Jackson County football teams prepping for challenging match-ups to open 2015 campaign
High school football season kicks off with week one games this Friday, holding plenty of enticing match-ups for fans around Kansas to get excited about.
In Jackson County alone there will be some high stakes right away, especially with Holton getting ready to host Silver Lake in another much-anticipated season-opener.
Last year, the Class 3A stalwarts picked up an 18-7 victory and this time the Wildcats will look to defend their home field to start the 2015 campaign, though coach Brooks Barta said facing Silver Lake right out of the gate increases the level of difficulty.
“They’re just a tough team to prepare for. We’d really like to see them on film for one week because we’re not sure what they’ll do with their personnel and they kind of adjust their packages to their personnel,” Barta said.
Part of the challenge this year is that the Eagles look to use a dual-quarterback system and each brings different skills to the position and (potentially) entirely different play packages, which broadens the possibilities of what Holton has to be prepared for in Friday’s game.
Silver Lake normally has a lot of talent at the skill positions, so while Barta is concerned about the quarterback in particular, he knows that cannot be his team’s only focus in Friday’s game.
“I think they’re hard to contain offensively. They spread the ball around the field, but they still have a physical run game,” Barta said. “We definitely can’t give up the big play and the long ball. They’re going to throw the ball up and we have to win those battles.”
“Offensively, we have to do a better job this year just getting first downs and getting some traction offensively early in the game,” Barta said.
Though Silver Lake has to replace a number of key players on defense, Barta said he has kept stressing to the Wildcats this week to not overlook the Eagles, who he believes will still be aggressive and fast on that side of the ball. In particular, the HHS coach has warned his linemen to be ready for cuts at the line of scrimmage.
Both Holton (#3 in 4A-DII) and Silver Lake (#5 in 3A) enter the season ranked in the top five of their respective divisions once again, but with a little more experience this season Barta is hoping for a different outcome this time around.
“We do have a few more starters back and we’re a little more mature football team, so we would like to think we’d start off a little better, but we still have a lot of work to be done,” Barta said.
The Wildcats and Eagles will kick off at 7 p.m. in Holton on Friday.
Looking to rebound in 2015, Jackson Heights’ schedule does them no favors early as the team opens the season at home against defending league champion, Horton.
While the Cobras return several players with varsity experience, some of those players really just got a taste of what that experience was like last season, so JHHS coach Caleb Wick is dealing with a lot of unknowns right now.
Something Wick does know is that despite six Charger players graduating and moving on to play college football, Horton still somehow remains blessed with size along the offensive and defensive front. When the opposing team has 260-lb. back-ups they can use to plug holes on the line, it is clear that the battle in the trenches is going to be crucial.
“They rely on their offensive line and they have some behemoths up there again and they’ve got a running back coming back who gained 900 yards last year and had 10 touchdowns,” Wick said. “We need to get them to pass the ball. I think if they throw it 10 or 15 times, I think we’re going to be in the game because I think they really want to run the ball behind their offensive line.”
Derek Richardson is that running back who the Cobras have to look out for, as he was an All-League performer in 2014. So was linebacker Cole Wolf, who made a lot of plays on defense and is one of those big bodies who JHHS will try to contain.
“We’re definitely going to have to handle him to be successful up front,” Wick said.
Leading up to the game, the focal point for Jackson Heights is for each player to do his job on both sides of the ball in order for things to go smoothly.
That wasn’t always the case last season, and Wick noted his team has to focus on changing that by taking care of business when the Cobras get the chance and limiting mistakes along the way.
“Last year, I don’t know that we had a lot of fumbles, but we had a lot of fumbles at very difficult times in the game. We need to take care of the ball and we really need to limit the big plays,” Wick said.
With the new facilities at JHHS almost complete, everybody is excited to get out there and get the season started, which will happen at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Royal Valley has its own challenge looming on Friday, as the Panthers prepare to hit the road and face off against Abilene, but coach Jake Lott noted his team is more than ready for that challenge.
“We’ve gone through two weeks of practice, after Thursday it will be three weeks of practice without a game, so I think we’re ready to get out there, see how we measure up and get the season under way,” Lott said.
After last year’s battle with the Cowboys, there are likely to be few surprises for the Panthers this time around. While Abilene has a lot of unknowns at the skill positions this fall, its one known commodity is a pretty big deal as Lott has noted Cowboy quarterback Harley Hazlett is quite the playmaker.
“No matter what they do, he’s going to be the focal point. I don’t think it changed in that regard. I think they’re going to spread out a little more, probably to utilize him, which will be a challenge for sure,” Lott said.
While Abilene has some good size on the line and a running back in Trey Bender who has broken the 11 second barrier in the 100m dash, there’s no doubt Hazlett is the main threat.
Playing Abilene in the first week may be a benefit if the Panthers can stay fundamentally sound, meaning perfect execution and ball control on offense and playing as a team on defense. Royal Valley was inconsistent in some of those areas last season, but if the team can be crisp on Friday, then Lott believes it has a chance.
“This first game, a lot of it is about what team can play the cleanest game out there that first week, so we’re trying to limit all that stuff that we could beat ourselves with,” Lott said.
Royal Valley is ready and, Lott hopes, poised for a breakout year starting in Abilene at 7 p.m. on Friday.