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Best in 2-1A could come out of west

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:52 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Perhaps more than any classification, Class 2-1A's powerhouses for 2012 is expected to rest in the west. La Crosse, Plainville, Meade and Johnson-Stanton County are the consensus top-four teams in the class, in some order.

Outside of the quartet, a jumble of teams, including defending state champion Centralia, Lyndon, Smith Center and St. Marys are among the contenders.

Last year, La Crosse won at Meade, 20-12, in the second round of the playoffs and then won at Plainville, 13-6, in the sub-state championship game. The Leopards lost to Centralia, 20-14, in overtime in the Class 2-1A state title. Plainville won at Stanton County, 6-0, before it lost to the Leopards.

The four teams all return multiple all-conference players and performers that already delivered all-state seasons. To add more intrigue, La Crosse and Plainville match up in Week 4 and Meade/Stanton County, in the Hi-Plains League, have its annual regular season meeting in Week 5. All four teams believe they can play at Fort Hays State University in the last weekend of November for the state title.

"Everybody is back, everybody has got the same goals as us," La Crosse senior Kip Keeley, one of Kansas' top players, said. "Of course, we see ourselves there, but everyone else sees themselves there, too. It's just a matter of who can hold it together for the longest, who can stay healthy, who can start and finish better."

Plainville enjoyed a seven-win improvement from 2010 to '11 and finished 10-2. The Cardinals, which graduated just four players, and Stanton County have the most returning starters of the quartet.

"I am always going to think that," Plainville senior running back/defensive back Trevor Axelson said of a title. "Why play a sport if you are not going to make a run at it?"

Hard-hitting Ellis

Ellis, 5-5 and a district titlist for the sixth straight year last fall, returns its top two tacklers in senior linebacker Cadyn McCoy and senior defensive back Blake Hudson. Each earned second team all-MCL honors on the defensive side of the ball. McCoy collected 86 tackles, while Hudson had 60 stops and a team-high three interceptions. Hudson is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, while McCoy is 5-7, 190 pounds.

"He is aggressive as could be," 6-foot, 210-pound junior lineman Nick Gehring, the team leader with five sacks last season, said. "He is probably the hardest hitter on our team, one of the smallest on the team also. Just like big things come in small packages. When he hits you, it's hard. It takes a couple of seconds to get up.

"You've got to catch your wind," he added. "It's rough. Cadyn has that same kind of aggressive mindset. He comes out there, he plays hard, pretty much the same thing. You get hit by him, it's going to take a couple of seconds to get up as well."

Hudson, McCoy and Gehring credited veteran assistant Craig Amrein for helping instill the hard-hitting mindset.

"It's always fun to be around him when he gets excited," Gehring said.

Hudson and McCoy each enjoy playing aggressively for a defense that annually ranks as one of Class 2-1A's best. Ellis has allowed 14.5, 12.8, 11.4, 20.1 and 25.5 points per contest in the five years of head coach Butch Hayes' tenure.

"I like playing aggressive," Hudson said. "It's Railer football. It's what we have been known for. We have been known for that smashmouth football."

"Just got to be physical to get through and get the job done," McCoy added.

New game

Ellis and La Crosse are located about 40 miles apart and each team is usually a playoff team in Class 2-1A. However, this is a rare matchup for the two in recent years. Ellis always has played MCL teams when possible and La Crosse, the lone Central Prairie League squad that plays 11-man football, has played all over Kansas and even in Nebraska.

Plus, the Kansas State High School Activities Association hasn't put Ellis and La Crosse in the same district for many years. Ellis is in its third season of heading north and west for district play, while La Crosse has generally headed east and south.

This year, though, Ellis and La Crosse had Week 1 open dates and Ellis couldn't get a game with Smith Center. Smith Center wanted to play rival Norton and Beloit and scheduled those contests for Weeks 1 and 2.

Hayes called over La Crosse superintendent and defensive coordinator Bill Keeley and said Ellis was open in Week 1. Keeley asked again to make sure Hayes was checking and then said, "You've got to play us, you've got to play us." On Friday, Ellis will host La Crosse in a 7 p.m. kickoff.

"It's great to play them," Hayes said. "We get along with that staff. They are a great staff, and we are excited to play La Crosse and they are with us, and it's going to be a good game, and I can't wait."

'Courageous' in Quinter

Quinter, 34-9 in the last four years, is well-known for combining religion with winning football games. During a recent practice, the Bulldogs broke the huddle and shouted, "1-2-3 Courageous!" This year's theme is based off of the new movie "Courageous" about God, fathers and family. Veteran coach Greg Woolf said Joshua 1:9 - "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous..."-- is the year's verse. Devotions, ministry and the year's T-shirts are constructed around the Courageous theme.

"What does God call us to do as men?" Woolf said.

It's an apt message for a team that has just three seniors, lost a pair of all-state players and will start sophomores at quarterback and running back.

"That's our big deal is staying courageous," Jeff Ruckman, Quinter's veteran defensive coordinator and a pastor in Quinter, said. "Doing our job and trusting the man next to you to do his."

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