Monarchs seek elusive 2-0 start
By AUSTIN COLBERT
With five straight season-opening wins, the Thomas More Prep-Marian football team has proven it has a knack for starting hot. However, wins after Week 1 have been few and far between.
In the last four seasons after winning their opener, the Monarchs are 6-26 with a 3-0 start in 2011 under former coach Jon Borer the only time in that span they have won the second game. Last season, the first under current coach John Montgomery, it took until the seventh game of the year to get a second win.
Friday's 7 p.m. game at Clay Center (1-0) is a chance for TMP (1-0) to buck that trend.
"Us seniors, knowing that it's our last year, we want to leave it that we did start 2-0 and didn't have that game we left behind," senior lineman Adam Schibi said. "It's going to be a major game to see what happens for the rest of the season."
TMP defeated Ellinwood, a Class 2-1A school, 24-8 last week, the fourth-straight year the Monarchs have beaten the Eagles to open the season. Clay Center, a perennial playoff team in Class 4A, will provide a much tougher test across the board.
The Tigers, who defeated Riley County 14-12 last week, went 6-4 a season ago, with a 28-7 win over TMP in Week 2.
"They had a heck of a team and had several guys go on to play college ball," Montgomery said. "We played them hard but we couldn't stick with them last year."
But that was last year, and TMP believes it's leveled the playing field with this year's team. Clay Center graduated key seniors, and the Monarchs could have a size advantage in many areas.
Montgomery believes the key will be controlling the offensive and defensive lines, and managing what he says is a "fundamentally sound" and "aggressive" football team.
"They aren't as big as they were last year, however they play with tremendous pad level and they get off the ball both offensively and defensively," Montgomery said. "What we've been harping is that we have to be aggressive and physical, and play with tremendous pad level to match that intensity."
Senior quarterback Kody Gregory was the main weapon for Clay Center in its win Week 1, going 4 of 5 for 37 yards through the air with 12 carries for 37 yards and one touchdown. Junior tailback Baylee Easterberg led the team with 56 yards on only six carries.
Stopping the Tigers' run-heavy attack will make or break the Monarch's chance to pull the upset.
"Coach always tells us that it starts up front, so we have to do our part to make sure that whatever happens in the backfield gets done," Schibi said. "We know what we have to face but you never know until you see them."
TMP was very effective at controlling the lines against Ellinwood, when it ran for 186 yards while only giving up 15 yards on 29 rush attempts.
If the Monarchs can replicate that success against Clay Center on Friday, it will go a long way to getting them to the elusive 2-0 mark on the young season.
"We've told the offensive and defensive line that this game is going to be won up front," Montgomery said. "If we come out hungry, aggressive and a little bit mean, then we will be headed in the right direction."
Monarchs find depth at running back
Montgomery made it clear that junior running back Nick Schmidt is the starter, but he is also excited about the potential of sophomore T.J. Flax.
Flax was the big surprise for the Monarchs against Ellinwood in Week 1, running for 84 yards on only eight carries. Schmidt had 51 yards on 14 carries.
"As a staff we were extremely pleased with how he came in and wasn't timid," Montgomery said of Flax. "He went full speed."
At 5-foot-10 and 140 pounds, Flax is hardly a power back. But the way he carries the ball, it's easy to think otherwise. He is also fast, and showed it on his first varsity carry last week when he broke loose on third-and-long in the first quarter, scoring from 58 yards out.
Flax is also Schmidt's backup on defense, and his play against Ellinwood gives the coaching staff plenty of confidence going forward.
"We certainly feel more comfortable and confident subbing him in when we feel Nick needs that break," Montgomery said. "Our No. 1 guy is still Nick Schmidt, but we hope to continue to see great things out of T.J."
Megaffin getting comfortable
The nerves showed for Max Megaffin in the junior quarterback's first career varsity start against Ellinwood in Week 1. But it didn't take long for the butterflies to go away and for him to show why he was named the team's starter.
"The first couple of drives I was nervous but I settled in and played a decent game," Megaffin said. "I feel like I learned the speed of the game -- it's definitely sped up from JV to varsity."
Megaffin went 10 of 19 for 153 yards in his debut with one touchdown, a 10-yard pass to senior Ryan Mayorga in the second quarter.
With the running game as effective as it was, the pressure wasn't on Megaffin to win the game. But should he need to down the line, Montgomery has plenty of confidence in the young quarterback.
"He still made mistakes throughout the game, but the transition from snap one, two and three to where he finished the game in the third quarter, you could definitely tell he was getting more comfortable," Montgomery said. "Things started to fall in place for him."