Battle Creek finished last season with a semifinal loss, after upsetting top-seed Ponca in the quarterfinals.

"Last year, we had some young kids step up for us," coach Andrew Carlson said. "We took some lumps early in the season, but the young guys stepped up allowing us to make the semis."

The Braves are losing 12 seniors, but return starting quarterback Ty Heimes, their second leading rusher, Dylan Mettler, and their second leading receiver, Slate Kraft. On the defensive side of the ball, Battle Creek returns Austin Marx, who led the team in sacks, and Cade McCracken, who finished third in tackles for the Braves in 2017.

"We are bringing back a solid mix of players, and we need to have some young guys step up," Carlson said. "If they do that — and we think they can — then we will be a in good position for this season."

Class C-2 Battle Creek (8-4)

Coach: Andrew Carlson, 7th season

Championships: 1986, 1987, 1992

Key departures: Weston Johnson (1,177 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns), Stone Kraft all-state (576 receiving yards, six touchdowns, 57 tackles and 10 interceptions), Blake Heller (84 tackles). Andrew Lutt was an all-state player on the line.

Key returners: Ty Heimes had 1,106 yards passing and 10 touchdowns and added 144 rushing yards and three touchdowns last season.

Breakout players: "We have a lot of guys that were rotation players for us that should take another step," Carlson said. "AJ Hawthorne is primed to have a real breakout year. He's a big athletic kid, really good linebacker but good offensive lineman as well. Parker Pokorney is another really good linebacker and running back for us," Carlson said. "We think AJ and Parker could be a really good tandem at linebacker."

Returning Players: CB/QB Owen Lade (Jr.), QB/LB Payton Frederick (So.), QB/CB Zach Zohner (Jr.), OLB/TE Slate Kraft (Jr.), WR/LB Chase Oltmanns (So.), WR/CB Caydon McCracken (Sr.), QB/S Ty Heimes (Sr.), TE/MLB Parker Pokorney (Sr.), RB/S Reece Bode (So.), RB/FS Kadin Renner (Jr.), RB/SS Dylan Mettler (Jr.), FB/LB Ben Weinandt (So.), RB/CB Bill Arkfeld (Sr.), LB/T Buddy Walz (Jr.), T/DE Luke Stueve (Jr.), G/DE Austin Marx (Sr.), C/DE Gannon Easland (Jr.), T/DE Anson Hawthorne (Sr.), DE/T Kolby Heller (Jr.), MLB/C Parker Anderson (Sr.), G/DE Nick Schaecher (Sr.), TE/OLB Vaughn Finkral (Jr.), T/NG Colby Hamilton (Jr.), G/DE Wyatt Schmitt (Jr.), T/NG Curtis Eickhoff (Sr.), WR/CB Gavin Tegeler (Jr.), TE/OLB Mason Mink (So.).

On offense: The Braves scored 21.8 points per game last season.

"We have a run based offense to set up the passing game, want to be efficient in the running game," said Carlson.

On defense: The defense was the Braves calling card in 2017, giving up only 12 points per game.

The Knights gave up less than 20 points seven times, held opponents to single digits two times and shut out four opponents.

"We are returning 10 guys who were starters or guys who were in the rotation," Carlson said. "We look to see the defense to carry us through the early season and be our strong suit. The offense has some returning guys and should be effective as well, but we are looking to hang our hat on defense again this season."

Games to watch: The Braves will face four playoff teams from last year, including 2017 runner-up Centennial, C-1 champion Norfolk Catholic and a quarterfinals rematch against Ponca. The rest of the schedule is against teams with losing records.

"Shelby-Rising City will tough right out of the gate and will be a good test for us because they are returning a lot of guys," Carlson said. "We have a tough schedule from top to bottom and don't really have any easy games on the schedule."

2018 schedule (with 2017 record)

Aug. 24: Shelby-Rising City (4-5)

Aug. 31: at Twin River (1-8)

x-Sept. 7: Centennial (12-1)

Sept. 14: at O'Neill (3-6)

Sept. 21: at Stanton (2-7)

x-Sept. 28: Ponca (10-1)

x-Oct. 5: at Norfolk Catholic (13-0)

x-Oct. 12: Hartington Cedar Catholic (8-2)

Oct. 19: at Crofton (4-5)

x-denotes playoff teams; district opponents in bold type

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