Seven from Henry County land on all-area teamThree Mt. Pleasant football players, along with three from WACO and one from New London, are lauded for efforts on gridiron this season
With seven area teams — Washington, Fairfield, Mid-Prairie, Sigourney-Keota, Pekin, Highland and WACO — reaching the state playoffs this fall, this year’s All-Golden Triangle News Service football team is loaded with talented players.
No team had more players selected to this year’s All-GTNS team than Washington, which finished a surprising 7-4 and reached the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
Much of Washington’s success was due to its quick, swarming defense, and the Demons had four players selected as defensive players.
Junior Garrett Covington was one of the area’s leading tacklers this season, and he led the Demons with 105 stops. The physical inside linebacker also made nine tackles for a loss, and he had a pair of quarterback sacks.
Junior Tanner Knupp added 75 tackles, and the ball-hawking outside linebacker had a nose for the football. He intercepted four passes this season and recovered a pair of fumbles, and also had a knack for stripping the football, leading to several fumble recoveries for his teammates.
During Washington’s second-round playoff game at Winterset, Knupp stood up receiver Trae Gilliand, and junior cornerback Alex Coker took the ball from Gilliand’s hands and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown that tied the game 7-7. It was Coker’s second return for a touchdown this season, as he also returned an interception 62 yards for a score at Keokuk. Coker, an All-GTNS selection at defensive back, made 48 tackles an intercepted two passes this fall.
Wyatt Shelangoski was also a key player on Washington’s defense this year. The senior led the Demons in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (18) from his defensive end spot, and he recovered a pair of fumbles. Shelangoski had his biggest game of the year in Washington’s 62-7 win over rival Mt. Pleasant when he sacked Panther quarterback Connor Shull twice, knocked down two of Shull’s passes and recovered a fumble.
While Washington’s defense controlled games, quarterback Daryn Sebelius managed the Demons’ option offense. Just a sophomore, Sebelius quickly became adept at reading the defense and knowing when to hand the ball off and when to keep it. He ran for 203 yards and six touchdowns this season, including a 96-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage against rival Mt. Pleasant. Sebelius was also an accurate passer, completing 62 percent of his passes for 867 yards and eight touchdowns. He threw just one interception on the season, a Hail Mary at the end of the first half of Washington’s game at Williamsburg.
Even though Washington’s right tackle, Craig Lillie, is smaller than Sebelius, he helped protect his quarterback this season as well as block for Washington’s run-first attack that averaged 222 yards per game on the ground. Lillie, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior, routinely ran into defensive linemen who outweighed him by 80 pounds or more, but used his mean streak and superior work ethic to his advantage.
Washington head coach Randy Schrader earns the All-GTNS Coach of the Year award for the second straight year after his Demons far exceeded anyone’s expectations this season. When the Demons began practice in August, few would have believed that Washington, a team that lost 11 athletic seniors from last year’s squad that finished 5-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, would reach the second round this fall. After all, only a handful of starters returned, most of whom were juniors (including Covington, Knupp, Coker and Lillie). And Washington’s starting quarterback was an untested sophomore (Sebelius). But Schrader’s group came together to play great defense, move the football and have an even better season than the year before. Under Schrader’s watch, the Demons have improved in each of his three seasons, and he is working to make winning an expectation and a tradition in Washington.
Pekin, which finished 7-3 this season and reached the Class A playoffs, has four players on this year’s All-GTNS football team, led by senior Quentin Garrels, who takes the squad’s captain honors.
Garrels, a tailback, was arguably the most electric player in the area this fall. After earning all-state honors as a junior, he rushed for even more yards and touchdowns during his senior campaign. The speedy, yet physical running back racked up 31 touchdowns in the regular season, ranking him first in Class A, to go with 1,877 rushing yards on nine yards per carry. Garrels’ video game-type numbers were a key to the Panthers’ outstanding season and postseason berth, earning him his third straight appearance on the All-GTNS squad, including his first as its captain.
Garrels had an outstanding season, but he was often the first person to share the credit. Paving the way for him and the Pekin running attack were several disciplined offensive linemen, including junior Jared Bond and senior Seth Jensen.
