs with more of a running threat from the spot. The biggest shoes to fill will be that of Logan Sircy, the player of the year, who led the team with 30 of their 62 receptions and nine of the defense’s 18 interceptions. Holtz could be the answer in the defensive backfield, but the question mark at receiver will need to be solved as the season progresses.
Last year’s South East division champ, Cheyenne Wells is ranked sixth in the preseason polls. A semifinalist last season, the Tigers must replace their top runner and top three receivers. However, they have one of the top returning quarterbacks in the classification in Quade Pelton. As a sophomore, Pelton threw for 1063 yards and 18 touchdowns, and ran for 429 yards with 11 more scores. He also led the defense with 130 tackles.
Jade Cozart will help take some of the work load on both sides of the ball, as he finished last season with 341 yards and nine touchdowns rushing, while ending the year second on defense with 93 tackles. The Tigers will need players like Kyle Nelson and Preston Hernandez to step up after filling back-up roles last season.
Fleming finished last season with a losing record (4-6), but still made the postseason. That was due to the fact that the Wildcats played one of the most difficult schedules in the state. Every one of their losses came against teams that made the playoffs, including two of the better teams in Nebraska. They also picked up two wins against postseason qualifiers. One of those wins was in the opening round over La Veta.
Like many of the top teams, the seventh-ranked Wildcats have a few holes to fill to be able to reach their potential. Among those spots are the top running back and receiver positions. Brandon Williams rushed for just over 500 yards last year and would appear to be the first option to replace Kolton Dickinson and his nearly 2000 yards, but his build makes him a perfect fit to remain in the fullback role. If John King elects to go with the latter option, Brady Kuntz, who gained 210 yards as a freshman, might assume the tailback spot.
One place without a question mark is quarterback. Kade Comstock took over the position after the first game and finished his freshman season with 701 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will need someone to become a receiving threat, as Williams is the only player on the roster with more than one catch last year.
Arickaree/Woodlin (#8) is the final team to gain a first place vote in the preseason poll. The Indian-Mustangs are the third team from the East Central to make the field and they will be looking to bounce back after failing to reach the playoffs last year. Injuries at the running back position kept them from being consistent and led to a 3-5 record.
The good news for the Indian-Mustangs is that they return all but one player from last year’s squad. That includes Michael McCaffrey at QB; Kevin Ramirez and Arturo Ramos in the backfield; and a front line of Andy Miller, Kade Dutton, and Elijah Miller. Those six are also key members of the defense. Last year’s injuries allowed Tyson and Tyler Schneider to gain valuable experience on both sides of the ball, and Arickaree/Woodlin will have a roster of 20 to fill holes.
After winning the South West division last year, La Veta shifts to the newly formed South Central this season and immediately becomes a heavy favorite to win the division. The Redskins will have to replace Eric Morgan, who led them in passing (1476 yards, 27 TD) and rushing (577 yards). Much of the work load could fall upon Ty Warren, who was third in rushing with 477 yards while also leading the team with 40 receptions and over 600 yards.
Truckee White and Kaleb Andreatta are two players who can help take some pressure off Warren on offense, as both were used in the passing game last year. Warren, White, and Shem Bellah are the most experienced returnees on defense. Warren recorded a team-high eight sacks last season.
The fourth team from the North division, North Park, holds down the final spot in the preseason top-10. Last year, the Wildcats made the postseason for the third time in four years under Chad Carlstrom. He’ll have to reshuffle the deck this year, as he lost his experienced QB and top two rushers to graduation.
That leads one to believe that Bryce Carlstrom, last year’s leading receiver (31/674/13) might have to be utilized at another position. He is the only member of the roster who completed a pass last year, but only one other Wildcat currently on the roster caught a ball last year, so Coach Carlstrom has some tough decisions to make. Some of the players with experience from last year he will have at his disposal are Will Martin, Cordell Marriott, Brock Follett, Waylan Fletcher, and Carlos Gonzales.
Flagler/Hi-Plains looks to rebound from a down year in the East Central, and the Thunder will hope to have a healthy Kyle Klann all season. A knee injury cost him the first half of last year. Granada drops to six-man after creating a much storied history in 8-man. Legendary coach, Manuel Gonzales, SR is giving the reigns of the Bobcats to his son, Manuel Gonzales, JR and assuming an assistant role. The Bobcats return a very good group of players from last year, but they will need to adjust to the 6-man style of play.
Briggsdale was a playoff team in the loaded North division and the Falcons bring back much of that roster, hoping to make another push. Some believe that they might be a year away from making serious noise on a state level. Genoa-Hugo won the Central division last year, but after losing their Mr. Do-It-All, Caid Smith, this looks to be a rebuilding year. That could open the door for Hanover or Edison to take the league crown.
Sierra Grande and Cotopaxi are positioned to fight each other for the South West, with La Veta now in a different conference. Both received votes in the preseason poll. Eads has a young squad, but they should still be competitive in the South East, and the same can be said for Idalia in the East Central.