By CONOR NICHOLL for Kpreps.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Posted: August 31, 2012 - 12:57 AM
Plainville coach Joe Simon knows he has a talented team that returns seven starters on each side of the ball, including three running backs that gained at least 750 yards last season. That includes senior running back Trevor Axelson, who rushed for 1,323 yards and 13 scores.
Senior center Bradey Chard anchors a line that brings back several veterans from a 10-2 team, the Cardinal’s best squad in two decades and a seven-win improvement from 2010.
However, Simon also has question marks, namely at linebacker. Plainville graduated its top two tacklers in Shrine Bowler Andrew Casey and Nathan Thyfault.
On Friday, Simon will have those questions answered when the Cardinals travel to Phillipsburg for one of the state’s most anticipated games. Plainville is ranked No. 2 in Class 2-1A, while Phillipsburg is receiving votes in Class 3A. The contest will open the Panthers’ new field at the high school. Phillipsburg had played in a stadium located in the center of the town for more than 50 years.
Both teams enter the game with streaks. The Panthers have won their last six regular season contests, while Plainville has won 13 straight when it doesn't play La Crosse. The Cardinals have lost three times in the last two years to the Leopards.
“We are going to find out what we have awfully quick,” Simon said.
Phillipsburg, 7-3 last season, has high expectations after it returns virtually its entire team. The Panthers, a consistent winner but rarely a program that enjoys deep playoff runs, could be one of Class 3A’s top squads.
Senior quarterback Sean Newlan, a three-year starter and a four-time state track champion, is one of the state’s top athletes. He passed for 940 yards, rushed for 903 yards and accounted for 24 scores in 2011.
Last year, Newlan was banged up early against Plainville and the Cardinals went on to win 37-21. Plainville had lost the previous five games against Phillipsburg by a combined score of 200-26.
Phillipsburg led 6-0 in the second quarter before Plainville tacked on three straight scores and led 24-6 at halftime.
The victory opened an eight game winning streak for the Cardinals and helped pave the way to a Mid-Continent League crown and sub-state championship game appearance.
“Took away a lot of his running ability,” Simon said. “He will be one of the best athletes that we will play all season, strong, physical and fast.”
Phillipsburg, 60-29 under coach J.B. Covington, has a bevy of all-league players returning, including senior wideout/defensive back Seth Derr, linebacker Jacey Minkler and kicker Justin Juenemann. Derr, another standout track athlete, caught 15 passes for 323 yards and six touchdowns. He and Minkler led the team with 74 and 71 tackles, respectively.
Juenemann kicked five field goals for the Panthers.
The Cardinals also return several players who missed time with injuries.
Senior lineman Andy Malin, sophomore lineman Alex Wahrman and senior running back Harrison Gilliland all fought injuries throughout the year.
Malin missed the last half of the season with a knee injury, but still averaged 6.3 tackles per game, most among Cardinal defensive linemen and earned first team all-MCL honors.
“Andy and Wahrman coming back is going to be a big help,” Chard said.
Wahrman broke his leg early in the year and Gilliland (883yards, 13 scores) missed a playoff game against Johnson-Stanton County. All three will start on both sides of the ball. Last year, Malin had 11 tackles and a sack, while Wahrman tacked on sack in the only full game he played all season.
“He is just an animal when he is on the field and he plays with a lot of intensity,” Simon said of Malin. “He just gets after it. He is a strong kid and has got a nose for the football on defense. He made a lot of defensive plays for us.”