Ellis looking toward big game with Oberlin, playoffs
By CONOR NICHOLL
ELLIS -- One of the hallmarks of Ellis High School under coach Butch Hayes is improvement throughout the season, especially in district play. In 2009, Ellis ran mainly a jumbo, run-heavy package after a second week loss, set a school record for offense and went 9-3.
In 2010, the Railers opened 0-4, but finished 5-5 as Riley Hunsicker cut down on his turnovers, led the area in offense and delivered a huge second half at quarterback. Ellis narrowly lost to ranked Johnson-Stanton County in the playoffs.
Last season, Ellis opened 1-3 before an overtime Week 9 loss to Oakley - which finished No. 5 in Class 2-1A - kept the Railers from their tenth straight playoff appearance and seventh consecutive district title.
This fall, Ellis could be on the same path again after its best game of the year in a 26-0 home district victory versus St. Francis last Friday. Multiple players, especially junior quarterback Sean Lee and sophomore lineman/linebacker Dylan Haas, had great improvements.
"We struggled in the beginning, and we changed some things up," senior lineman Skyler Tebo said. "Practices have been good the last several weeks, and we are getting the ball rolling now."
On Friday, Ellis (3-4, 2-0) travels to Oberlin-Decatur Community (3-4, 1-1) in a critical district contest. An Ellis victory clinches a postseason berth. An Oberlin victory makes things very difficult for the Railers. Ellis closes the regular season hosting Oakley, currently ranked No. 5 in the classification.
"We are pumped, and we hope we get that win to keep our season going," Haas said.
Oberlin lost 12-6 to Oakley last week in a contest decided on a Plainsmen fumble recovery in the end zone. Oberlin has outscored opponents 125-123 against the classification's No. 6 strength of schedule.
"We needed this win," Hayes said. "We needed to play well. We did. Oberlin is going to be a tough matchup."
Ellis has played the No. 24 SOS. In preppowerindex.com's rankings, Oberlin stands No. 10 in scoring defense and No. 15 in overall rating. Ellis ranks No. 23 overall.
The Railers are 5-0 against Oberlin in the last five years, but two of the last four meetings are within a score.
Last season, Ellis won in Week 8, but Oberlin qualified for the second berth on points behind Oakley.
"Decatur, they are kind of a physical team," St. Francis coach Kyle Buffington said. "Decatur, I don't think they match up real well as far as speed on the edge and different things. I think that will be a pretty good game really."
Lee finished 5 of 8 for 105 yards and three scores against no interceptions. His 146 passer rating was more than three times better than his previous best.
It tied the record for passing efficiency in the seven-year Hayes era, according to MaxPreps. In a 48-0 victory against Osborne on Oct. 30, 3007, Ellis also finished with a 146 rating.
"He threw it good tonight, that is the best game that he has played this season," Tebo said.
"Our passing game has really come along this game compared to the last two weeks," Haas added.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Haas had suffered a summer collarbone injury in a biking accident.
Haas has played in just four games and struggled greatly in his first contest, a 39-7 loss to Larned. He had several plays in the backfield Friday and wreaked havoc across the field.
"Reading that fullback as my key really helped me get around and see where I should go and make the play," he said.
Since Larned, Haas has 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.
"He has been making mistakes out there, taking wrong shoulder on blocks, and we talk about it each week," Hayes said. "Each week, he gets better, and I think this week, it all came together for him, he had a great game."