Fan's Choice: Madison, Spearville in ranked showdown

Madison's Owen Reed (27) rushed for 1,600 yards and 22 TDs in 2013. (Photo by Brian Holderman)
By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 4, 2014

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Every other year, all the Kansas football coaches and administrators come to Salina if the squad is located on the west side of the state, or Jayhawk-Linn for the eastern programs, for the scheduling meeting. Last fall, Spearville coach Matt Fowler couldn’t attend the meeting because of a funeral, so an assistant coach and the Lancers principal went in his stead.

Spearville looked to handle all of its non-district games versus its Southern Plains Iroquois league opponents, but Satanta recently joined the SPIAA. That gave the conference an odd number of teams and forced everyone to go out of league for non-district.

Hodgeman County, also in the SPIAA, will play against Linn, located in northeast Kansas. Madison/Hamilton, at the Jayhawk-Linn meeting, was open Week 1. They called up to Salina. Spearville couldn’t find a contest and the parties quickly agreed on a game. Pretty Prairie accommodated the teams and Madison/Hamilton and Spearville will face off Friday in a marquee eight-man neutral site matchup.

“It wasn’t really something that we said that we had in mind that we wanted to go play a top team or a marquee game in Week 1 like that, it just kind of happened,” Spearville coach Matt Fowler said. “…“It definitely gives you some good motivation in the summer knowing that you are going to play somebody like that out of the gate.”

Madison is ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man, Division I after an injury-plagued 8-2 season ended in the first round of the playoffs against eventual state champion Osborne. The Lancers stand No. 5 in Eight-Man, Division I.

“I was like,  ‘OK, let’s do it,’” Madison coach Fred McClain said. “I didn’t want to say, ‘Well, we will think about it,’ and next thing you know, five minutes later it is not there anymore.”

This marks the third straight season Madison has played a big Week 1 contest. The Bulldogs played Baileyville B&B the last two seasons, the eventual Eight-Man, Division II champion. Madison lost 34-22 in 2012 and won 29-28 in 2013.

“It’s not in your league and it’s not in your district,” McClain said. “It just makes for a good matchup. It’s kind of nerve-wracking a little bit, because you are opening up with one of the better teams in the state. When you open up with Baileyville, it just can’t get any better than that. Man, what a great win we had up there last year. I think when you play a really good opponent, win or lose, you are going to be better.”

Spearville, 0-9 just three years ago, continued its big climb with an 8-2 finish and first round loss to eventual runner-up Hodgeman County.

Fowler, in his first coaching stop at Spearville, played for Chuck Lambert in high school and again for Andy and Chuck Lambert at Sterling College, who came from Smith Center’s famous wishbone. Spearville runs the spinner single-wing, a look rarely seen at the eight-man level. Fowler had contact with coach Leland George, who used to coach at Conway Springs. In 1999 and 2000, George coached at Argonia, ran the single wing and made two trips to the sub-state championship. The two still meet up every summer.

“He was really the only person I had heard of doing it,” Fowler said. “I thought we needed something that would give us that kind of identity. I always just loved the misdirection, just hiding the ball. I thought it would give us a chance with some lesser teams to compete.”

In 2012, the Lancers came off the winless season, but had many freshmen who were part of a talented junior high group. Fowler said the Spearville had a “favorable” schedule early on as it started four freshmen. Then, in Week 8, the Lancers defeated South Gray, 28-20. The Rebels had reached the state championship game the year before and Rebel coach Jeff Blattner had mentored Fowler.

Fowler said the victory was the first time in his tenure the victory wasn’t an easy win.

“Actually had to earn it,” Fowler said.

That season, Nathan Stein cleared 1,000 yards as a freshman. Last fall, Stein had 1,150 rushing yards and passed for 723 yards for an offense that committed just four turnovers. Sophomore Luke Heskamp finished with 717 rushing yards.

“They are athletic and they have got good speed,” McClain said. “They run kind of that single-wing, spinner offense that can get you in trouble if you want to chase all the fakes, so you have to really discipline yourself and play defense against them. We know they will break some plays, but we just hope they won’t break too many.”

Overall, the Lancers return eight offensive and seven defensive starters. Fowler said the game will help the Lancers “going forward.”

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Fowler said.

Madison is 152-36 under McClain, including a 7-0 start that saw a regular season loss to Peabody-Burns in Week 8 and a close road defeat to Osborne in Week 9. McClain, a coach for more than four decades, said the Bulldogs had a broken collarbone, a broken hand, a broken arm and two ACL injuries

“I am so pleased with last year,” McClain said. “Last year was an incredible year for us. These kids just hung tough. Literally, I have never really told anybody this besides maybe people that are close to me here, but I said, we were missing six starters on defense that we started against Baileyville when we played Osborne – and one of those guys was in a different position. We had some young kids really step up.”

The Bulldogs bring back five offensive and six defensive starters, including plenty of size. Senior running back/defensive end Owen Reed stands 6-1, 231 pounds. Senior end/linebacker Gavin Beyer is 6-4, 227, while junior nose guard/tight end Justin Rayburn is 6-5, 238. Beyer missed part of the season because of an injury. Reed had 1,608 yards and 22 scores and junior running back Tylen Coe added 825 yards and 16 TDs. Coe didn’t start at the beginning of last fall, but moved into the lineup after injuries. Senior Dustin Stutesman returns at quarterback. Reed is one of Kansas’ best players.

“Beyer is a heck of a player for us, and Stutesman does a real good job,” McClain said. “Tylen Coe is a very quality athlete. … At certain areas, we are very big and strong. At other areas, we are kind of small and quick.”