Bond, a two-way standout, led the Panthers in tackles on the defensive side, but he may have done his best work on the offensive line. Pekin head coach Joe Donovan called Bond the team’s most valuable blocker, handing out praise for the junior’s pass protection and run blocking.
Jensen had a breakthrough season, helping block for a Pekin rushing attack that averaged 7.9 yards per carry. The senior center was just as valuable for his blocking as he was for his accurate snaps. He may not have had one bad snap all season, Donovan said.
While Garrels grabbed the headlines on the Pekin offense this season, senior teammate Graham Wittrock was plenty successful in his own right. The efficient quarterback earned a utility spot on the All-GTNS team after completing 48 percent of his passes for 589 yards and 10 touchdowns. He boasted a flawless touchdown-to-interception ratio until the seventh week of the season, and he ended up throwing just three picks.
Although Fairfield made the Class 3A playoffs with just a 3-6 record — and finished 3-7 after a first-round loss to Winterset — the Trojans were a talented team. Four Fairfield players — two receivers and two defensive linemen — were selected to this year’s All-GTNS squad.
Fairfield wide receiver Spencer Peterman not only led the area in receiving yards this season, but he ranked first in all of Class 3A in catches. At 6-foot-2, the senior gave the Trojans a big target, but he also had the ability to out-leap any defender who came between him and the football. Peterman finished his senior campaign with 55 receptions for 729 yards and six touchdowns.
Peterman’s teammate, tight end Vince Horras, gave the Trojans a second big receiving target. The 6-foot-5 junior often came through in the clutch, and his touchdown catch in the final moments against Washington cut the deficit to 14-13. He also hauled in a fourth-quarter touchdown at Winterset that pulled the Trojans within seven points. Overall, Horras caught 21 passes for 318 yards and six touchdowns.
Fairfield’s Jake Mineart was an offensive line selection on last year’s All-GTNS squad, but he earns a spot on the other side of the ball in 2012. The two-way lineman had a knack for making his way to the quarterback this fall, and he racked up seven solo sacks. Mineart finished his senior season with 52 total tackles, including 13 for a loss.
Mineart wasn’t terrorizing opposing offenses alone, and he received plenty of help from senior teammate Gabe Jaquez. The newcomer burst onto the scene in his first full season on the defensive line, ranking third for Fairfield in tackles with 64. Jaquez was also a disruptive force in the backfield, where he made six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.
While Fairfield’s Peterman and Horras took two of the three receiving spots on this year’s All-GTNS team, Mt. Pleasant senior Dalton Conrad fills the other one. Conrad returns to the squad as one of the area’s top receivers for the second straight year. With 37 catches for 589 yards, Conrad averaged 15.9 yards per reception, many of those yards coming after the catch. The 5-foot-10, 140-pound senior has sticky hands and quick feet, and could find his way around defenders even when faced with a size mismatch, making him an instrumental part of Mt. Pleasant’s pass-centered offense. Conrad was chosen by his teammates as the Panthers’ co-MVP, sharing the award with quarterback Shull.
Conrad was one of three Panthers to be selected to this year’s All-GTNS team, even though Mt. Pleasant fell shy of a playoff berth. Junior Carson Remick earned a linebacker spot, and Alex O’Donnell filled a utility spot.
Remick tied Washington’s Covington for third among Golden Triangle area football players with 96 regular-season tackles. The junior, who started for the Panthers for the second year, was chosen as his team’s Defensive Player of the Year this season.
A jack-of-all-trades, O’Donnell rarely left the gridiron this season for Mt. Pleasant. The senior served as the punter, punt and kick returner, defensive back and wide receiver for the Panthers, and when he missed an early October game at Washington, Mt. Pleasant head coach Bob Jensen said that it took five players to replace him. O’Donnell’s 59-yard punt tied for the 15th-longest in Class 3A this season, and his average of 39.6 yards per punt was 22nd in the class. He also was one of the area’s top receivers this season, catching 18 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
WACO, which qualified for the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year, had three players named to this year’s All-GTNS team, led by tailback Tyler Ayers.
