OTIS — The third week of the 2015 football season is a near-perfect reflection of one year ago. Otis-Bison is fresh off two western Kansas stompings and pose a 2-0 record. It is much of the same for the Ness City Eagles.
Both teams enter what is rapidly becoming a rivalry with a perfect record for the second consecutive year. But for Travis Starr’s Cougars, a repeat of last season’s 72-22 home loss to the Eagles in Week 3 would be a disappointment.
The 2014 affair was dominated by the all-star duo of Pedro Flores and Tanner McMillen, who connected for two passes for 102 yards a two touchdowns. Dylan Hamilton, now a senior for the Eagles, racked up 169 yards and four touchdowns, out-dueling the 96 yards and one rushing touchdown for Otis-Bison’s Brad Lightfoot.
And for the past year, the Cougars have had Sept. 18, 2015, circled on their calendars, as they have the chance to avenge last season’s defeat with a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday in Ness City. The loss eventually was the first of a 2-4 stretch to end the season.
“Ness City is a really a game we wanna prove ourselves on,” said Lightfoot, who ended his sophomore campaign with more than 1,700 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns. “Last year, it didn’t really go the way we wanted it to but this year, I think it’s gonna be a lot different.”
With eventual road games coming against Beloit/St. John’s-Tipton and Victoria, a road win against Ness City could be the boost to join the elites in eight-man’s toughest district.
“This year, we’re trying to come out strong in this game and hopefully carry over that momentum,” Lightfoot said. “Ness City’s always been a good football team and last year we didn’t have a good game against them. Just gotta come out and show what we’ve really got this year.”
The Cougars return most of their weapons, including quarterback Kade Urban.
In two games, the junior has completed 7 of 13 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 88 yards and two scores. Lightfoot ran for 208 and five touchdowns in last week’s win against St. John, when the Cougars allowed just 81 yards of offense.
While the Cougars enter the game with the proven experience, Ness City brings the excellent track record having gone 42-14 over the past five-plus seasons and losing to eventual Division I champion Central Plains in the sub-state championship game.
“This game will tell a lot because right now we’re sitting in a similar spot as last year,” Starr said. “I feel our team has much improved from where it was, but you don’t know until you play this game and see where you’re at because Ness City’s gonna be a good test for us.”
With former Weskan coach Marc Cowles off to a 2-0 start at a new school, the Eagles entered the season young due to graduation of three all-state honorees.To make matters worse, junior quarterback Payton Fellhoelter is sitting out with a broken foot sustained in the summer and are without him for four to six weeks. With the rush attack being the Eagles priority with junior Dylan Hamilton taking over at quarterback, he has continued to maintain the success in the passing game.
“When you have your tailback at quarterback we obviously have to try to run the ball,” Cowles said. “We can utilize his talent and it allows us to move some other kids around.”
The Cougars’ size on the offensive line and athleticism in the skill position, along with the ability to wear down teams to create more big plays as the game goes on, impresses Cowles. But after Week 3, the road on gets tougher for the Eagles.
Otis-Bison marks the start to a difficult three-game stretch for Cowles as the Eagles travel to Victoria and Spearville after Friday’s meeting with the Cougars. But with the pieces that brought Ness City endless success over the past five season now graduated, the Eagles are letting each win this season speak for itself.
“I don’t think there was a lot of expectation for this group of boys,” Cowles said, “so every time they win and have some success, it validates them a little more. That’s what I hope to gain out of; it’s what they are, it’s what their role is in leading this edition of our team.”
Going against Otis-Bison’s 3-3 defensive front has forced the Eagles to prepare for multiple blitzers in the gaps of the offensive line. With both teams coming off back-to-back weeks of shutdown defense, Cowles believes the defensive success of both teams will feed into their offensive production Friday.
“You have to plan for what they do a little bit and you have to be ready for what they’re gonna do defensively,” Cowles said. “Sometimes the defense can dictate to the offense what they’re gonna do a little more than the other way around, especially a well-coached defense.”
With playoff aspirations high at Otis-Bison, a Week 3 road test with a chance at revenge just might give Starr, and the rest of the state, a glimpse of what’s in store for the 2015 edition of the Cougars.
“This game is real important,” Urban said. “It kinda sets the bar for where we’re at and how we’re gonna look into the playoffs
“People will basically look at this game to see how good we are, and we’re gonna come out and try our best to put a ‘W’ on the board.”