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Ness City faces big test in sub-state title game

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Late in the regular season, Quinter High School football coach Greg Woolf believed what many coaches, fans and media thought, too: Ness City was the best Eight-Man Division I team in the west. However, Woolf was one of the few people whose team had played Ness City -- and who had seen tape on Madison, the two-time defending Division I champions, 10-1 this season and a squad that plays in southeast Kansas. Woolf compared the different tapes and saw Ness City was the stronger squad.

"They should win," Woolf said.

A month later, Woolf's prediction could come closer to fruition when the Eagles juggernaut, 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the classification in the statewide media poll, plays host to Solomon (10-1) in the sub-state championship game Friday. Madison and Rock Hills play in the other sub-state game.

Ness City is the lone undefeated team in the classification and has outscored opponents 551-62. The Eagles defeated Pretty Prairie, 46-0, in the second round of the playoffs last Saturday.

"With the high expectations, I wouldn't say we are necessarily surprised," third-year coach Chris Bamberger said. "But you never know. You always want to see them put whatever you are hoping for on the field, and I think they have done that for us."

Solomon is the biggest team Ness City has faced this year with six players at least 200 pounds and 10 at least 190.

Junior Colton Shirack leads the Gorillas with 795 passing yards, a 13/6 TD/INT ratio and 1,200 rushing yards and 17 scores. Solomon defeated Pretty Prairie 20-18 and Hodgeman County 22-18. Ness City mercy-ruled Hodgeman County earlier this season.

"That presents some extreme challenges for us," Bamberger said. "Size-wise is obviously an issue and what they like to do. Again going to have be very sound on defense and going to have to continue to make them snap the ball not rattle off big chunks of yards."

Ness City, by a big margin, ranks first in scoring defense in the classification. No other squad has allowed fewer than 154 points. The Eagles' defense isn't very big, but is extremely disciplined and rarely caught out of position.

"It goes out to our coaches just continually stressing that in practice and obviously the kids do the right thing and they take the coaching, and then obviously they put it on the field," Bamberger said.

"They take pride in that as well. Kids want to be disciplined and they want to play that kind of game. They really do put a lot into that."

Ness City's defense has several talented players, including senior running back/linbackers Dalton Gantz and Garrett Flax, who have delivered nearly identical statistics. Gantz leads the team with 115 carries for 995 yards, while Flax has 120 carries for 994 yards and 14 scores.

They have both recorded 73 tackles, tied for third on the squad. Flax has four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, all first or tied for first on the squad.

"They really work in unison," Bamberger said. "Our guys on the defensive line to our guys all the way in the secondary. They know where each other is going to be and they expect it. When you have a defense that trusts each other, obviously you can play your position and not have to worry. I think that's really kind of how they work out there."

Senior Blake McVicker leads the team with 95 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

"He has got a motor and he has got a toughness about him that you can't coach," Bamberger said.

Even with the strong defense, Bamberger has still found mistakes on the film and said "it's really easy to nitpick."

"They do so many things right, but the key is continuing to improve and always putting a better team on the field each week," Bamberger said.