Leading up to the Nebraska high school football season, NEPrepZone.com will be looking at the top teams in each class, based on last season’s final rankings. First up, Eight Man-2 is in the spotlight with a new post each day. Let us know in the comments how you think each team will finish, as well as the players you’ll be watching.
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EIGHT MAN-2 NO. 1 GILTNER, DISTRICT D2-5
Coach: Jeff Ashby, seventh season
Last season: Won state championship, beating Humphrey St. Francis 42-26
Returning starters: RB/LB Garrett Poppen (Sr.), LB/RB/QB Ben Hinrichs (Jr.), OL Justin Joyce (Jr.)
Jake Findley, QB: Findley had a career unlike any other in the history of eight man football in Nebraska. Findley set a single-season record for total offense in 2012 with 4,430 yards (3,903 passing). He also threw 67 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Findley ended his career with a 69.1 completion percentage, also a state record.
KEY RETURNING PLAYER
Poppen: With the loss of Findley, Ashby said his offense is likely to depend more on the running game. Poppen is Giltner’s best option on the ground while last year’s backup quarterback, Hinrichs, takes over under center. Junior Jared Hastings was another possible option at quarterback, but Hastings is coming back from a broken vertebrae and his status for the upcoming season is uncertain.
DE Dillon Bieck (Sr.), S Nick Preissler (Jr.), DE Cory Hoelck (So.), WR/DB Christian Liechte (So.), DB/WR Brett Good (So., transfer from Sutherland).
Although Giltner runs a spread offense and relied heavily on the pass in 2012, Ashby said the spread allows the Hornets to be just as dangerous running the football. Giltner has to replace most of its starters, but it’s not as if the players are stepping into unfamiliar territory. The spread is part of the Giltner system from junior high to varsity. The Hornets won’t likely put up 63 points per game as they did last season, but transitioning in new starters won’t be as difficult as it may seem.
During The Hornets run to the state championship, the offense received much of the credit. Two 90-point games and 825 total points last year overshadowed the fact that Giltner only surrendered 18.5 points per game. Like the offense, the defense will have to replace a lot of starters. Fortunately, all the blowouts last season allowed backups to play entire second halves for most of the schedule. There’s enough talent and experience to keep things moving in the right direction.
GAME TO WATCH
At Kenesaw, Sep. 20
Cedar Valley, Heartland Lutheran, Fullerton, Pleasanton, Spalding Academy
“It’s an exciting time. This is the first time since I’ve been at Giltner where we’ve had this many openings at one time. We’re excited to see who’s gonna step up and establish themselves as our key players.
“We have to replace five starters off last year’s team. We’ve got a young team that will need to gain experience early in the year so we’re as strong as we want to be at the end of the year.
“The main thing for us is to win, to get the ‘W.’ We’re not gonna compare this year to last year. We had a quarterback who threw 400 passes with no interceptions. That will probably never be duplicated. We’re young but our players know how we play and what to expect. At this point they don’t have to learn, they just have to get better.”
Sept. 6, Bruning-Davenport/Shickley
Sept. 13, at Hampton
Sept. 20, at Kenesaw
Sept. 27, Heartland Lutheran
Oct. 4, at Fullerton
Oct. 11, Pleasanton
Oct. 18, Spalding Academy
Oct. 25, at Cedar Valley
– Nate Tenopir