Last season, the Ell-Saline Cardinals were three painfully-close losses short of perfection.
The Cardinals fell 8-6 in Week 3 to eventual Heart of America League Champion (and 2A state quarterfinalist) Hutchinson Trinity to finish runner-up in league play.
In District play, Ell-Saline lost to eventual 1A state champion Smith Center 15-8 on a touchdown posted in the final minute in the game to send the Cardinals to a runner-up district finish.
Facing a tough playoff draw as district runner-up, Ell-Saline dispatched LaCrosse 56-12 in the first round before running into a tough road tilt at Plainville, where Ell-Saline fell to the eventual 1A state semifinalists 31-28 on a 37-yard field goal with 0:03 remaining.
Despite a 7-3 season in which Ell-Saline outscored its opponents 340-135, the Cardinals held much higher aspirations, with many around the program left wondering what might have been.
As the Cardinals prepare for next Friday’s 2019 season-opener at Sterling, the biggest question facing Ell-Saline is how to replace QB Nick Davenport, who was lost to graduation. Davenport garnered first-team all-state honors in 2018, finishing with 2,290 total yards and 29 touchdowns.
Ell-Saline head coach Terry King, now in his 21st season at the helm in Brookville, has a healthy battle raging this preseason, with senior Owen Bradley and junior T.J. Morrical – Davenport’s backup last season – battling it out for the starting job under center.
While the Cardinals will look to replace six senior starters lost to graduation, as well as two additional starters no longer enrolled at Ell-Saline, the cupboard is far from bare.
Ell-Saline returns senior standouts Luke Parks and Sawyer Kramer, a talented duo who will suit up as running backs / slot receivers on the offensive end, while anchoring the corners in the Cardinals’ defensive backfield. Parks led the squad in 2018 with 76 tackles, earning first-team all-state honors on defense, while adding 972 total yards and 11 touchdowns on offense.
In addition to the return of starters Bradley, Parks and Kramer from last season’s group, the Cardinals return seniors Noah Hopkins, Colton Bunting and Ty Chalmers, along with juniors Eli Hopkins and Carter Underwood – all of whom saw significant first-team action at the varsity level in 2018.
2019 Ell-Saline Schedule (all kickoff times slated for 7:00pm)
September 6th – at Sterling
September 13th – at Remington
September 20th – Hutchinson Trinity
September 27th – Sedgwick
October 4th – at Inman
October 11th – Republic County*
October 18th – at Sacred Heart*
October 25th – at Smith Center*
November 1st – PLAYOFFS
* denotes 1A District 5 games
Day 1: Abilene Cowboys
Day 1: Ellsworth Bearcats
Day 2: Southeast of Saline Trojans
Day 3: Minneapolis Lions
Day 4: Smoky Valley Vikings
Day 4: Sacred Heart Knights
Day 5: Solomon Gorillas
Day 6 on Thursday: Salina South Cougars & Bennington Bulldogs
Day 7 on Friday: Salina Central Mustangs