With preseason practices underway, football has returned to Ell-Saline High School in Brookville, and along with it, high expectations for success, both inside and outside the locker room.
On paper, it’s easy to see why. The Cardinals finished the 2017 season with an 8-2 record, including a thrilling 44-41 playoff victory over arch-rival Sedgwick in the Regional Championship game before dropping a heartbreaker in double overtime to Plainville in the Sectional Championship game, 27-20. That loss, coupled with a bevy of returning talent has Ell-Saline hungry for an even deeper playoff run in 2018.
Ell-Saline returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, with five returning starters on offense for long-time Cardinal head coach Terry King. Between the lines, Ell-Saline will look to senior QB/LB Nick Davenport to lead the charge.
Davenport, a starter since his freshman season in 2015, posted solid numbers on both sides of the ball during his junior year, completing 83 of 179 pass attempts for 1,184 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 917 yards on 171 carries with 19 touchdowns. Defensively, Davenport leads all returning starters in tackles (64), sacks (3), tackles-for-loss (9), forced fumbles (2) and fumble recoveries (2).
Of course, football is a team sport, and Davenport should receive plenty of help from the Cardinals’ supporting cast.
Junior Sawyer Kramer features explosive speed out of the backfield and averaged 7.26 yards-per-carry in 2017, the most of any returning Cardinal players. Kramer was the top target in the passing game as well last season, leading the team in receptions (23), receiving yards (388) and receiving touchdowns (4).
Senior Joel Came and junior Luke Parks also figured to be heavily involved in Ell-Saline offensive scheme, while sophomore Treyton Peterson should help anchor the Cardinals’ defensive secondary after intercepting a team-high seven pass attempts as the Cardinals’ lone freshman starter last season.
The biggest question mark comes on the offensive line, where Ell-Saline will need to reset following the loss of four senior lineman to graduation. If the Cardinal front line provides time for Davenport in the pocket and lanes up front for the rushing attack, the Ell-Saline offense could pour points onto the scoreboard in 2018.
If the Cardinals do make a deep playoff run, they’ll certainly be battle-tested. Ell-Saline faces a difficult schedule, with four of their eight regular season / district opponents reaching the playoffs at either the 3A or 2A-1A classifications in 2017, including the defending 2A-1A state champ Smith Center. The Redmen handed Ell-Saline its only regular-season loss in 2017, a 54-0 thrashing in Brookville.
2018 Schedule (asterisks denote 2017 playoff qualifiers)
8/31/18 vs. Sterling*
9/7/18 vs. Remington
9/14/18 at Hutchinson Trinity*
9/21/18 at Sedgwick*
9/28/18 vs. Inman
10/5/18 at Republic County (district game)
10/12/18 vs. Sacred Heart (district game)
10/19/18 vs. Smith Center* (district game)