Prep football previews: Class C-2 No. 2 Centennial has talent to again reach state title game

Centennial quarterback Wyatt Ehlers accounted for 2,568 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns in 2017. 

After reaching the state title for the second time in school history in 2017, Centennial coach Evan Klanecky had a message for his team: last season is over, 2018 is a new season.

“As fun and as special as that season was, it’s in the past now and we have to clear the slate,” Klanecky said. “We’ve got to get rejuvenated. We know that there’s going to be a target on our backs and we just need to get back to the grindstone. I think that’s what’s got us so far the last couple of years is these guys have done a really good job of just taking one game at a time. So I think that’s going to be our message starting August 6, it’s a new season and just work as hard as we can each practice and don’t look too far ahead.”

The Broncos, who won their first 12 games before falling to Yutan 27-6 in the Class C-2 state championship, have plenty of returning experience to make another run at a state title as they bring back 15 starters, including all-state selections Wyatt Ehlers, Caleb Cast and Jackson Hirschfeld.

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Class C-2 No. 2 Centennial, 12-1

Coach: Evan Klanecky, 9th season (51-27)

Championships: none

Returning starters: QB/FS Wyatt Ehlers (Sr.); OL/DL Kalten Bauers (Sr.); OL/DL Quinn Butzke (Sr.); OL/DL Caleb Cast (Sr.); Garrett Fehlhafer (Sr.); WR/DB Reece Foreman (Sr.); WR/DB Jackson Hirschfeld (Sr.); WR/LB Max Tomes (Sr.); LB Haden Richters (Sr.)

Key departure: Tyler Perry was a starter for the Broncos at both center and middle linebacker. As the center, Perry was key in controlling the communication for the offensive line and the offense as a whole.

“(Perry) didn’t get the credit that a lot of those guys deserve, but he was so good for us at center,” Klanecky said. “He ran all of our communication and started all our calls. He was really smart, physical player.”

Key returning player: Centennial brings back three players from the Class C-2 all-state team, including Cast and Hirschfeld on defense, with Ehlers returning at quarterback to pace the Bronco offense. As a junior, Ehlers accounted for 2,568 yards (2,065 passing and 503 rushing) and 28 touchdowns.

“Ehlers is running the show again,” Klanecky said. “We’ve put a lot on him. We do a lot of pre-snap stuff. We do a lot of what we call “check-with-me’s and freezes” so he’s got a lot on his plate mentally. We’ve just tried to push him to his limits, and he can soak a lot in. He has a crazy-high football IQ. He’s going to a key just because he’s such a leader on the team.”

Breakout player: Sophomore Wyatt Collingham is the leading rusher among Centennial's returning running backs. He had 11 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown. Graduated senior Gavin Avery rushed for 1,141 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017, so if Collingham can be as productive, the Bronco offense should not miss a beat.

Others to watch: TE/LB Joel Bargen (Jr.); WR/LB Cooper Gierhan (So.)

“We have a very successful group of seniors and have many starters with 2-3 years of varsity experience,” Klanecky said. “We have to develop depth and get younger players ready.”

On offense: Avery’s graduation leaves a void at running back, but much of the offense returns. Four offensive linemen, including Cast, return as do wide receivers Hirschfeld, Foreman and Tomes. Hirschfeld had 55 catches for a team-best 850 yards. Foreman pulled in 47 passes for 652 yards and nine touchdowns. The Broncos and their power-spread attack bring back 18 of the 22 receiving touchdowns from 2017, and Ehlers will be at the helm in his fourth year as the starting quarterback.

On defense: Cast and Hirschfeld were both all-state selections on defense in 2017. Cast notched 115 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Hirschfeld made 50 tackles in the secondary and also had eight interceptions. As a whole, the Broncos have eight returning starters on a defense that forced 46 turnovers (27 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries) last season.

Games to watch: The Broncos face a tough three-game stretch in the middle of season when they take on three playoff teams from 2017. Centennial starts the stretch with a visit to Battle Creek, which reached the state semifinals last year. Then they host Sutton and David City Aquinas in back-to-back weeks. Aquinas won a game in the Class C-1 playoffs, while Sutton lost in the first round of the C-2 playoffs.

“Weeks three, four and five are going to be barnburners,” Klanecky said. “We have Battle Creek, Sutton and Aquinas back-to-back. Those are three top-notch programs. That’ll be three really tough weeks back-to-back.”

Final word: “I think that’s going to be our goal, to win a state title,” Klanecky said. “I think that should be every team’s ultimate goal. I think it will be one of our goals, it’s not going to be our first goal that we want to obtain or reach, but I think this group of seniors, most of which have started now for three, if not four years. They’re such a good group. They know not to look too far ahead. I think they’re hungry for the first game all the way through the ninth game, and if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, then anything can happen.”

2018 schedule (with 2017 record)

Aug. 24, at Syracuse (2-7)

Aug. 31, Malcolm (2-7)

x-Sept. 7, at Battle Creek (8-4)

x-Sept. 14, Sutton (7-3)

x-Sept. 21, David City Aquinas (8-2)

Sept. 28, at North Bend Central (2-6)

Oct. 5, Shelby-Rising City (4-5)

Oct. 12, at David City (2-7)

Oct. 19, at Twin River (1-8)

X-denotes playoff teams; district opponents in bold type

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