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Football 2012: Last season's loss fuels the fire for Eagles' Gantz

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:50 AM

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NESS CITY -- Ness City High School senior running back/linebacker Dalton Gantz believes the Eagle football team could have made a deep playoff run last fall. Ness City had several injuries late in the season and had to move players around. Still, in the first round of the playoffs, the Eagles had a chance to defeat perennial powerhouse Macksville. Ness City missed four two-point conversions and had two fumbled snaps on a late drive that could have won the game. The Eagles lost 42-40 and finished 8-2.

"Losing that game, a fire just went off in all of our stomachs, and we know that losing a playoff game that you should have won ... you don't want to lose again this season," Gantz said.

Ness City returns a virtually intact team from last year, and is expected to contend for a state title. All eight starters could be seniors.

"We feel like we are (a contender)," Gantz said. "We have had that sense of urgency since we first started two-a-days, and we are going to keep that sense of urgency for a full season."

The Eagles return nine players who earned all Central Prairie League honors. The rest of the CPL -- arguably one of Kansas' top small school conferences -- collectively returns 15. Last year, the CPL had every team except one finish with a winning record; five squads won at least nine games.

Gantz earned kpreps.com's District 6 team Defensive MVP honors after he picked up 94 tackles, five tackles for loss, one fumble recovery and a sack. As well, he was first-team linebacker and second-team running back in the CPL after he collected 900 rushing yards on 110 carries and caught eight passes for 209 yards. Third-year Ness City coach Chris Bamberger said Gantz adjusted well from the 11-man to the eight-man game when the Eagles switched to eight-man before the 2010 season.

"Things happen just a little bit faster, and he picked it up pretty quick, and he has got a good knowledge of 'When they do this, this is where it's going to be,'" Bamberger said. "He obviously moves extremely well, and he is relentless to the ball, and he refuses to be blocked in a lot of situations. There are situations where he shouldn't make plays, but he does, just because he runs. He has got a motor that goes like crazy."

Senior lineman Blake McVicker was a first team all-CPL selection on offense, while senior lineman Tucker VonLehe was second team all-league on both sides of the ball. They will start at guard and on the defensive line. McVicker had 67 tackles, three for loss, three sacks and a interception returned for a score, while VonLehe missed four weeks because of a thumb injury, but still tallied 38 tackles and two sacks.

Senior Joey Rufenacht, an honorable mention all-league selection, will start at center and on the defensive line; he had 30 tackles, two for loss in 2010. Senior Garrett Flax had 810 rushing yards, 45 tackles and four special teams returns for scores, but suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 8.

Flax's injury forced Ness City to make a change at quarterback. Senior Koltyn Ratliff, a second team all-league selection at defensive back, was a solid quarterback. After the injuries, Ness City switched Ratliff to end and put Colin Foos at quarterback.

"Moved things around a little bit to try to find a new mix," Bamberger said.

Ratliff finished the season with 321 rushing yards and completed 24-of-55 passes for 371 yards with 10 touchdowns against one interception. He led the team with four interceptions, one for a TD.

Bamberger, a former Kansas State University player, said it's possible he'll have some "Bill Snyder stuff" and use two signal callers. Most of all, Bamberger wants a quarterback who can manage the offense, "get people in the right places," and have "a little bit of swag."

"You don't have to be a game-breaker," Bamberger said. "You don't have to be able to throw the ball on a dime every time or run a 4.5 40, but if you can control the offense and if you can call the shots, and you are the guy out there running the show, if you can do that, then you can play quarterback for me."

Foos, a terrific athlete in football and basketball, will see time at a variety of positions.

A move-in from Colorado before the 2011 season, he battled through injuries all year and earned second team all-league honors on the defensive line. He recorded 60 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (five).

"Another explosive player," Bamberger said. "He can jump well. He runs well."

Seniors Matthew Frank and Will Frusher will start at end and defensive back; Frank was an honorable mention all-league defensive back after he finished with 71 tackles in 2011. Frank was another Eagle who had to battle through injuries. Those injuries kept Ness City from beating Macksville -- and started a fire that has grown since.

"Just keep adding wood to that fire in our stomachs," Gantz said. "Even as the season progresses, it's going to get bigger and bigger. We are going to have that sense of urgency even for that last game of the year, because we know the playoffs are going to be right around the corner."

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