By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
At the start of 2021, Goessel coach Garrett Hiebert knew the Bluebirds have plenty of experience back from a 5-4 squad that made a surprise Eight-Man, Division I quarterfinal berth. Hiebert, the head coach since 2012, was aware of the Bluebirds’ front-loaded schedule that featured Wheat State League foes Canton-Galva and Little River in the first three weeks.
C-G and Little River are the last two defending Division I state champions. Goessel lost both games and opened 1-2. However, in Week 4, Goessel defeated Argonia-Attica, 44-36, in a huge district contest.
“Our three most challenging opponents in the first four weeks,” Hiebert said.
The Bluebirds, paced by its experienced backfield of Jake Wiens and Grant Bryant and lineman/linebacker Caleb Burkholder, eventually finished 5-0 and won District 5. Goessel clinched the district with a 38-22 home win versus Medicine Lodge in Week 8. ML had opened 6-0.
In the playoffs, Goessel beat Pratt Skyline, 44-36 in overtime, and then defeated Macksville, 50-16. Goessel contained Macksville quarterback Ryan Kuckelman, who is 6-foot-6 and a state 400-meter champion. It marked the second straight year Goessel beat Skyline in overtime in the playoffs. Last Friday, Goessel ended its season with a 70-20 home loss to Meade in the state quarterfinals.
“We played our most consistent game of the season against Macksville,” Hiebert said.
Goessel achieved several notable superlatives. The Bluebirds had their most wins since an identical 8-3 mark in 2009. It marked Goessel’s first perfect district record since a 10-1, 6-0 mark in ’08. Before 2020, Goessel was 4-10 all-time in the playoffs, per Prep Power Index. Goessel has won four Week 9 bracket/playoff contests in the last two seasons.
Goessel has matched the furthest playoff advancement in school history, joining quarterfinals in ’96, ’05, ’08 and ’09. Plus, the Bluebirds had a rare feat that all three of the losses came against teams that reached the state semifinals.
Little River and Meade have current winning streaks of 19 and 13 games, respectively, the longest current runs in eight-man football. C-G is 32-2 in the last three seasons.
Next fall, Wiens, Bryant and Burkholder should be one of the top trios in eight-man football. Goessel averaged 39.5 points a contest, its best scoring offense since 2012. The Bluebirds lowered its scoring defense from 38.7 points last year to 25.1 this season.
“There was a lot of learning and adjusting in the heat of the moment against CG, LR, and AA,” Hiebert said. “It took us a couple weeks to get some rhythm and timing issues worked out.”
Earlier this week, the District 5 all-district football team was released. The 5-foot-6, 157-pound junior Wiens and the 6-1, 152-pound senior Logan Sterk collected first team at running back and offensive line, respectively.
On the offensive line, Goessel started Sterk and Burkholder at guard and center Kyle Valdois. The starting defensive linemen were Caiden Duerksen and Sterk at the ends, and Dylan Riley at nose guard. Jevin Base and Gunnar Davis had significant defensive line contributions.
Duerksen (6-3, 187) was a key receiver and second team all-district selection as a senior. Three players picked up honorable mention: the 5-9, 148-pound junior Bryant at quarterback, 5-7 junior Kacen Smith, senior 6-foot receiver Skylar Wuest, and Burkholder (5-11, 156) at line.
On the defensive side, Duerksen and Burkholder were first team all-district at defensive line and linebacker, respectively.
Wiens and Bryant collected second team at defensive back. Sterk, Wuest and Smith were honorable mention at defensive line, linebacker and defensive back, respectively.
Smith was the first team specialist. Overall, Goessel features seven seniors. No player is above 201 pounds.
“Since (Week 4), we’ve received very well-rounded contributions from all parts of our offense and defense,” Hiebert said after the Macksville victory. “Our depth has also been important in the last few weeks with our subs playing important roles due to injury and sickness. The strengths of our team are our experience and team speed/athleticism. Our kids have really bought into the idea of eight individual jobs fitting together to make solid plays on both sides of the ball.”
In the Meade game, Wiens rushed 16 times for 113 yards and two scores. Bryant tallied 18 rushes for 93 yards and a TD. Burkholder finished with 11.5 tackles, while Duerksen delivered eight stops, two for loss and a sack. Wiens had eight tackles, one more than Bryant.
For the season, Wiens finished with 122 carries for 1,227 yards and 20 rushing TDs. Bryant rushed 136 times for 712 yards and 10 rushing scores. Bryant had 12 passing scores against four interceptions.
Wuest and Duerksen were the team’s leading receivers and combined for 13 receiving scores. In the Macksville win, Wiens returned a kickoff 75 yards for a TD.
Burkholder recorded 73 tackles, and Duerksen finished with 72.5. Wiens picked off five passes, including a pick-six, and Bryant had four. Goessel will again be in Division I again in 2022 and should open as a top-10, possibly top-5 program.
“As a coach, it is especially rewarding to see our guys improve throughout their high school careers and this season,” Hiebert said. “They have done a great job of transferring skills and techniques from the practice field to Friday nights.”