You wouldn’t know it from watching him on Friday night against Ellis, but Kaleb Hagans is still pretty new to the idea of carrying the ball.
After enjoying a big game on the ground against the Railroaders, the Thomas More Prep-Marian senior was asked how much prior experience he had running the ball before this season.
“It was a couple years ago, but let’s not talk about that,” Hagans said with a smirk. “It wasn’t very pretty.”
Just two weeks into the season, the former lineman has quickly established himself as a key cog in first-year TMP coach David Bowen’s offense, paving the way for TMP’s 14-7 victory over Ellis at Lewis Field Stadium.
Hagans bulldozed his way into a 166-yard rushing night on 28 carries with a touchdown as the Monarchs claimed their first win under Bowen.
“I love it,” said Hagans of carrying the ball. “It gives me a chance to do what I love to do.”
Hagans, also a standout linebacker, got a few carries at fullback last week during the Monarchs’ 45-0 loss to Smith Center, but he was the main source of TMP’s offense against Ellis.
“I talked to the guy this morning and said, ‘Hey, buddy, I had an idea last night about 12:30. This is what we’re going to do. Roll with it,’ ” Bowen said of Friday night's game plan. “I asked them to buy in and they did.”
“I feel like having a big body like me running against them, and having our wing backs keep pounding and pounding, they got real tired real quickly," Hagans said.
While the game was won on the ground, TMP’s first pass completion of the season resulted in their first touchdown of the year, with the Monarchs coming through in a key spot late in the first half. Facing a 4th-and-goal from the 11, quarterback Carson Jacobs fired a pass into the chest of Colby Dreiling, who held on to put the Monarchs up 6-0 with 25 seconds left in the half.
Ellis (0-2) had a chance to steal the momentum after recovering an onside kick to open the second half, but the Railroaders fumbled it away on the very next play.
Hagans later put the Monarchs up 14-0 on a six-yard run with 11:55 left and then scored the two-point conversion. He set up his own touchdown by dragging Ellis defenders for a 22-yard run.
“(Hagans) made it really easy for me to know what we have to do this next week,” Ellis coach Craig Amrein said. “We’ve got to tackle lower. My gosh, we just went way too high. A big kid like that we have to go at knees, and we were giving him hugs.”
Ellis got back into the game after a 4-yard run by Cade Lewis cut the TMP lead to 14-7 with 8:21 left. The Railroaders then got a fourth-down stop inside their own 10 and got the ball back with 3:12 left.
A nice grab on the sideline by Auntonio Jones Jr. put Ellis at midfield with under a minute left but a second-down sack by Ryan Richmeier and a fourth-down breakup by Lance Lang sealed the win for the Monarchs.
TMP finished with 219 yards of offense, all but 11 of it coming on the ground, while Ellis had 167 yards of offense.
“They tried to run the ball a little bit tonight,” Bowen said. “I feel like they played into our strengths there. I think we’re a pretty good run-stopping defense. We had to play Smith Center last week and that got us off on the right foot because they just run, run, run.
“Coming into this week, we had a game plan and they stuck with it. We’d like to have seen a shutout but I’ll take seven points any day from a defense.”
Konnor Pfeifer had 45 yards on the ground while Lewis rushed for 39 for Ellis. Quarterback Zachary Eck went 6 of 15 through the air for 72 yards with an interception to TMP’s Grant Ginther.
“We had a lot of injuries coming off a (52-12 loss to Phillipsburg),” Amrein said. “We had guys that were in different positions, so it was taking a while. There were things there early on, but we’d make one mistake — one guy was in the wrong spot or something like that. It was really about fixing those mistakes, and then we kind of found some stuff.
“We got a lot of young players out there and they battled.”
TMP will travel to Plainville next Friday while Ellis will play host to Ellinwood.