During the offseason, Conway Springs football coach Matt Biehler put specific emphasis on improving the Cardinals' defense.
"With the spread offense, with the motions and shifts, we have to be ready for that," he said. "I'm pleased with how we responded."
He should be. Conway Springs has three shutouts, outscoring Belle Plaine, Douglass (game was called at the half) and Independent 205-0. Conway Springs has given up 91 yards of offense.
Senior Austin Pauly, a three-year starter at free safety, is a strong pass defender and a defensive leader. Two other three-year starters, Mason Pauly at defensive tackle and Kayl Barkley at defensive end, have been key, as well.
"I think that we've done a really good job of speed development," Biehler said."... We're quicker and have more team speed than we have had."
Conway Springs, ranked third in Class 3A, plays at top-ranked Garden Plain (3-0) at 7 tonight. Garden Plain has outscored teams 165-10 with two shutouts.
Trinity's backfield pushes team — Talent wasn't an issue for Trinity Academy coach Tyler Ryan. He took over the Knights with running backs Morgan Burns and Austin Kessinger at his disposal. Depth, however, was a conern.
He's been able to keep his team relatively healthy and the Knights (3-0) have been running all over opponents with Burns and Kessinger.
"We're going to try our best to get them the football and let them make plays," Ryan said. "We're going to try to get the ball in the hand of our best athletes. Morgan, Austin, our quarterback Scott Kempin and our fullback Cody Fewin are all pretty tough kids."
Kempin is starting as a junior for Trinity and is a player that pushes himself to improve.
"We don't take plays off," Kempin said. "Especially with guys back there like Morgan, Austin and Cody. They're always back there pushing us. They're pushing me. They're making sure we're working hard everyday in practice to get better."
Those three seniors have had extra motivation for wanting to perform. Ryan instilled in them some words that hit hard and have paid dividends.
"We talked about how they are the tradition for Trinity Academy," Ryan said. "We can't go back 10 or even five years and talk about players of the past and other teams. They are the ones that are establishing the program and their legacy is going to be known as the ones who got it started."
Burns leads the Central Plains League with 609 rushing yards while Kessinger is third with 304 yards.
"I think this is the best backfield our school has ever had," Burns said. "Even our O-line is great. They are small, but they are tough. Coach Ryan has brought an intensity to the team and he really pushes us to our top potential."
Battle of the Birds — For the second straight season, the Conway Springs Cardinals and Garden Plain Owls are conducting the Battle of the Birds heading into tonight's football game at Garden Plain.
Each school is collecting food items, and whichever school collects the most receives the traveling trophy. Garden Plain won the competition last season.
Garden Plain coach Todd Puetz intends on keeping that trophy.
"It's a good thing that we're doing this, but it's a bad thing that they'll never be able to have that trophy," Puetz said with a laugh.
Still at the top — Buhler went to the Class 4A semifinals in 2009 with running back Jorden Oden, a Top 11 selection.
He's gone, but Buhler (3-0) is ranked fourth in Class 4A.
"We've started to build a program," coach Steve Warner said."... This team reminds me a lot of last year's team. We have another great tailback and an offensive line that has size, strength and speed. And our defense is playing better than I expected."
Tanner Fisher is leading the way for Buhler with 456 rushing yards.
"He's a lot like Jorden," Warner said. "He can run you over, juke you, outrun you. And he's faster than Jorden."
The offensive line is led by seniors Matt Dobson (6-foot-5, 275 pounds), Brett Vaughan and Bryce Worley.
Defensively, linebacker Jordan Stiles and defensive linemen Austin Ortiz have been key. Ortiz is 180 pounds, but Warner said he's unblockable.