The 2018 high school football season will begin Friday night for our area teams. Throughout the week, we have been previewing the area leagues, and today, we will finish with the area teams from the Northern Plains League that compete in the eastern half of the state in 8-Man.
All six of the teams from the east will compete in 8-Man DII District 4. The top ranked team out of that group coming into the season is Rock Hills. The Grizzlies have been ranked as high as #2 in 8-Man DII preseason polls. After going 8-2 last season, they have four starters back on offense and three on defense. Their top returners are at skill positions, led by RB/LB Zane Colson. Colson racked up 1,770 all-purpose yards, including 1,500 and 23 TD rushing. He also had 67 tackles and 17 TFL on defense. Rylee Whelchel is back after putting up 1,448 all-purpose yards. QB Dereck Gillett threw for 759 yards, 15 TD and just 3 INT last season. Rock Hills coach Brock McMillan feels good about his team in 2018 but hopes they can stay grounded with the high praise early.
Unfortunately for Rock Hills, their season opener will not be played on Friday. They were supposed to open with Blue Valley-Randolph, but the Rams forfeited the game last week due to low numbers. Rock Hills will now open play against Lakeside next Friday, and with the new format with a 7-team district, that will also be the start of district season for the Grizzlies.
Elsewhere in District 4, the St. John’s/Tipton Blujays hope to build off of a 5-4 season last year. They return five starters on offense and six on defense. The Blujays did lose their top skill player in Ty Brummer, who had over 1,200 total yards and ran for 915 and 16 scores. Alex Ketter is back at QB and Kail Dubbert returns at FB and on the DL. Dubbert had 101 tackles with six for loss, four sacks and four fumble recoveries last season. Anthony Henke is also expected to be a major contributor as a Sophomore. Blujays coach Keith Kresin on this year’s group:
St. John’s/Tipton opens the season on Friday night with a talented Axtell team coming to Beloit.
Also on the east side are the Lakeside Knights in District 4. Lakeside went 3-6 last season and will need to replace some talent lost. Drew Cunningham had 780 yards rushing and 13 TD, but his defense will be even tougher to replace after he led the team with 113 tackles with nine for loss. Top receiver Peyton Johnson also graduated after registering 703 yards and 9 TD and he also had 95 tackles and six interceptions from his DB position. The top returner for Lakeside is QB Caleb Hake who threw for over 800 yards and 12 TD in 2017. Lakeside has just 12 out this year, with six being freshman, so they will be a fairly young team in spots as their head coach Drew Duskie explains.
Lakeside opens the season with Thunder Ridge in Downs on Friday. Fans can hear that game on KD Country 94 and kdcountry94.com with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30.
2018 will be a season of drastic change for the Pike Valley Panthers. Don Melby is gone after 37 years as the Panthers head coach. Also gone are seven of the eight starters on each side of the ball. 8-Man All-Stars Davante Hammer, Cole Strickler and Lane Peters combined for roughly 77% of the total offense the Panthers had last year. Hammer threw for over 1,100 yards and 19 TD with just 2 INT and ran for another 547 and 13 TD. Strickler had just under 1,500 all-purpose yards and 25 total TD. The only returning starter is Brody Carlgren, who ran for 378 yards and 6 TD and led the defense with 120 tackles. Jeremy Miller is the new head coach for the Panthers, and on their first night out, they face the two-time defending state champion Hanover Wildcats who have won 25 consecutive games.
The other two teams that compete in 8-Man DII District 4 are Southern Cloud and Tescott. The Warriors return some talent from last year’s 2-7 team. Blake Gumm (415 yards, 6 TD rushing) and Carson Bellows (396 yards, 9 TD rushing) are the top returning skill players. Southern Cloud opens their season on Friday at Wilson
Tescott went 1-8 in 2017. They will return six starters on both sides of the ball. There top returning skill players are QB Zach Perry and RB Conner Case. They did lose 8-Man All-Star RB/LB Logan Srna. They open their season at home on Friday night against Lincoln.