World-Herald staff writer Stu Pospisil breaks down the Class B football season, including the top 10 teams, games and players to watch and more.
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Class B Top 10
1. Norris (10-3 in 2012): The Titans, after their first trip to the state finals in 33 years, could go all the way this year. Like the past two years, they could open the season without starting quarterback Jakson Reetz, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, while the NU baseball recruit is in the USA baseball national training program. Norris returns three of last year's top four tacklers, senior A.J. Flodman (6-0, 175) at safety and seniors CJ Adamson (5-10, 185) and Nolan Graham (5-11, 185) at linebacker. Byron Hood, a 5-10, 160-pound senior, provides more skill-position speed.
2. Omaha Skutt (9-2): Last year's state title was within reach, the SkyHawks believe, but they lost twice to Omaha Gross by a total of 10 points. They'll try again with 11 returning starters, seven on defense, but five part-time linemen on offense played as much as the starters, coach Matt Turman said. Creighton Koley, a 6-0, 180-pound senior, will be quarterback while senior running back Dakota Krejci-Smith (5-8, 155) has game-breaking speed.
3. Elkhorn (8-4): Five returning starters is a luxury for the Antlers' offensive rotation. Four are seniors — tackles Sam Larson (6-3, 260) and Caleb Craven (6-2, 185), fullback Bryan McLaughlin (5-11, 205) and quarterback Ben Hass (6-0, 170) — plus junior tight end Jack Morock (6-3, 180). Jake Hasty, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, will line up at tailback and defensive back. Colin Stiles (6-1, 185) is a senior tight end and returning kicker while Samuel Orozco (5-11, 275) is a senior who returns to the defensive line.
4. Omaha Gross (12-1): With 10 returning starters, there's enough carryover from last year's championship season for the Cougars to remain a contender. It helps that they have returning all-stater Anthony Vigneri, a 6-0, 185-pound senior, and fullback Tyler Koraleski (6-2, 225, senior) to ease the transition to a new quarterback, probably 6-0, 190-pound junior Matt Herting. Noah Arneson (6-2, 285) is a four-year starter in the lines. Another senior, Kyle Kuncl (6-2, 250), shifts from tackle to guard.
5. Gretna (9-2): If players develop at a few key positions, coach Chad Jepsen said, expectations for a successful season can be met. The Dragons return 15 starters, including Super Six pick and Nebraska-bound lineman Mick Stoltenberg (6-5, 260) and his cousin, senior quarterback Nick Stoltenberg (6-3, 210). Senior linebacker Brady Radik (5-11, 190), with 67 stops, is the top returning tackler for the Dragons.
6. Crete (3-6): Expect a big rebound for the Cardinals after their first losing season since 1992. They played a lot of young kids last year, with 16 getting starts. Quarterback Alex McGinnis, whose dad is Crete coach Chuck McGinnis, is a 6-3 junior who should improve his passing numbers. Vince Thatcher is a three-year starter on the defensive line.
7. Aurora (9-3): The Huskies know seniors Eli Bricker (5-11, 210) and Brock Reichart (5-10, 190) are returning to the backfield, but quarterback is an open position with either junior Jake Kittle (5-11, 170) or senior Luke Standage (6-4, 190) expected to start. Junior Keenan Smith (6-1, 250) is at center and TJ Dozier, a 6-2, 225-pound senior, is a two-way tackle.
8. Beatrice (10-1): Only six starters are back for the Orangemen, half in the offensive line — senior center Corey Jordan (5-9, 235), junior guard Nathan Bains (6-0, 270) and junior tackle Tyler Parthemer (6-2, 215). Jessup Workman, who returns at outside linebacker, is a 6-0, 195-pound junior who topped 800 yards rushing as a backup last year. Also experienced on defense are seniors Clayton Welch (6-0, 200) at linebacker and Dakota Bass (6-1, 185) at free safety.
9. Elkhorn South (5-5): Scoring was up for the Storm last year, but not in the biggest games. Four times, they were held to seven points. Trying to change things will be senior quarterbacks Zach Reeg (6-2, 195) and Stephen Worthing (6-3, 185). Reeg has played just one game in the past two seasons because of injury. Nick McEwin (6-1, 225) is a returning senior linebacker who anchors a defense that allowed only 11.7 points and 185 yards a game.
