‘We knew they could be good’: Platte-Geddes rides turnovers, improved O-line play to undefeated start
PLATTE -- In Platte-Geddes’ preseason team meeting, coach Bruce Hanson emphasized three areas: Communication on the offensive line, forcing turnovers and creating more big plays on offense.
The improved communication in Year 2 of Platte-Geddes’ new scheme has turned an offensive line that was beat up last year into a brick wall for an offense averaging 8.7 yards per play. As the Black Panthers carve through opposing defenses, their own defense has forced 17 turnovers through a 4-0 start. Platte-Geddes won four games all of last season, finishing 4-6.
Hanson saw how far away Platte-Geddes was from the top contenders last year during a 66-20 loss to eventual state champion Viborg-Hurley in the state quarterfinals. But now as the No. 4-ranked team in Class 9AA, the drastic improvement has turned his preseason prediction into an undefeated start.
“I did a lot of the preseason stuff, and I put in there that we could be a surprise team this year,” Hanson said. “... It’s been a long time since Platte-Geddes football has been really good, so we didn’t want to push it that hard on people. The kids knew they could be good. We knew they could be good. We’ve been planning on being a contender. We think we are.”
After a 4-6 season, the Black Panthers have exceeded expectations in all three points of emphasis during a four-week stretch where they’ve outscored opponents 201-19. They’ve done so with varsity only playing in 10 of 16 quarters.
It helps returning seven starters on both sides of the ball, with many bringing the same winning tradition from other sports to the gridiron. Platte-Geddes clinched a Class B state basketball tournament berth and finished third at the state wrestling duals last year. It’s not short on athletes, which helps cover up any potential weak spots and gives it plenty of options.
Every week, the coaching staff tries to add to the playbook, giving the opponent a new look or play to defend. It helps having the versatility of Platte-Geddes, which is able to move quarterback Kelby Vanderwerff (475 passing yards) to receiver at the goal line to set up wildcat quarterback Grayson Hanson (184 rushing yards). Vanderwerff has caught, thrown and ran for a touchdown this year, while two of Hanson’s seven scores have come as a passer.
“Every week we try to throw in some new stuff to the kids,” coach Hanson said. “We’ve adjusted well. The kids pick it up well and the kids like it. We try to throw in a new formation, some new plays and it’s exciting for them.”
Jackson Neuman (340), Myles Kott (171) and Chase Varilek (177) all have over 100 rushing yards, while Nate Whalen leads receivers with 160 yards and two touchdowns. Caden Foxley and Jackson Olsen have combined for five touchdown receptions, as well.
But the biggest improvement has come on the offensive line. With Royce Finney and Hudson Ringling at guard and Reggie Ringling manning center, the improved fundamentals, and more importantly communication, has turned a weakness into a strength. They’ve paved the way for an offense averaging 50.3 points per game, and one that no longer has to rely on long drives to score.
“We got beat up last year a lot. And we implemented a lot of new schemes they weren’t used to, and I think that was part of it also,” Hanson said. “... We worked on some fundamental stuff, but I think the communication part is the big thing. They’ve been kind of a surprise for us, but we emphasized it so it paid off.”
Platte-Geddes has exceeded expectations the same way with its turnovers. It sets a goal to get three-to-four takeaways every game, and that mentality has trickled down to junior varsity. Varsity has only given up 13 points, including a 50-0 shutout of Colome.
“They’ve blown me away on expectations there,” Hanson said. “We’ve been super aggressive going after the ball.”
Platte-Geddes’ schedule only gets tougher, though. It plays Class 9B No. 1 Wolsey-Wessington on Friday and Class 9A No. 5 Gregory on Oct. 9, but have home-field advantage in each contest. It also closes the season against Parkston, a team ahead of it in seed points in Region 3.
Hanson still believes in his preseason prediction of Platte-Geddes as a contender. It wants to play the best teams in the state because it believes it’s one, too. It’d welcome a rematch against Viborg-Hurley. But it also knows it needs to keep improving, especially in the three areas that have pushed it to this point.
“We know there’s a lot of good teams out there, and if we don’t continue getting better, we won’t do what we want to do,” Hanson said. “The kids talk about the best teams in the state. They look forward to playing Wolsey-Wessington. Our goal is to get back to play Viborg-Hurley sometime this year. The kids want to play them, and that’s a good thing.”