Game of the Week: Ellis in roller-coaster season
Published on -10/18/2012, 12:02 PM
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- Butch Hayes is in his 10th season on the Ellis High School football staff, the last six as head coach. The Railroaders have reached the playoffs every season Hayes has coached, including six straight district championships. At times, Ellis hasn't posted outstanding records. It went 3-7 in 2003 and 5-5 four other times, including the last two years. However, 2012 is the most up-and-down season in Hayes' tenure.
In Week 1, the squad lost 16-6 to La Crosse, currently ranked No. 1 in Class 2-1A in the statewide media poll. The defeat is the Leopards' closest game.
"At the Buzzer - The HDN sports weekly podcast”
In Week 2, Ellis had negative total yardage and lost 56-0 to Plainville, a squad that is already out of the playoff race.
Then Ellis defeated Ellinwood 40-18 and blew out then-unbeaten Larned, 36-0. A 39-8 loss to Norton tied the biggest margin of defeat against the Bluejays under Hayes. After a big victory against a struggling Leoti-Wichita County team, Ellis suffered a key district defeat, 38-22, at St. Francis last week.
"We play well against teams like La Crosse and then we come back the next week and don't play as well," Hayes said. "I can't put my finger on it, but it has been kind of a roller-coaster of a season for us, and losing last week to St. Francis, it was one of those games where we played with a lot of emotion. I thought we played hard, but something just didn't click for us."
Still, Hayes has been pleased with how his squad has continually bounced back from adversity. Last week, senior starting quarterback Blake Hudson went down with an ankle injury in the second series. Sophomore Eli Lohrmeyer stepped in and completed 6 of 19 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown against three interceptions. Ellis trailed 12-0 at halftime, but battled back to make it 20-14. Then, St. Francis returned an interception for a touchdown. Ellis closed the game to four points, but never took the lead.
"It wasn't a good feeling," senior wideout/outside linebacker Jared Mick said. "We came into the game thinking we could win, but we know we have to work hard these next two weeks to win districts and make the playoffs."
It was the second time in three seasons St. Francis defeated Ellis in district play. In 2010, Ellis rebounded with a 35-8 victory against Oberlin-Decatur Community and a 23-15 victory versus Oakley to clinch the district title.
A similar scenario exists this year for the Railers (3-4, 1-1 Class 2-1A, District 7). Ellis plays host to Oberlin (3-4, 1-2) on Friday. If Oberlin beats one-win Leoti-Wichita County in Week 9 and Ellis loses Friday, the Railers won't reach the playoffs. If the Railers beat Oberlin and then Oakley in Week 9, they captures another district title. Senior running back Gage Younger said starting fast is key Friday.
"When they score on us and get up on us, we don't bring it," Younger said. "We kind of fold. We have to go right away. If we don't have a good start, we don't really respond as well. That's how it has been in the past so far."
A win Friday and a loss against Oakley would cause tiebreakers to factor into the playoff picture. Hayes labeled Hudson, also the team leader with three interceptions, questionable.
"I was very proud of the way that we came back in the second half and played," Hayes said of last Friday. "I expect our kids to do the same these next two games. I expect them to take this adversity and use it to fuel themselves, and the way we play this Friday and next Friday."
Last year, Ellis started 0-4 before it went undefeated in district play and lost in the final seconds to Johnson-Stanton County in the first round of the playoffs. This fall, the Railers have stuck with the spread offense behind an experienced offensive line that includes juniors Nick Gehring and Skyler Tebo and senior Logan Fuchs.
Hudson and Lohrmeyer haven't matched the passing numbers of all-state quarterback Riley Hunsicker from last season (21 total TD passes and 185.5 passing yards a game). They have combined to go 42 of 107 for 437 yards with a 4/11 TD/INT ratio.
Still, Hayes has praised Hudson's work ethic, leadership and helping a strong running game. Ellis averages 190 rushing yards a contest, 6.3 yards per carry and 26.7 points per game. Since Hayes became head coach, it's the second-highest points per game, second-highest yards per carry and third-most rushing yards per contest.
Against St. Francis last week, Ellis made a change and got Hudson outside of the pocket.
On the first series of the game, Hudson led the Railers down the field and completed 3 of 5 passes for 44 yards, his third-most passing yards in a game this season. Then, he was injured. Still, Lohrmeyer helped the Railers pass for a season-high 151 yards and open holes for 165 rushing yards, including a career-high 148 from Younger.
"He came in with a lot of confidence and I thought he did pretty good," Mick said. "He is pretty inexperienced, but he stepped up for us and made some nice throws."
Despite the turnovers, Ellis scored 22 second-half points and kept the margin close.
"(Eli) was just kind of getting his feet wet and then had some success there in that third quarter," Hayes said. "We felt like we were getting back to having some success on offense. The (interception for a TD) just kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit, but I was happy with the way our kids after that interception responded."
On Friday, Hayes will look for a similar bounce-back effort -- and a win to keep the Railers' playoff streak afloat.