By CONOR NICHOLL
Since 1996, St. Francis has enjoyed seven trips to the state semifinals and two more to the state championship game with coaches Tim Lambert, Rodney Yates and currently Nick Fawcett.
Last Saturday, St. Francis fell 66-36 to Canton-Galva in the Eight-Man, Division I state title game at Newton's Fischer Field. St. Francis led 36-0 with just under three minutes left in the first half before Canton-Galva tallied 66 straight points, the biggest comeback in Sunflower State title game history.
However, St. Francis' 12-1 season yielded a school record for wins, multiple top-10 Kansas statistical finishes in various categories, several players up for Sports in Kansas classification awards, and the second straight No. 2 final ranking in the Kpreps poll. St. Francis is 23-2 in two season under Fawcett, a former assistant at several schools who installed the single wing with the Indians.
St. Francis switched to eight-man football in 2014. Since then, the Indians are 56-10, according to Kansas Football History. That includes just one regular season loss from 2015-19. That is on par or better than many of the eight-man western powers, including rival Hoxie (41-18), Hodgeman County (48-15), Victoria (49-14), Coldwater-South Central (51-13), Claflin-Central Plains (56-12), Spearville (57-11), and Osborne (60-10).
Additionally, St. Francis loses just two key players for 2020: Brady Dinkel and Jayce Nider. Dinkel is a four-year starter at defensive back and three-year starter at quarterback. Nider was a standout end/defensive back. He and junior Jesse Baxter each suffered injury in the second half of the state title game. St. Francis, with just 17 players, had thin depth after Nider and Baxter were hurt. Nider is a senior leader, and Baxter a junior captain. Fawcett believes both players are all-state level, and that SF had trouble competing after the duo went out.
SF will return a host of top talent, including Baxter, end Adam Krien, lineman Colton Neitzel, and running back Shadyron Blanka.
Next year, SF is part of a group of eight-man powers that will transition down to Division II. That includes Caldwell, Central Plains, South Central, St. Francis and Victoria.
In its 11-man tenure, St. Francis, known then for its run-heavy wishbone attack, reached sub-state in '96, '97, '00, '01, '06 and '07, all with Lambert, a Smith Center graduate now the coach at Lindsborg-Smoky Valley. Those were the best finishes in school history.
In '16, St. Francis made its first final in school annals and lost to Osborne in the title game.
St. Francis captured 10 games apiece in '96 and '97, and then 11 in '00, '01, '06 and '07. SF lost to Garden Plain in '96, then three defeats to Claflin and two to Smith Center.
In '16, the Indians had a regular season bye and finished 11-1 with the finals loss to Osborne.
This season, SF's school mark 12 victories yielded eight shutouts and another contest where it yielded just two points. St. Francis permitted just 62 points before the 66 in the final.
Earlier this week, Fawcett posted via Twitter that St. Francis was the No. 1 eight-man rushing offense in Kansas, and the fourth-best rushing offense for all classes. As well, SF was the No. 8 rushing offense nationally for eight-man football, and No. 2 overall offense in Kansas for eight-man. Dinkel and Blanka are both nominated for SIK Offensive Player of the Year honors, and Dinkel and Krien for Defensive Player of the Year.
Overall, Blanka rushed 161 times for 1,694 yards and 24 scores. Dinkel tallied 177 carries for 1,789 yards and 31 TDs. Blanka passed for a score and caught five TD passes. Dinkel passed for five touchdowns and caught one. Overall, St. Francis rushed 393 times for 4,040 yards and 65 scores, and passed for 224 yards and six TDs.
Defensively, Blanka recorded 97.5 tackles, 10 for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and five interceptions – three returned for scores.
Dinkel had 60.5 tackles, three fumble recoveries and seven INTs, one for a pick-six.
Krien delivered 80.5 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and 15.5 sacks.
Baxter finished with 59.5 tackles, 17 sacks and a scoop-and-score TD. Nider led with 117 tackles, two forced fumbles, a pair of fumble recoveries and three INTs, one for a score.
In the NWKL all-league voting, Dinkel (running back), Blanka (running back), Nider (end), Baxter (line) and Neitzel (center) were all first team selections. Junior Kobe Tice was second team line, and junior Josiah Sims (running back), and junior Tyson Poling (line) were honorable mention.
Defensively, Krien and Baxter were both first team line. Neitzel and Blanka were first team linebackers, and Nider/Dinkel were first team defensive backs. Tice earned second team defensive back, and Sims and Poling were honorable mention at defensive line.
Dinkel was first team special teams as a returner.
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