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Game of the Week: Red Devils enjoying strong season

Published on -10/18/2012, 12:03 PM

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When Ellis High School football coach Butch Hayes watches film of Oberlin-Decatur Community, he sees a Red Devil team in the mold of its first-year coach Joe Dreher: tough, physical, power football.

"They are going to take it to you, more than they have in the past," Hayes said

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Dreher, Oberlin's longtime wrestling coach, athletic director and coach at several levels in football, changed the Red Devils from a spread, pass-heavy attack under former coach J.D. Johnson to smashmouth football and an aggressive defense.

"Figured to be able to be a good team, you have got to run the ball," Dreher said. "You can't be one-dimensional and look to pass the ball all the time. You have to be able to pound it in there."

Despite suffering multiple injuries, especially in the backfield, Oberlin has opened 3-4 and 1-2 in Class 2-1A, District 7. It's one of the stronger seasons in recent history for the Red Devils.

Oberlin has not posted a playoff appearance since 2009 or a winning season since 1996. Since 1989, Oberlin has never won more than five games in a single fall.

"The guys have a lot of respect for coach Dreher," senior lineman Channing Fortin said. "He is a really good guy. We have got a bigger line this year. I think every one of us is over 200 pounds, so the power was just a lot better for our team this year. At the beginning, it was kind of hard to get used to, but once we figured out that it worked, we really respected his decision and just went along with it."

On Friday, Oberlin travels to Ellis (3-4, 1-1) in a key district matchup. The Red Devils will secure a playoff berth if they defeat the Railroaders and one-win Leoti-Wichita County in Week 9. The Red Devils have lost eight straight games to Mid-Continent League teams, dating back to a 54-12 victory against WaKeeney-Trego Community on Oct. 2, 2009. That includes three losses to Ellis.

"It would mean so much," Fortin said. "That's been our goal all season has been playoffs, playoffs, playoffs. That's what the coaches have been preaching."

Senior running back Zach May, the team leader with 477 rushing yards and 155 receiving yards and tied for the team lead with two interceptions, will miss Friday's contest.

May, who also missed last week's game, could have a tear in his medial collateral or anterior cruciate ligament. Junior running back Chris Anderson (338 rushing), junior fullback Kennedy Fortin (225 rushing) and junior quarterback Dakota Dreher will likely have to step up.

"Try not to be a one-sided team and mix it up a little bit," Coach Dreher said.

Dreher, who missed nearly two full games because of a concussion earlier this year, has thrown for 345 yards with a 3/2 TD/INT ratio and rushed for 222 yards. Oberlin has averaged 210 rushing yards as a squad. From 2008-11, Oberlin averaged 127 rushing yards a contest.

Defensively, Oberlin has permitted just 16.4 points per contest, 10th-best in Class 2-1A against the classification's eighth-hardest schedule, according to preppowerindex.com. From 2006 to 2011, Oberlin allowed 31 points per game. It's the profile of a strong squad, one that Hayes called "the team to beat" in the district when the season started. The Red Devils have six seniors, all who are returning starters: linemen Tyler Bruggeman, Cody Wurm, Channing Fortin and Matt Glading and Ryan and Zach May.

"We knew (Coach) was going to bring some good things with him to the table," Fortin said. "We looked at our seniors, and we had a good group of seniors and a lot of underclassmen that were going to step up. We knew we were going to be a power. We lost close games, though."

The close losses have separated the Red Devils from breaking through and already posting a winning season. After a season-opening shutout win versus perennial power Cambridge (Neb.), Oberlin lost 24-0 to Phillipsburg in Week 2. But the Panthers tallied just seven points in the final three quarters. In Week 3, Oberlin lost 20-14 in overtime at Smith Center. Last week, the Red Devils fell 16-6 to Oakley.

"We played really well," Fortin said. "There is no reason why we should have lost to Smith Center, to tell you the truth."

Sophomore Rex Diederich leads a balanced defense with 58 tackles, one of nine players with at least 36 tackles in what Dreher labeled "a total team effort." The team has forced 14 turnovers and blocked two punts, both by freshman Bryson Wesley.

"Focus every day, even late in the year, just on the fundamentals, getting off blocks and tackling," Coach Dreher said. "That's just the game of football. If you can't tackle, it's hard to win games, and that's what we stress a lot, intensity and to have fun, that's the big key in football."

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