When starting quarterback Dalton Bohac went down with an injury in the Eight Man-1 state championship game, only to return and lead East Butler past South Loup for its first state title since 1989, coach Shawn Biltoft figured it was indicative of the character his team showed throughout the season.
“It was a special group of players that worked hard and was really able to deal with adversity,” Biltoft said.
With a host of starters graduating, including Bohac, Biltoft hopes those lessons carry over as his team relies on a handful of returning starters for its title defense.
“It creates a certain amount of excitement for our program, and our players want to carry on the good things that happened last year,” he said.
Offensive/defensive lineman Corden Novotny, who suffered an injury in the seventh game last season, is the only returning senior starter.
Offensively, Biltoft will hand the reins to junior quarterback Jaden Rhynalds, who temporarily replaced Bohac in the state title game, then caught a pair of touchdown passes when Bohac returned in the second quarter.
Biltoft calls Rhynalds, a 5-foot-10-inch, 135-pounder, a “dynamic playmaker.” He will play behind an offensive line that features the Tigers’ other two returning starters, Novotny, a 6-foot, 250-pounder, and 6-1, 175-pound junior Nolan Makovicka.
Eight Man-1 No. 1 East Butler (11-2)
Coach: Shawn Biltoft, 17th season
Championships: Eight man-1, 1989; 2017
Returning starters: QB/DB Jaden Rhynalds, OL/DL Nolan Makovicka, OL/DL Corden Novotny.
Key departures: The Tigers lost a large senior class and will be relying on quite a few younger players, projecting as many as seven underclassmen in key roles.
Statistically, the loss of Bohac will have the most impact. He accounted for 51 touchdowns, threw for 2,176 yards and had 1,100 yards rushing.
Key returning player: Biltoft hopes that Rhynalds’ athleticism will help him slide into Bohac’s role as the leader of the offense.
“Jaden is … a player that has been able to step up in big situations for us,” Biltoft said. “He played quite a bit throughout the season last year and knows what it takes to be successful.”
Rhynalds will also be a key defender. He had an interception and five tackles in the state championship game.
Others to watch: OL/DL Makovicka (Jr.); OL/DL Novotny (Sr.).
Games to watch: Biltoft said the Tigers will face a stiff challenge from a few new teams on the schedule, which opens Aug. 24 against West Point GACC.
“We feel like we have a tough schedule and will have to work hard each week,” he said.
Eight Man-1 No. 6 Nebraska Lutheran is the highest-ranked team on the regular-season schedule.
The Knights will come to Brainard on Sept. 21 for a key matchup to open up the Tigers’ District 1-3 schedule. East Butler handed Nebraska Lutheran its only regular-season loss last year.
“I think we’re going to really on a younger group of players and really work to build depth, get experience early in the year and look to improve throughout the season,” Biltoft said.
2018 schedule (with 2017 record)
x- denotes playoff team; district games in bolded type
x-Aug. 24, West Point GACC (8-1)
Aug. 31, at Wisner-Pilger (1-8)
Sept. 7, Nebraska Christian (2-6)
x-Sept. 21, Nebraska Lutheran (8-2)
Sept. 28, at Cross County (1-8)
x-Oct. 5, Exeter-Milligan/Friend (New co-op for 2018)
x-Oct. 12, at Osceola-High Plains (New co-op for 2018)
Oct. 18, at Omaha Brownell Talbot (0-6, forfeited the season)