By BRETT MARSHALL
The 2008 football season for the Scott City Beavers produced many highs finishing 10-2 and reaching the third round of the Class 3A state football playoffs.
But the ending was one that will be difficult to forget and one that head coach Glenn O'Neil and his returning players hope to eradicate from their memory.
It would seem the Beavers have the players to do it despite the loss of Pittsburg State signee Levi Kuntzsch and fullback Chaston Hoeme from its potent offensive attack last season.
"We are excited to get back on the field again," O'Neil said. "The difference in our schedule this year is that we will be on the road for three straight weeks early against teams with great traditions."
After a season-opening home game with Lakin on Sept. 4, the Beavers take the bus the next three Fridays to Pratt, Ulysses and Holcomb. O'Neil has led the Beavers to a 17-7 record and two state playoff appearances in his first two years as the head coach.
"That stretch for us will be an early test that will tell if we have what it takes to challenge for the last (Mid-State Activities Association) league championship," O'Neil said. "It will also prepare us for our district tests with Goodland and Norton."
The last time the Beavers were on the field was in mid-November in a home playoff game against Garden Plain. On a cold night, the Beavers dominated the defending Class 3A state champs through 46 minutes and were leading 17-6 with just under two minutes to play.
Then the dam broke and the Beavers had a blocked punt that resulted in an Owl touchdown, a lost fumble that led to a long pass to set up another score and in a blink of an eye, Scott City saw its playoffs hopes dashed 20-17.
"I think that has been a motivating factor for this year's team," said O'Neil. "We've been knocking on the door to get past the quarterfinals and we'd like to do that this year."
For the Beavers to regain their 2008 momentum, they will need to find one or two or three players to step up and replace the all-purpose Kuntzsch. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder played running back, wide receiver and linebacker for the Beavers and was a first team Telegram All-Area selection.
O'Neil has seven players who started at one time or another returning on offense and nine on defense. The Beavers will open the 2009 season as the No. 1-ranked team in The Telegram's preseason poll.
However, last Friday, in the Beavers' preseason scrimmage, starting quarterback Dillon Stucky suffered a partial tear of his anterior cruciate ligament and is lost for at least three to four weeks while trying to recuperate.
"He just got his cleats caught when he tried to make the cut," O'Neil said of Stucky's injury. "He's going to try and rehab it without surgery and with some luck, perhaps he'll be able to come back."
As a junior, Stucky, rushed for 249 yards, and completed 80-of-141 yards for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was an All-MSAA selection. From his defensive back position, Stucky had 27 unassisted tackles and four interceptions.
In his place, O'Neil will insert junior Ron Baker, who has played quarterback through junior high and was already tabbed to be the reserve QB.
"He's played quarterback his whole life, so he was going to get some series as well as Dillon. I've got a lot of confidence in Ron. If he had been on just about any other team, he would have been the starter. It just messes up our depth and I feel badly for Dillon. He had worked so hard."
Another returning standout is running back/wide receiver senior Alex Swan. He caught 22 passes for 287 yards, rushed for 606 yards and eight touchdowns while earning all-league honors. Defensively, Swan had 29 tackles. Stucky will have one of his other favorite receivers back as well in 6-4, 215-pound tight end Jorden Funk. He caught 17 passes as a junior for three touchdowns and will anchor the defense at his end spot after earning all-league honors with 68 tackles.
O'Neil's group-oriented running attack will also have the luxury of having sophomore running back Dalton Smith to carry the ball. Smith rushed for 449 yards and four touchdowns playing just the last half of the season. He is considered one of the strongest players on the team.
Morgan Numrich, a state caliber wrestler, will anchor the offensive line from his guard position after earning all-league honors as a junior. He will be joined up front by senior Austin Davis (6-4, 210) at tackle.
Defensively, the Beavers gave up six or fewer points in seven of their final nine games in 2008 and they could be just as good, if not improved, this season. Funk and senior tackle Juan Gardea were both all-league on the front line. Senior linebacker Calvin Erven (6-0, 220) registered 96 tackles in 2008. Numrich and Jorden Habiger (5-10, 195, sr.) also return to the defensive front four for the Beavers. Junior Jacob Rios will start at one linebacker spot with Erven while Dakota Hayes and Swan will team up with Stucky in the secondary.
This will be the final year for the MSAA as it will be disbanded in 2010 when the Beavers join league rival Ulysses, Hi-Plains League schools Holcomb and Hugoton, and Northwest Kansas League members Goodland and Colby, in forming the Great West Athletic Conference. That league will be comprised of all 3A and 4A schools and should be one of the top leagues in Kansas in those two classes.
For now, though, O'Neil is focused on 2009 and looks to see if the Beavers can fulfill their goals of winning the MSAA, qualifying for the state playoffs and going deep toward the 3A state championship game.