LINDSBORG — Manny Matsakis arrived in Lindsborg last fall amid much pomp and circumstance, armed with an offensive repertoire that was supposed to light up the scoreboard and pack the Anderson Field stands.
The former head coach at Emporia State during the Brian Shay days — who's also had stopovers as an assistant at Kansas State and Texas Tech among others — was supposed to revolutionize the way the game is played in the KCAC with a myriad of offensive sets and dazzling playmakers to execute his renowned “Triple Shoot.”
Instead, the Swedes lost their starting quarterback right out of the chute, the expected offensive catalysts were inexperienced and the defense couldn’t stop anybody. The result was a 2-9 letdown of a season that left the Swedes in last place with Bethel. To add insult to injury, the Swedes lost to the Threshers on the final week to drop them to the No. 10 and last seed for the KCAC-Heart of America Challenge Series, which occurs the second week of the season.
In essence, it was a throwaway year. However, Matsakis has retained most of his top expected returnees and sprinkled in some transfers. He's also hinted there’s a lot more to come as he’s basically worn out the recruiting trail from coast to coast and the team on the field Saturday night for the annual Spring Game could look a lot different in the fall.
Going 2-9 last year obviously didn’t sit well with Matsakis, but he knows in the KCAC that just a couple of special talents here and there can turn things around in a hurry. Dramatic turnarounds in the KCAC have occurred often in recent years, such as McPherson College under Brian Ward, who compiled the talent to spark back-to-back playoff appearances, as well as Mike Gardner at Tabor, who has the Bluejays back on track after a couple of clunker years.
Of course, defending champion Sterling was a KCAC tailender the year before. So fame can be fleeting.
If the Swedes' Spring Game Saturday was any indication, they're are going to throw it. A lot. Three quarterbacks combined to chuck it 46 times, completing 26. There was just enough running to keep the defense from pinning its ears back and teeing off on the quarterbacks.
Bo Savage, the former Central-Burden star and son of Canton-Galva coach Jeff Savage, far and away was the most impressive. He completed 18 of 29 for 159 yards and accounted for the game's only score with a fourth-quarter strike to Ricky Alexander. Jordan Bess and Taylor Plett also took turns, but Savage clearly emerged as the frontrunner going into the fall.
However, Swede fans did not get a look at Virgil Bridges, a transfer from California. He sat out with a concussion, though he did warm up and probably could have played had it been an actual game. Matsakis smartly determined the risk was not worth the reward.
The Swedes have a reservoir of receivers, at least a dozen. The best of the bunch clearly is Kelton Evans, who put up nice numbers as a freshman and will be one of the KCAC's best this fall. But Matsakis will be able to bring wideouts in waves and keep fresh legs on the field. He is counting on whomever quarterbacks to deliver the ball in space to these speedsters and let them use their considerable athletic gifts to turn the short tosses into big gainers.
Bethany's defense certainly showed a lot of speed. It was especially stingy against the run, holding talented LonDarius Thomas to 36 hard-earned yards, most of them coming on pure effort as holes were minimal.
It will be interesting to see what kind of additions Matsakis brings in this fall given his track record and how well known he is on the recruiting trail. At least this year's team figures to be more of a representation of his style of coaching.