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Knights look to keep playoff streak alive

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

VICTORIA -- Victoria High School's Eight-Man Division II first-round playoff game against Fowler last fall was a microcosm of the Knights' last three seasons. Victoria outgained the Goldbugs, but lost on a field goal, 17-14.

"We have struggled with, I can't think of any other way to say it, just finishing," VHS coach Doug Oberle said. "Whether it's finishing drives. Whether it's finishing defensively on fourth and short, not giving up the first down, finding a way to finish ball games, we have struggled the last couple of years."

"That is something that we have just got to get better," he added. "It's just a mentality, an air of confidence that we certainly lack. We find a way to make mistakes at crucial times in ball games, and then we don't react to it."

Victoria carries a streak of 11 straight playoff appearances, currently eight-man's best run, into the 2013 season.

However, the Knights are similar to University of Texas football in the last three years -- still very talented and in the upper tier, but not elite. Victoria had two eight-man state titles, a runner-up, and sub-state appearance from 2004-09.

From 2010-12, the Knights are 19-12 (61.2 winning percentage), but with no district titles and a 1-3 playoff record.

Still very strong, but expectations are perpetually high in Victoria.

"Victoria has a great history," senior quarterback Sam Ottley said. "Coach O has been here for so long. I think, in a sense, he is Victoria football."

Since 2010, Victoria is 18-0 against teams that finished with less than seven victories, but 1-12 against teams that finished with more than seven wins.

"This group has to find a way to finish," Oberle, 62-18 as the Knights' head coach, said. "They have got to find a way to, when they get up to stay up, and really put their foot on somebody when they get up."

The Knights have some quality wins, including road blowout victories against Palco and Almena-Northern Valley (both 6-3 teams) in 2010 and '11, that allowed Victoria to reach the postseason. The Knights also won at Bird City-Cheylin in the first round of the '11 playoffs, that's the lone victory against an elite opponent.

"Confidence and belief that they are going to figure a way out to pull something out and get a victory," Oberle said.

As well, the Knights are 1-4 in the last two seasons in games decided by 16 points (two scores) or fewer. In 2008-09, Victoria was 22-3 and 7-1 in contests within two scores.

This season, the Knights return six starters on both sides of the ball, including Ottley (739 rushing, 955 passing, 29 TDs accounted for in '12) and senior Clayton Roth, who has collected 1,082 rushing yards combined the last two seasons. Junior Bryan Dome had 515 yards in '12 after he took over in Week 1 following an injury to Dalton Dreiling. He also led the team with 104 tackles and tacked on two fumble recoveries and an interception. The 5-foot-7 Dome has put on about 10 pounds of muscle for this fall.

"I just knew somebody had to step up, so I thought that I would be the one," he said. "It's a lot more people than a JV game. There is a lot more people flying around."

Senior Tanner Hobbs (42 tackles) returns for his third year as a starter and junior Noah Dreiling is back at end. Dreiling led the team with 31 catches for 597 yards and nine scores.

"We try to do our best and go undefeated and win state," Hobbs said. "I think we can get it done."

The line brings back two starters in senior center/nose guard Nathan Kuhn (33 tackles, 6 TFLs) and Trenton Klaus (44 tackles, four sacks).

"We have games this last year, we are playing good, great football teams and we get it inside the 5-yard line, first and goal and we don't score," Oberle said. "We have a hard time of those fourth and third-down and shorts, both sides of the ball, offensively not getting them and defensively, giving them up.

"Those possession-type plays where change of possession is coming, you stop them or you pick it up and you continue," he added. "Those are the things that this group has to learn. We have some skill players. We are pretty good up front. We are not deep up front, and that's going to be an issue. We have to find some quality depth up front."