ELLIS — There was a sense the Railers would key on the passing game of Thomas More Prep-Marian entering Friday night’s Mid-Continent League clash in Ellis.
Rightfully so, after TMP senior quarterback David McFarland passed for a state-record 648 yards in Week 1.
But the biggest plays Friday night came from one of the smallest players on the field. And Gavin Schumacher didn’t disappoint a packed visitors section as the senior running back lifted the Monarchs to a 49-13 victory on the road.
“After what David did last week, obviously it gave me some hope,” Schumacher said. “But I was going to take whatever they gave me.”
What Ellis gave Schumacher, listed at 5-foot-7 and 168 pounds, was some wide open space to run.
“Gavin’s performance was astronomical,” said senior Alex Patel, who helped pave the way on the line for Schumacher’s big night. “He did amazing. There’s no words for it. He’s putting in work and showing off all the work we put in this summer.”
Schumacher finished with 20 carries for 170 yards and three touchdowns. He proved to be the lift the Monarchs (1-1) needed after a sluggish start that allowed Ellis (1-1) to take an early 7-0 lead.
“I feel like in pregame, we were a little flat, didn’t come out excited,” Schumacher said. “We finally, in the second quarter, got going and it carried on the rest of the game.”
TMP ran only eight offensive plays in the first quarter and netted only three total yards. That changed in a hurry in the second quarter.
Schumacher capped a long drive with a 32-yard run, and with a successful PAT by junior Jace Rueschhoff, tied the game at 7-7 with 9:26 to play before halftime.
“After that first big run, I was pretty excited,” Schumacher said. “The line was blocking well for me. They left the box pretty empty, so it gave me a lot of room to run. And the receivers did a good job blocking.”
The senior back would go on to add two more rushing scores in the quarter, the final one a 42-yard scamper to boost TMP to a 21-7 lead at the break.
“Gavin, going into the season, we knew he was going to be our playmaker,” said second-year TMP coach Jason Cauley. “We knew that. Last week, he had eight carries for 31 yards, and Abilene was just bigger, stronger and faster than we are. But when they opened the box, Gavin had space to run. We were just playing catchup, though. This week, we wanted to set the tone running the ball, and we did. I was proud of the offensive line recovering from the game they had last week with the run game and really getting a surge to open up cavities for him to run through.”
Ellis coach Craig Amrein said his team practiced all week for the passing game of the Monarchs.
“We threw all our eggs in that basket passing-wise,” Amrein said. “I don’t know what they ended up with, but I was fairly pleased with our pass game early on. We did a good job. I kind of knew if we were able to stop that, TMP was going to adjust. I really respect their running back. You could tell he didn’t have many carries last week, but he’s just tough. It was one of those deals that if we do this, they’re probably going to do that, and that’s what happened.”
McFarland finished 18 of 31 passing for 218 yards and an interception. He connected with seniors Creighton Renz and Luke Ruder for a pair of passing scored in the fourth quarter to push the game out of reach after Ellis crawled within 28-13 late in the third quarter.
“We could definitely tell they worked on a lot of pass blocking,” Patel said. “Thank God that we had Gavin Schumacher to run the ball.”
Schumacher had a 76-yard TD run called back due to a penalty, but that drive ended with a Chase Werth 8-yard score. The senior back carried six times for 40 yards and two second-half touchdowns.
“It was a collective effort,” Cauley said. “Gavin ran really, really hard, but Chase Werth, man, he was a nice surprise back there in the backfield the way he ran the ball. I know at that time they were tired and the defense had kinda given out. But that’s what this offense is for. That’s what the tempo is about. You go in with a little change of pace with someone who is fast and powerful, and then you go in with someone who is just a bruiser. It’s a great change of pace, and it’s great to see we can do that.”
Ellis senior quarterback Joseph Eck led the Railers offensively, completing 6 of 14 passes with one interception for 98 yards and two TDs. Both scores went to junior end Ryan Herl, who finished with five catches for 78 yards.
Senior back Bryce Younger rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries, and Eck rushed 17 times for 47 yards.
“It’s tough playing with such little depth,” said Amrein, whose team has 23 players and lost one to injury in the first half Friday. “I saw our kids just kind of get wore down. I’ll credit TMP for that matter and keeping up the pace of the game. We conditioned extremely hard this week, but you still can’t simulate the game pace. Some of my kids that were making those plays early on were now not getting there by only 1 foot. The next quarter, they’re not there by a yard. Depth is what really hurts us.”
Renz finished with 101 receiving yards on seven catches, and Ruder had three catches for 42 yards.
It was the second time Renz had more than 100 receiving yards. He finished with 13 catches for 224 yards in a loss to Abilene in the opener.
“It’s really exciting to finally be playing some good football,” Schumacher said. “We’ve got the whole year left to improve on, and we have some things we need to improve on.”
Next up for TMP will be MCL powerhouse Smith Center. The Redmen, ranked No. 1 in Class 2-1A entering Friday, lost 23-0 to 3A power Phillipsburg — one of three teams in the Monarchs’ district.
It’s also homecoming week for the Monarchs as they prepare for their first home game of the season.
“Homecoming, I’ll admit, is not my favorite week,” Cauley said. “Other than the bye week, it’s my least favorite week. But I know the community loves it, the school loves it. So it’s really fun to see how the school gets into it because TMP does an amazing job of homecoming of showing their school spirit and their love for the boys and everything. That’s good to see, but I really want to keep focused. We have a team that’s pretty tough coming in here. Smith Center, from what I hear, they’re going to be pretty upset this week after what happened and they’ll be ready to take it out on somebody. We just have to be ready for their punch.”