By BRETT MARSHALL
Faron Kraft will be the first person to explain that he has little, if any, idea why his Ness/Dighton Titan football team is 3-0 and dominating teams in the first third weeks of the season.
After all, it was just a year ago, in his first season at the helm of the consolidated team, that he watched the Titans suffer through a dismal 1-8 record. What a difference a year can make.
"I actually don't really know what's going on with the team," Kraft said. "Maybe it's the second year of the program and the kids know what to expect and we know the kids and what they can do. I think they've bought into what we want and I also know our schedule is not quite as tough as last year or what it will be like at the end of the year."
When Ness City and Dighton were struggling with numbers of players six years ago, the communities wanted to remain competing in 11-man football rather go the 8-man route. The two combined forces and the result has been mostly lackluster seasons — until now. Ironically, this is the final year of the six-year plan to have the schools together for football. They will go their respective ways and each will compete in 8-man in 2010.
"I think the kids made a pretty good commitment this summer to go out with a bang," Kraft said of his team that has outscored its opponents 144-20. "The co-op has had its ups and downs, but this group seems focused on making it a good farewell."
Of the 31 players on his roster, about half are from each of the two schools.
"I think in some cases, the kids are simply playing harder because we haven't changed anything from a year ago," Kraft said. "Our offensive line returned three starters from last season and they are light years better in their blocking ability than they were in my first year. That's been a huge plus for us."
The line has opened up holes for sophomore running back Guy Fullmer (529 yards, a 176.3 yard average per game and eight touchdowns), and his other backfield mates. In all, the Titans average 357 yards rushing and another 94 yards passing. Every time a Titan runner touches the ball, they have averaged just over eight yards per carry. And when it has been time to throw, senior quarterback Joe Flax has done his job, too, by connecting on 12-of-24 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns. His receivers are averaging 24.3 yards per catch.
"Joe threw for nearly 1,000 yards last year when we weren't so good running the ball," Kraft said. "We can throw the ball, but we haven't had to and I like our chances of fewer mistakes when we keep the ball on the ground."
Of Flax's four touchdown passes there has been an 86-yard bomb to Fullmer and a 70-yarder to Zac Birney.
"We're just taking this day-by-day and see what happens," Kraft said. "I wasn't expecting the numbers we've been able to put up, but I thought we could be decent. Perhaps the kids know more than me."
The Titans schedule will be even tougher once their Class 3A district begins. Ness/Dighton will face Goodland, the Telegram area's No. 1-ranked Scott City and Norton, a team that took five-time Class 2A state champion Smith Center (a state record 70 consecutive wins) to the brink Friday before dropping a 20-14 decision.
"It's a tough, tough district," Kraft said. "I don't have any idea how we'll do, but these kids seem to be excited and are playing very well right now."
1 Scott City (3-0), defeated Ulysses, 27-0. The Beavers, ranked No. 5 in 3A, used a stifling defense to post their third straight victory and second shutout. In their three wins, the defense has yet to be scored on as a blocked punt that went for a touchdown is the only points Scott City has given up. This week...at Holcomb. Last season, Scott City handed the Longhorns their only two losses of the year.
2 Garden City (3-0), defeated Great Bend, 23-19. The Buffaloes came through in the clutch again against their Western Athletic Conference rival Great Bend in winning for the second consecutive season and their first road test of the year. This week...the Buffs are on the road to face unbeaten Hays High in another WAC contest.
3 Hugoton (3-0), defeated Guymon, Okla., 24-3. The Eagles continued to use their ground attack as they notched their third win of the year. This week...will host Southwestern Heights in a Hi-Plains League division contest.
4 Ness/Dighton (3-0), defeated Satanta, 69-14. The Titans continued to be the surprise of the area in the early season by rolling over Satanta. The Titans got scoring runs from Zac Birney, Joe Flax, Guy Fullmer and others to win easily. This week...at non-league Kinsley.
5 Holcomb (2-1), defeated Kinsley, 37-0. The Longhorns improved dramatically from their overtime win against Sublette the week before in rolling over the Coyotes. Holcomb rushed for more than 400 yards and averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. This week...at home against the area's top-ranked team Scott City.