Monarchs win fifth straight season opener
By NICK McQUEEN
ELLINWOOD -- Going into his first varsity game, Thomas More Prep-Marian sophomore running back T.J. Flax knew he was a backup to junior Nick Schmidt.
But in an impressive first half for the Monarchs in a season-opening 24-8 Mid-Central Activities Association win against Ellinwood on Friday night, the 5-foot-10, 140 pounder made sure to make the most of his opportunities.
It paid off for TMP, which won its fifth straight season opener. With the Monarchs already leading 7-0, Flax took a delayed handoff on third-and-long, and turned it into points.
"At first, I was really nervous," Flax said of his first carry, which ended up being a 58-yard scamper for a score. "After a few plays, and definitely after that TD, I felt pretty confident out there -- pretty relaxed."
With a solid defensive effort, the Monarchs' second score turned out to be all they needed.
Flax's long run was part of a first half where nearly nothing went wrong for TMP (1-0 overall, 1-0 MCAA). Even a little luck went Flax's way on the run as an Ellinwood defender got a good hand on him in the backfield with 10 yards to go for a first down.
"I got the ball and one guy grabbed my ankle," said Flax, whose long run helped him finish with a team-high 84 yards rushing for the game. "The line, though, just made this huge hole. I just took my chance, and took it to the house."
Flax's TD run came after two incomplete passes from junior quarterback Max Megaffin, who made his first varsity start. In their first series, the Monarchs went three-and-out, then turned to Schmidt and the run game in their second series. Schmidt capped a 74-yard scoring drive by taking it in from 8 yards out and a 7-0 TMP lead.
"They came out and performed pretty well," second-year Monarch coach John Montgomery said. "As with most first games, we see a lot of things we can clean up."
Most of that was in the form of penalties and mostly in the second half, but a pair of second-quarter penalties did negate good yardage in a long-sustained drive.
However, both TMP drives ended up in points in the second quarter. Megaffin found his rhythm through the air and took the Monarchs to the 18-yard line; then junior Jack You hit a 35-yard field goal for a 17-0 Monarch lead.
Megaffin connected on pass plays of 12 and 36 yards in the drive.
"He came out like a normal kid in his first varsity start -- a little nervous, a little jittery," Montgomery said of Megaffin. "He settled in and he was able to make some plays.
"The thing I liked is he was able to settle in," Montgomery added. "Some start shaky and they never can shake the rust. He was able to settle in and finish strong."
The Monarch defense allowed only three first downs in the first half and had five tackles for loss.
Megaffin capped the first half by hitting three straight passes. He hit junior Cameron Fouts on a 25-yarder, Schmidt on an 11-yarder, then senior Ryan Mayorga for a 10-yard touchdown.
"With the experience, (Megaffin) will continue to get better and better and better," Montgomery said.
By halftime, Megaffin had thrown for 94 yards and Flax and Schmidt combined for 95 rushing yards.
"Couldn't be more pleased with how T.J. came in," Montgomery said. "He knows he's coming in a situation where he's giving Nick a blow. He came in and gave us exactly what we needed out of a No. 2 running back. He just ran hard and really pressed the defense with an up-tempo style of running."
Flax said he didn't know if it would turn into more playing time or not, but was pleased to have a hand in the offense Friday night.
"I thought maybe I'd get a few in the first and maybe in the second half get a few more," Flax said. "But maybe I'll be able to get a few more -- hope so, see what happens."
That offense was there in the second half, but mental miscues and penalties were in abundance for TMP. On the Monarchs' first play from scrimmage, Schmidt had a 52-yard TD run called back on a holding penalty. After that, the Monarchs only came close to scoring one time -- racking up five second-half penalties for 40 yards, four of which negated long gains.
"In that third and fourth quarter, you could tell as we started to get tired, we made a few too many mental mistakes," Montgomery said. "Those are things from Week 1 to Week 2 are easy things for us to clean and sharpen up, and get ready for Week 2."
Defensively, the Monarchs never broke until the second group was on in the fourth quarter. Ellinwood's first TD came with with 27 seconds left. Eagle backup quarterback, junior Marc Waite, hit senior Tanner Swank for an 11-yard score.
"There were a few miscommunication things we need to crisp up," Montgomery said. "The ones did a pretty nice job, but we need to get those No. 2s a few more reps in some game situations so they can be more comfortable when they come in."
TMP held Ellinwood to 91 total yards on 39 plays with 13 stops for a loss or no gain. Schmidt finished with 51 yards on 14 carries, while Megaffin threw for 153 yards, completing 10 of 19 passes. Mayorga caught four balls for 70 yards before leaving the game in the second half with an apparent leg cramp.
TMP travels to Clay Center on Friday. The Monarchs lost 28-7 to Clay Center in Hays last season.