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Ness City now a favorite in playoffs

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

The Ness City High School football team has "come a long way" since head coach Chris Bamberger's first year in 2010.

The Eagles went 5-5 in Bamberger's first year, falling to Pretty Prairie in the first round. Just two years later, Ness City is considered the favorite to win the state title, ranked No. 1 in the statewide media poll. The Eagles carry a 10-0 record into Saturday's game at Pretty Prairie (8-2) -- a polar reverse since the last time the two teams faced off in the playoffs.

Game time is 3 p.m.

In 2010, Pretty Prairie was favored to win against Ness City, and in 2012, the Eagles are no longer the underdogs.

"There were a lot of young kids on the field that are now seniors for us," Bamberger said regarding the first-round game against Pretty Prairie in 2010. "We have come a long way since then. I hope we continue to."

Ness City averages 50.5 points per game and allowing 6.2 points per game -- the latter leading the state.

That score differential likely would be even greater, but the Eagles have mercy ruled all but three of their opponents this season.

The closest Ness City has come to losing was in Week 6 when the Eagles defeated Hoxie 38-6.

From Bamberger's first to third year, the Eagles transformed from a .500 team to a seemingly unstoppable force. Ness City definitely has "come a long way."

Unlike many eight-man football teams, Ness City doesn't have just one playmaker. The entire squad is littered with them.

Four Eagles have rushed for more than 300 yards, and senior running backs Garrett Flax (949) and Dalton Gantz (901) are nearing 1,000.

Senior quarterback Koltyn Ratliff hasn't had to pass much, but when he does, he's been successful, completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 582 yards and an 11-to-2 TD-to-interception ratio.

"Anyone on our team at any given time can make a big play for us," Flax said following Tuesday's 50-14 victory against Minneola (8-2). "I think that is an advantage for us down the road."

Meanwhile, Pretty Prairie might not be undefeated like it was entering 2010's match-up, but Bamberger said he expects a tough team.

Pretty Prairie's two losses have been two of the best eight-man football teams in the state. The Bulldogs lost 52-8 to Baileyville B&B, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man Division II, and lost 20-18 to Solomon (9-1).

In Tuesday's game against St. John-Hudson, Pretty Prairie pulled off a late comeback to win 36-32.

Bulldog quarterback Alex Mains engineered a 55-yard, fourth-quarter drive that ended with Mains throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Justin Haflich with 15 seconds remaining to win it.

Bamberger said Pretty Prairie 11th-year head coach C.T. Young has created a strong football atmosphere there, collecting a 77-30 career record.

"They've got good coaching and have kids that buy into it and work hard and do the right things," Bamberger said. "... If you put that all together, then that's when you have good years."

Bamberger said he didn't think his kids were too focused on getting vengeance for the last time the two teams played.

"I think they've probably thought about it," Bamberger said. "But they are kids, and that was probably a long time ago in their minds."