Game of the Week -- Ellis moves to 2-0 in districts
By CONOR NICHOLL
Junior Sean Lee enjoyed his best game since he switched to quarterback after Week 2. The defense, paced by seniors Brody Douglas, Skyler Tebo and Nick Gehring and sophomore Dylan Haas, enjoyed a strong contest. Sophomore Brendon Brenner hauled in his first two career touchdown passes. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tebo blocked a punt and delivered two successful onside kicks.
The all-around team effort helped the Ellis High School football team deliver a 26-0 victory against St. Francis in Class 2-1A, District 7 action Friday night. Ellis had played well in first quarters this season and finally put a complete game together.
"Best game as far as we played all four quarters tonight," Railer coach Butch Hayes said. "We have not been doing that."
Ellis moved to 3-4, 2-0 district and set up a virtual playoff contest against Oberlin (3-4, 1-1) on the road next week. Oberlin lost 12-6 to Oakley, ranked No. 5 in the classification in the statewide media poll.
"We are just going to have to take this momentum we gained out of this game and execute the way we did tonight, but only better next week," Hayes said. "If we can do that, we might have a shot, but Oberlin is a tough team."
Lee entered the game with 342 rushing yards on 35 carries, but had struggled passing with 12 completions in 41 attempts for 164 yards and a 1/4 TD/INT ratio.
However, the left-handed Lee had a strong week of practice and finished 5 of 8 for 102 yards and three scores Friday. He also rushed 19 times for 69 yards and a TD and had a 17-yard punt return to set up the game's first score.
"I just had a feeling he was going to connect on some passes tonight," Hayes said. "This is his first year playing quarterback and it has taken him awhile to put the touch on the ball that he needs, and I think he has kind of figured that out."
St. Francis (2-4, 0-3) has lost three straight by shutout to Oakley, Oberlin and Ellis. The Indians had nine penalties, seven in the first half, including four offsides calls. Two occurred consecutively after the contest's first play.
"Too many mental mistakes," Indian coach Kyle Buffington said. "That's really what cost us. I think we clean that up, it's a different game, but it's just those penalties kind of took the momentum away from the first play of the game, and it's just hard to get it back."
In addition to the onside kicks and blocked punt, the Indians had a botched snap on a punt that led to Ellis' second score.
"They were really big," Brenner said. "That really turned the tide of the game right there. Without those, the game wouldn't have turned it out like it was."
Lee's first career punt return gave good field position at the Railer 42-yard line. Six plays later, Lee found junior Eli Lohrmeyer in the flat. Lohrmeyer ran through several tacklers for a 27-yard score. Tebo kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Lohrmeyer played quarterback in junior high, his freshman and sophomore seasons and started under center this year. Then, Hayes moved Lohrmeyer to fullback and put Lee at QB.
"I got smart enough to put a 6-3, (195)-pounder at fullback," Hayes joked. "He has just improved every week and is doing a great job for us there."
Ellis has led or been tied at the end of the first quarter in six of seven contests. This time, the Railers kept playing well throughout the game. With 2:07 before halftime, St. Francis had a poor snap. Haas, who had missed time and been slow to bounce back from a summer collarbone injury, broke through and collected a 12-yard tackle for loss, one of three TFLs.
"Every game that I have came back, I have kept getting better," Haas said. "It just took me awhile to get into the swing. (Week 4) Larned, I didn't feel like I played my best, but I feel like I've improved every week."
With 27 seconds left before intermission, Lee found a wide-open Brenner in the left side of the end zone for a 7-yard TD.
"I ran back across the field and all the receivers ran to the other side to draw the defenders to the other side of the field," he said. "It's always wide open when I run it."
During the season, only Oakley had run onside kicks against St. Francis, but the Plainsmen didn't recover. During the week, Ellis spotted a weakness on film. Assistant coach Jake Dreiling told Tebo to kick it to the right hashmark at senior end Mason Schlitz. Tebo did and sophomore Alex Towns recovered.
"Those couple onsides, how you not cover that, I don't know," Buffington said. "Mental things. ... We are so beat up, we don't have the same kids playing the same positions one week after another."
On the first play from scrimmage, St. Francis ran a man defense and Brenner got behind the secondary for a 41-yard score.
"They didn't think the tight end was going to go deep and I just broke the coverage," Brenner said.
Tebo tried another onside kick and barely kicked the top of the ball, but Ellis senior Scott Pfeifer, wearing a forearm/hand cast, fell on it. The Railers couldn't score before halftime, but took advantage off the blocked punt with 5:02 left in the third quarter.
Ellis put in a punt block this week, but Tebo isn't supposed to be the blocker. All night, Tebo noticed the Indian player that he was outside shade on, was blocking down. Schiltz was outside of Tebo and blocked out, like he was supposed to do.
Tebo told senior running back Landon Younger to mix up with Schlitz. Tebo came free and blocked the kick that Gehring recovered at the Indian 8. Tebo has two blocked kicks this season, three in his career. Lee scored two plays later to effectively seal the win.
"Shut them down pretty much all night," Tebo said.