By TYLER HENRY
Lead Sportswriter - Salina Post
With the high school football season getting underway in earnest this evening, one of the most intriguing matchups in the state will take place in St. George, as Rock Creek gets set to host Southeast of Saline.
Both of these squads put together tremendous 2022 campaigns, with the Trojans finishing 11-1 with a trip to the 2A state semis, and the Mustangs concluding the year at 9-2 with a berth in the 3A state quarterfinals.
While each side is expected to reload and make another run this season, many questions linger about both programs ahead of Friday night’s matchup, and many of those answers will be found when the teams kick things off at 7:00.
Last season, this contest featured one of the best quarterback duels in the state of Kansas, but with the graduation of both Dalton Whitworth (Rock Creek) and Luke Gebhardt (SES) over the offseason each team will debut a new gunslinger this week.
For the Mustangs, the new signal caller comes in the form of junior Mack Lee, who led the Rock Creek JV to an undefeated season in 2022.
“Mack is a great player and he’s a hard-nosed kid,” Mustang head coach Shane Sieben said. “His grandpa was a legendary coach at Onaga for a number of years and football is in his blood. He’s a great leader and he can beat you with his arms or his legs.”
For the Trojan’s part in all of this, they will debut their own dual-threat QB in senior Danny Kejr, who will have a familiar face in the backfield, joined by 1,000-yard rusher Nathan Friesen.
With so much youth on both sides of this contest, the focus early on will be on the fundamentals as new starters get to grips with the brightness of the Friday night lights.
“We need to see good physicality out of our guys early in this one,” Trojan head coach Mitch Gebhardt said. “We’ve got some guys that haven’t played much in a varsity game and we have to see where we’re at in terms of physical play. It’ll also be important for us to mesh together as a team especially here in these first couple of games.”
While many of the faces on both sides of this matchup have changed, the philosophies of two of the best coaching staffs in the state have not, and both teams will keep a heavy emphasis on maintaining and even attack on offense.
“You’ll see a very similar balance on offense from us as what you can expect from Southeast of Saline,” Sieben said. “We both attack what you give us. We want to run the football against light boxes but if you pack it in on us we feel like we can attack you on the edge. We feel like we can exploit both things and our O-Line has looked good so far.”
Unlike many of the 2 and 3A opponents on Southeast’s schedule, the Mustangs aren’t shy about attacking teams relentlessly through the air, and a young Trojan secondary will receive an early test here in week one.
“We know they throw the ball more than most teams do and they’re very efficient at it,” Gebhardt said. “They do a good job of coaching that and their kids have bought into it but they have a good run game also. They play physical on defense and they do an awfully good job of defending the pass. It’s a great program and we know what we’re up against.”
Kickoff between the Mustangs and Trojans is set for 7 pm at “The Rock” in St. George.