10. McCook (7-3): The Bison should be strongest on defense, where four of their seven starters return. Seniors Kolton Stone (6-0, 220) at linebacker and fullback and Seth Koetter (6-1, 265) in the lines are veteran two-way starters. If senior Vince Lyons (6-1, 150), pressed into quarterback duty for three games last season, is kept mostly on defense, there are a handful of candidates to run coach Jeff Gross' power and veer attack.
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Class B games worth seeing
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Listed with matchup date and 2012 results.
Aurora at McCook, Aug. 30, A 26-13: Visiting Huskies are the only ranked opponent in the preseason for McCook.
Beatrice at Elkhorn South, Aug. 30, B 10-7, 20-7: Four of South's five losses last year were by eight points or less.
Omaha Gross at Elkhorn, Sept. 6, E 31-16, G 14-7: The last loss for the defending state champion Cougars was to Elkhorn.
Gretna at Norris, Sept. 13, G 20-7, N 28-7: Home opener for the Titans should again be a playoff preview.
Ralston at Beatrice, Oct. 4, B 28-22: Rams were 5-0 before falling at home to then-No. 1 Beatrice.
Gering at Scottsbluff, Oct. 11, S 38-14: Gering brings the more experienced team into this turf battle.
Norris at Crete , Oct. 18, N 43-19: Expect Crete to be much improved from last year's 3-6 record.
Omaha Skutt at Omaha Gross, Oct. 25, G 14-7, 9-6: Skutt seeks payback for its only two losses of last season.
York at Aurora, Oct. 25, A 41-28: District title could be at stake.
Elkhorn South at Elkhorn, Oct. 25, E 15-7: The rivalry grows stronger with every senior class.
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Returning Class B all-state players
OL-DL Zach Flott, Ralston, 6-5, 275, Sr.: Possible college prospect may get time at tight end and defensive end.
RB-LB Anthony Vigneri, Omaha Gross, 6-0, 185, Sr.: Third-year starter is a key to the Cougars staying in Class B contention.
OTHERS TO WATCH THIS YEAR:
OL-DL Mick Stoltenberg, Gretna, 6-5, 260, Sr.: NU recruit had 13 tackles for losses as a junior.
FB-OLB Will Schany, Blair, 5-10, 195, Sr.: Three-time state wrestling champion is a third-year, two-way starter.
FB-MLB Nick McEwin, Elkhorn South, 6-1, 225, Sr.: Leader of the Storm defense should add power to the backfield.
FB-LB Kolton Stone, McCook, 5-10, 205, Sr.: He “can wallop a punch” from both positions, Bison coach Jeff Gross said.
QB-LB Jakson Reetz, Norris, 6-0, 200, Sr.: One of the state's best athletes, the NU baseball recruit is a run-pass threat.
WR-CB Ty Danielson, York, 6-3, 185, Sr.: Also a standout in basketball, he brings toughness to his receiving duties.
QB-S Creighton Koley, Omaha Skutt, 6-0, 180, Sr.: His versatility and skill give the SkyHawks options on where to play him.
RB-DB Logan Lewis, Sidney, 6-1, 185, Sr.: Finished 2012 with 3 straight 100-yard games, including 257 against Gering.
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Additional Class B info
32: Consecutive winning seasons for Elkhorn and coach Mark Wortman
“We feel we were a few bounces and injuries away from winning it all last year.” — Omaha Skutt coach Matt Turman
District 1: Omaha Gross, Omaha Roncalli, Omaha Skutt, Ralston
District 2: Nebraska City, Platteview, Plattsmouth, Waverly
District 3: Elkhorn, Elkhorn Mount Michael, Elkhorn South, Gretna
District 4: Bennington, Blair, Schuyler, South Sioux City
District 5: Beatrice, Crete, Norris, Seward
District 6: Aurora, Columbus, Grand Island Northwest, York
District 7: Hastings, Holdrege, Lexington, McCook
District 8: Alliance, Gering, Scottsbluff, Sidney
FINAL 2012 RANKINGS
1. Omaha Gross, 12-1, 358-112
2. Norris, 10-3, 435-144
3. Omaha Skutt, 9-2, 301-78
4. Beatrice, 10-1, 281-147
5. Aurora, 9-3, 317-287
6. Gretna, 9-2, 314-140
7. Elkhorn, 8-4, 272-188
8. Scottsbluff, 9-1, 303-130
9. York, 6-5, 231-201
10. Ralston, 6-4, 250-137