Game of the Week: Ellis keeps playoff hopes alive
Published on -10/21/2012, 6:45 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- Butch Hayes took over as Ellis High School's head football coach in 2007. From 2007 to 2009, the Railers went 27-8 and allowed just 12.7 points per game. An aggressive, physical defense forced an average of three turnovers a contest. Ellis ranked in the top-11 in Class 2-1A in scoring defense each year.
From 2010 through last Friday, the Railroaders were 13-14. Their defense still was solid, but not elite. It allowed 22.9 points per game and forced 2.4 turnovers a contest.
On Friday, Ellis' defense played at an elite level and led the way in a crucial 14-7 home district victory against Oberlin-Decatur Community.
"Tonight, the way we played defense reminded us of how we play defense," Hayes said. "We are physical, we are flying around the football, we are creating turnovers. We got back to that style tonight."
Ellis collected eight tackles for loss, including five sacks, and continually put pressure on Oberlin junior quarterback Dayton Dreher. The Railers forced five turnovers, including four second half interceptions. Senior Cole Pfeifer picked off two passes and senior Jared Mick sealed the victory with an interception at the Ellis 30-yard line with 44 seconds left.
"We usually play two quarters," Pfeifer said. "We got up to four quarters tonight and played a heck of a game. Our front guys definitely beat them all night, and our secondary guys didn't let anybody get deep. It was one heck of a football game. Great defense tonight."
Ellis' performance tied the most single game sacks in Hayes' tenure. The Railers finished one off for the most interceptions and turnovers collected in a single game under Hayes. Senior Gage Younger collected two sacks and an interception.
Similar to the win against Oberlin last year, Younger moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker because the Red Devils like to run plays off the edge. The defensive line, paced by two tackles for loss from junior Skyler Tebo, played well. Last week, Hayes thought Ellis' defensive ends had trouble getting down the line of scrimmage in a 38-22 loss to St. Francis. That improved Friday. The defensive tackles made big plays and the linebackers flowed to the ball.
"Great defensive effort by everybody," Hayes said.
Pfeifer led a young secondary that had to play virtually the entire game without senior all-conference defensive back Blake Hudson, who suffered an ankle injury last Friday and barely played against Oberlin.
"We were really strong on defense," Younger said. "We were bringing the wood every play. We were just having fun out there. We were playing really aggressive, looking for turnovers. It really helped us out."
Ellis moved to 4-4, 2-1 in Class 2-1A, District 7 play. Oberlin dropped to 3-5, 1-2 in district action. The Railers had to win to keep their playoff chances alive.
Next Friday, Ellis travels to Oakley, which has already clinched a playoff berth. If Ellis wins, the Railers earned their 10th straight playoff berth and seventh consecutive district crown. A loss and a Oberlin win against one-win Leoti-Wichita County gives Oberlin the second playoff berth. Oakley would then earn the district crown.
"Got one more step," Pfeifer said.
Oberlin, playing without senior tailback Zach May, its leader in rushing yards the last two years, had 199 total yards on 60 plays. May suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in last week's loss to Oakley. Oberlin also played without its starting center and had to make some adjustments up front.
"It changes our game plan up a lot," coach Joe Dreher said of playing without May. "There is a lot of different plays that we can't do. He did a lot for us on the offense and defensive side of the ball."
Dreher finished 3 of 12 passing for 35 yards and four interceptions. On many plays, he would take the snap and then run 10 to 20 yards back because of Ellis' pressure.
No player on either side had more than 64 total yards of offense. Friday marked the third time this season Oberlin lost a game by 10 points or fewer.
"We had trouble picking up their blitz in the second half," coach Dreher said. "... We knew with linebackers coming, we weren't going to have a lot of time. They were outnumbering us up front. They played pretty solid defense there, too. You've got to hand it to them. They did a good job."
Ellis scored twice in the second quarter on an 8-yard TD pass from sophomore Eli Lohrmeyer to Mick and a 6-yard score from Lohrmeyer to senior Cadyn McCoy. For the second straight week, Lohrmeyer played quarterback in relief of Hudson.
Oberlin had its chances to at least tie the game late. With 4:47 left, Younger fumbled at his own 21-yard line, the lone miscue for the Ellis. The Red Devils scored with 3:08 left on a 1-yard run from Dreher.
Then Oberlin recovered an onside kick at midfield.
Younger and Pfeifer thought back to last week's defeat. Ellis trailed by four late and needed a defensive stop, but didn't get it. This time, the Railer defense responded.
"I was really confident with our defense," Younger said. "They really didn't earn any of their points. Pretty much stopped them head on."
Three plays after the onside kick, Pfeifer picked off a wobbly Dreher pass. Oberlin had one more chance, but Mick intercepted Dreher's final throw of the game. As the clock ran out, Hudson hugged Pfeifer on the field. Pfeifer offered a quick message as Ellis celebrated.
"I was like, 'This one is for you,' " Pfeifer said.