By BRETT MARSHALL
When the Ulysses Tigers began the football season, head coach Jason Kenny knew his team might take some early lumps.
And the Tigers did, falling to Class 6A Garden City in the season opener, then to Class 5A Hays and to 3A power Scott City.
In the three setbacks, the Tigers managed just 15 points as the offense struggled.
Now, though, the Tigers offense has been clicking on all cylinders, scoring 83 points in convincing victories over Thomas More Prep-Marian and Holcomb to pull within a game of .500. The three setbacks came to teams with a combined 14-1 record.
"We're hoping that the early games have helped us get better," Kenny said. "We knew the early games would be tough, but we wanted to make sure we were doing things to get us ready for the districts."
Leading the recent surge has been senior quarterback Bryce Moral, who Friday passed for three touchdowns and ran for another pair in a 42-20 triumph over Holcomb.
For his effort, Moral has been tabbed as The Telegram's Athlete of the Week.
"Bryce has gotten better each week," Kenny said. "I think he had his best game of his career. He throws well and he runs well. He's got good speed and can scramble. He's a threat and we're just trying to utilize him in different ways."
Moral's TD passes were from 34, 10 and 18 yards to Josh Rodriguez and his scoring runs came from 15 and 1 yards.
"We're blocking better up front and gaining confidence in what we do," Kenny said. "With Bryce's throwing ability, we're relying more on the pass than we have in the past. We're not the type of team that can line up and run it three yards and a cloud of dust. His passing does open up our running game and we're just getting better as an offensive unit."
Kenny said Moral had usually been a silent leader for his team, but that has evolved this season for the 5-foot-10, 165-pound quarterback.
"He's more vocal as he gets older," Kenny said. "The team has confidence in him and I have confidence in him."
Other top performances this past Friday:
Caleb Gifford, Hugoton: Rushed 15 times for 138 yards and four touchdowns on runs of 11, 4, 4 and 11 yards in leading unbeaten and area No. 2-ranked Hugoton's 61-0 triumph over Cimarron.
Ismael Flores, Moscow: Scored five touchdowns in a 76-30 victory over South Central, including a 61-yard kickoff return, a 15-yard run, a 14-yard interception return and two runs of 55 and 9 yards.
Mace Bender, Greeley County: Rushed 22 times for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a 66-20 triumph for the 4-1 Jackrabbits over Rolla. "He has been very consistent all season," Greeley County coach Greg Brown said of Bender. "He's also done a great job lead blocking on pitches and one of the big reasons his yards were so good was the blocking of Jordan Nemechek."
Mason Hibbard, Sublette: Rushed for 138 yards on 20 carries in a 23-0 triumph over Hi-Plains League foe Syracuse. Hibbard had one TD on a 50-yard interception return.
Guy Fullmer, Ness/Dighton: Scored six touchdowns in a 56-20 victory over Wichita County on runs of 15, 50, 10, 30, 7 and 12 yards. The Titans remain unbeaten.
Breck Roop, Moscow: Threw four touchdown passes in the 76-30 victory over South Central. His passes were from 55, 9, 25 and 19 yards.
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The Telegram Area Top 5:
No changes in the weekly Telegram football prep rankings.
1Scott City (5-0), defeated Larned 45-0. The Beavers utilized a strong defense and a balanced offense in remaining unbeaten. This week...the Beavers travel to Hays to face TMP-Marian in a Mid-State Activities Association contest.
2 Hugoton (5-0), shut out Cimarron 61-0. The Eagles continue to use their ground attack. Hugoton rushed for more than 400 yards against the Bluejays. Caleb Gifford and Bubba Beltz each ran for more than 100 yards in the Eagles victory. This week...will host Holcomb in a key Hi-Plains League Division II battle. Last year, Holcomb squeaked past the Eagles 12-6.
3 Garden City (4-1), defeated Liberal 15-13. The Buffaloes dominated many facets but couldn't put the Redskins away. This week...the Buffaloes have a home game against Wichita Northwest.
4 Ness/Dighton (5-0), defeated Wichita County 56-20. The Titans remained unbeaten with a road victory against the Indians. Through their first five games, the Titans are averaging more than 50 points. This week...a home game against traditional powerhouse La Crosse.
5 Greeley County (4-1), defeated Rolla 66-20. After dropping their season opener to powerhouse Sharon Springs, the Jackrabbits have reeled off four consecutive victories. This week...Greeeley County is at home against South Gray.