Cougars prep for talented Trojans in season opener
The Mid-County Cougars will take a test run Friday night with Meet the Cougars in Oneida, then start playing for keeps when the season kicks off Aug. 24 against Elmwood-Brimfield.
Fourth-year head coach Gary Denhart likes what his team has shown in practice so far, and believes the Cougars will enjoy some nice depth and flexibility on both sides of the football.
“I feel pretty good,”Denhart said. “We’ve had a couple good weeks of practice. We have yet to take a step backwards in our preparation.”
“We’ll see what happens when we flip on the lights and see how the kids respond.”
The Cougars meet an unfamiliar and always-talented foe in the season opener when the E-B Trojans come to Bill Adams Field in Oneida.
“We haven’t played them before,”Denhart said, noting E-B’s ground-happy attack is similar to that of Lincoln Trail Conference member West Central.
“They pack it in tight, try to hide the ball and just come right at you,”Denhart said of E-B. “It’s Week 1 so you have to start off by preparing yourselves. You have to keep your eyes open and be aware.”
Elmwood-Brimfield is coming off a 7-3 campaign and the 3ATrojans have been in the playoffs 14 of the past 15 seasons.
Mid-County narrowly missed the playoffs last season with a 4-5 mark, and boast 23 seniors with ample game experience on this year’s roster.
“We have a lot of good pieces back,”Denhart said, starting with senior quarterback Jake Varner.
Varner will be surrounded by a rotation of skilled position players.
Denhart plans to use the trio of seniors Isaac Cordle and Cooper Hoxworth, and junior Harrison Wight at running back; the duo of seniors Jason Clark and Ernie Heinrich at fullback; and the foursome of seniors Raige Ballard, Tucker Sams, Gunner Spivey and Brandon Merz at wide receiver.
The competition for playing time also is keen across the offensive front. Denhart said seven players are battling for the five starting jobs on the offensive line, led by seniors Miles Brush, Cade Clark and Remi Bell, and juniors Masen Hunt, Wyatt Dillon and Dane Libby.
Denhart said the offense worked hard on developing the passing game last season, but the triple option running attack is what the Cougars do best.
“I’m an option coach. That’s what I know,”Denhart said. “There are always some wrinkles and a few things we can add.”
The competition continues on the defensive side of the ball in Mid-County’s 4-2-5 formation. One position that’s pretty well locked down is linebacker where Denhart welcomes back four starters — Varner and fellow seniors Payton Haynes, Parker Taylor and Trenton Welsh.
The defensive line mix includes Libby, Dillon, seniors Wyatt Lee and Mason McGowin, and senior newcomer Sumner Strom.
The defensive ends are Jason Clark and Heinrich.
Secondary playing time is up for grabs between Hoxworth, Spivey, Sams, Cordle and senior Lane Dorethy.
“I think we just need to be more consistent,”Denhart said of his defense. “One of our strengths is a lot of experience in the defensive line, and we also have all four linebackers back. I’d like to think we’ll be able to stop the run.”
Denhart is well aware that the Week 1 assignment is a stern test.
“Obviously, we’ve drawn an awfully good opponent,”the M-C coach said. “Our crossovers (with the Prairieland Conference) have all been tight games and prepared us well for the Lincoln Trail Conference.”
“If we want to win some games in the conference, we have to compete in games like this,” Denhart added. “It’s time to step up to the plate.”
Mid-County’s second Prairieland crossover game is a Week 2 road trip to Peoria Heights/Quest Academy on Aug. 31.
The Cougars open the Lincoln Trail Conference schedule at home with Ridgewood on Sept. 7. That LTC matchup will be played at Galva High School.
Next week’s Galva News will feature a full Mid-County football page including team photo, roster and schedule.