A Central Kansas League showdown between Smoky Valley and Hesston on the Swathers’ home field highlights the McPherson area docket tonight as Week 1 of high school football kicks off.
The Swathers are coming off a 10-1 season, while the Vikings were 5-5. Both teams qualified for postseason play.
“Last year we won 27-7,” third-year Hesston coach Clint Rider said. “Both teams will have many new faces on the field and have some inexperienced players in key positions. Smoky Valley is a very tough, run-first team. They play very physical and give great effort. We are going to have to do a great job being physical at the point of attack and getting off of blocks to get to the ball carrier. Tonight will be a very tough game.”
The Swathers have to replace a deep senior class, highlighted by quarterback Grant Raleigh, now playing basketball at McPherson College. But Zach Esau is ready for the challenge after catching passes last year, instead of throwing them.
“Zach Esau has had a strong preseason and we are excited to see what he can do this fall at quarterback,” Rider said. “Zach Vogt and Scott Duerksen are catching everything and are elusive in the open field.”
Rider believes the Swathers are more than ready.
“I love the way our team has practiced the first three weeks and prepared over the summer,” he said. “We have had great practices almost each day up to this point. Our players are ready see someone other than themselves. Our defense has been phenomenal at flying to the football so far. Offensively, I like the way our units have progressed. The offensive line has made great strides, but still needs to continue to develop their chemistry.”
For Smoky Valley, it’s the debut under new coach Tim Lambert, who apprenticed under the legendary Ted Kessinger during his playing days at Bethany College and has carved out a nice 22-year career at St. Francis and Concordia.
Lambert has tried to squeeze in as much as possible in the last three weeks.
“We have done well under the circumstances of learning a new system with a new head coach,” he said. “We will know more once we play the first game as to where we are and what needs more work. We have not had much time to worry about Hesston, we’re just trying to get better every day.”
Elsewhere in the area:
• Central Christian at Canton-Galva •
It’s the coaching debut of Dustin Patee, whose team is painfully shy on numbers compared to other seasons.
But he’s undeterred.
“The preseason has went well for what we have this year,” he said. “We started with 14 kids, had one quit and three minor injuries. However, the kids are staying positive and working hard towards getting better and learning the new systems.”
Travis Unruh is the team’s unquestioned leader.
“Players that have caught my eye, outside of Travis Unruh who we knew was special, are Hunter Pearson and Clayton Sargent,” Patee said. “They will be a huge forces on the offensive and defensive line. Jonah Sargent has really stepped into the safety position well, if he can fill the run at all he will be an awesome asset for us in the secondary with his coverage skills.”
The Eagles won last year’s matchup, 64-12. The Cougars are expected to provide much more of a challenge.
“They are a fast team,” Patee said. “I think they will run the ball to the outside and pass against us. We must attack them and use our physicality to take them out of the game early.”
• Moundridge at Marion •
Another game, another head coaching debut.
The Matt Cole Era starts for Moundridge against a strong Marion team.
“Every first game is a statement game, where you can tell the rest of Kansas what to expect from you,” Cole said. “We have a huge task ahead of us opening with the No. 5 -ranked team in the state, but we're excited at the same time.”
The Warriors may be among the toughest teams the Wildcats play all year.
“We know coach (Grant) Thierolf’s team will be well-coached, disciplined and will come to play,” Cole said. “That said, we're really more focused on making sure Moundridge doesn't beat Moundridge than what Marion does or doesn't do. They didn't hire me to coach Marion. We feel like if we do the things we can do, minimize mistakes and turnovers, and execute our game plan we can play with anybody. Certainly opening up with Marion will be a good measuring stick for that. I guess we'll find out pretty quick how much work we still have to do.”
• Rural Vista at Little River •
A lot of new faces in new places for Little River.
Coach Paul Dold is replacing a huge senior class that accounted for nearly all of the offensive production and made up the majority of the defense.
The Redskins won last year’s matchup, but Dold said this year will be a major challenge.
“We needed a lot of luck to beat them last year,” Dold said. “This year they return almost all their starters and we return almost none of ours, so we will have to play almost perfect football to have a chance.”
Dold said the Heat provide a myriad of problems.
“(Trace) Hostetter is their quarterback and with the variety of spread options that they run, he is very dangerous,” Dold said. “Last year they ran a 3-5 defense with penetration up front and good D-backs that cover a lot of ground. We are good on the injury front, but are still working to fill substitute spots and learn our responsibilities. Clay Zeller at quarterback has been our most impressive player to date. Levi Swenson and Peyton Harvey in the offensive and defensive backfields will have to step up big.”
• Ell-Saline at Inman •
Ell-Saline lost all but one starter on each side of the ball off a team that finished second in the state last year.
Inman is coming off a 1-8 season, but does take some momentum from the fact the win came in the final game of the season against Medicine Lodge.
Inman coach Ed Ramsey was unavailable for comment.