Before the football season started, WACO head coach Chad Edeker predicted that Ayers would be one of the best players in Class A District 5. The senior lived up to the hype, leading the district with 1,338 rushing yards on the season, more than 500 more than his closest competitor. His total rushing yards ranked 15th among all Class A players. Ayers found the end zone 15 times and scored a two-point conversion five times, accounting for 100 total points for the Warriors this season. Ayers was named to the all-district first team for his efforts.
Skyler Miller recorded a team-high 73 tackles at linebacker, but the WACO senior makes the All-GTNS team as an offensive lineman this season. Miller was the backbone of a WACO offensive line that created room for Ayers to run for more than 1,300 yards and paved the way for 36 WACO rushing touchdowns this year.
A key part of WACO’s defense, junior cornerback Dylon Carlson was the player whom Edeker relied on to shut down the opponent’s top receiver when the Warriors went to man-to-man coverage this season. Carlson made 30 tackles this fall, and he also intercepted three passes, returning one 35 yards for a touchdown.
Despite having a young team, Mid-Prairie finished 8-3 this season and reached the second round of the Class 2A playoffs. A pair of players who were key to the Golden Hawks’ success were named to this year’s All-GTNS team.
Mid-Prairie rushed for just two yards in a 30-0 season-opening loss at Washington, and things only appeared to get worse when tailback Logan Wadsworth was injured on the first play of the game the next week. But backup running back Eesaa Baylor stepped in and rushed for 1,022 yards and 13 touchdowns over the next 10 games to help the Golden Hawks become much more balanced offensively and reach the Class 2A playoffs. Baylor was a bruising north and south runner for the Golden Hawks, and will again be a focal point for the Mid-Prairie offense next season as a senior.
Another key to Mid-Prairie’s success was the kicking game, where the Golden Hawks had one of the best field goal kickers in the state. Junior Austin Errthum made seven of his 11 field goal attempts this season, including a 58-yarder in Mid-Prairie’s 10-7 win over Clear Creek-Amana on Aug. 31 that was the longest in school history and the third-longest in state history. It proved to be the longest made field goal in the state of Iowa this fall. On top of that, Errthum was a very steady 30-for-32 on PAT kicks.
While Mid-Prairie had one of the best kickers in the state, Highland had one of the best punters. Senior Cameron Vinsand averaged 43.9 yards per punt, which led Class A and ranked fourth in the entire state. That proved to be a key for Highland, which finished 6-4 and qualified for the Class A playoffs.
After missing the playoffs last season, Sigourney-Keota returned to the postseason this year, and junior Derek Berg was a key to that success. The aggressive cornerback led Class 1A District 6 with six takeaways, including four interceptions and two fumbles. He also made 39 tackles for the Savage Cobras, who finished 4-6.
Although Columbus finished with a 3-6 record this season, that can be viewed as a successful season for the Wildcats, who had failed to win a game in the two previous seasons. Columbus was able to successfully move the football this fall, and much of the credit goes to senior offensive lineman Alex Martinez. Most of the yards the Wildcats gained came behind Martinez, a two-time all-district lineman who was selected as the team’s Most Valuable Player this season.
The final two spots on this year’s All-GTNS football team go to Cardinal’s Nathan Yeager and New London’s Matayo Christianer, both of whom are linebackers.
Just a sophomore, Yeager is already turning heads in his second full season playing middle linebacker at Cardinal. He led the area in tackles this season with a whopping 119, including seven tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. The tenacious Comet also had a nose for turnovers, snatching up three interceptions.
Meanwhile, Christianer ranked second in the area and led Class A District 5 in tackles with 107 this fall. Christianer was a force for the Tigers on both sides of the ball this season, leading the team in a number of categories, including tackles for a loss (8), rushing yards (350) and touchdowns (8).
The Golden Triangle News Service teams are selected by sports editors Travis J. Brown (The Washington Evening Journal), Ashlee De Wit (Mt. Pleasant News) and Michael Leach (The Fairfield Ledger).