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Gregory set for gridiron three-peat

GREGORY -- Winning has become a habit for Gregory High School on the gridiron. The Gorillas enter the 2018 season as the two-time defending Class 9AA state champions -- three in the past four seasons -- along with a 24-game winning streak.

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Gregory's J.J. Beck scores a touchdown against Bon Homme on Sept. 22, 2017 in Gregory. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

GREGORY -- Winning has become a habit for Gregory High School on the gridiron. The Gorillas enter the 2018 season as the two-time defending Class 9AA state champions -- three in the past four seasons -- along with a 24-game winning streak.

A high-powered offensive attack has propelled Gregory during its run, scoring an average of 47 points per game last season, with three games of 60 and three more of 50, including 56 in the state championship game against Irene/Wakonda.

The driver of the Gorillas’ NASCAR-style offense during the past two seasons was The Daily Republic’s 2017 player of the year in quarterback Andy McCance, but he has moved on to play for the University of South Dakota. Some inexperience on the squad and the loss of the field general won’t change the way Gregory wants to play and the high-powered offense isn’t going away any time soon.

“I would hate to change who we are,” Gregory head coach Brian Allmendinger said. “I’d like to just keep doing what we’ve been doing the last few years. The kids love it. If we can execute, I don’t see any reason to change it. They’ve been working in the system -- a lot of them -- for a few years already.”

With the departure of McCance goes 6,228 career passing yards and 89 touchdowns. He was also a dual threat, rushing for 1,141 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior as well.

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In to take his place is Grant Thomas, a 5-foot-9 junior that has spent his first two seasons of high school as the junior varsity quarterback.

“There’s some big shoes to fill, but he’s going to step in there,” Allmendinger said of Thomas. “He knows the offense, he’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s passionate about the game and he wants to do well. He’s earned every right to the opportunity to come in and be our starting quarterback.”

Thomas will have the luxury of throwing the ball to Caleb Stukel, who caught 29 passes for 658 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also rushing for 386 yards and six touchdowns. J.J. Beck also had 497 yards on the ground and seven scores.

Gregory has some key pieces back on defense, with Beck setting a school record a season ago by registering 152 tackles from his linebacker position. Fellow linebacker Tyler Murray also had 83 tackles, with 17 coming behind the line of scrimmage. Stukel made 71 tackles as a safety, while also intercepting four passes.

Still it’s the inexperience on offense with two new guards, two new receivers and a new quarterback that could hinder a chance at winning a third straight state championship.

“That’s a lot of inexperience out there and you can’t simulate a Friday night at practice,” Allmendinger said. “It’s going to be trial by fire and they’re gonna have to take what they learned at practice and carry that on through the game and just continue to get better every week.”

Gregory opens the season Friday at 7 p.m. by hosting Kimball/White Lake.

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