By CONOR NICHOLL
VICTORIA – Victoria lists 26 players on its roster. On Friday, the Knights followed a routine when Sylvan-Lucas was on the offense. Victoria subbed versions of junior Seth Schwien, senior Vance Hockersmith and junior William Scherrer for freshman Ethan VonLintel, sophomore Jeb Miller, and junior Chase Schumacher on the defensive line.
Additionally, the Knights used freshman Kyle Huser at nose guard. Sophomore lineman Cale Braun, a starter in the season opener, returned after he suffered injury in Week 2. Schwien, who has eight sacks this year, continually brought pressure on the outside. Sylvan-Lucas ran 72 plays in a physical contest, though averaged just 2.7 yards per play.
“We feel like we have got really good depth on the d-line,” coach Doug Oberle said. “We really do. We feel like we can go six or seven, and they are playing well, and I hope they are pushing each other.”
As well, Victoria junior Landon Schmidtberger opened as the starting quarterback for the first time in his career. Schmidtberger replaced standout senior Thaddeus Wohler in Week 6 in a two-point win against Sharon Springs. Wohler is expected to miss some time with an ankle injury.
“It’s a good honor to have, to play for Victoria and to be the now starting quarterback for Victoria, it feels really good,” Schmidtberger said.
The waves of depth are uncommon for an Eight-Man, Division II squad – and could propel Victoria to a state championship berth. The tradition-laden and metronomically consistent Knights are 7-0 and ranked third in the classification. Victoria won District 5 with a 44-14 home win against a solid Sylvan-Lucas squad.
“It was nice,” Schwien said. “People had to step up, and they did, and we have known that all season. People are going to have to step up and make plays when plays are needed to be made.”
Victoria ran its Division II district winning streak to 32 games. Regardless of classification, the Knights have won 16 straight district contests, the longest current run in Division II. Victoria played Division I in ’19 and Division II the last three falls.
“They do everything well,” S-L coach Ben Labertew said. “Fundamentally, they are very solid.”
While many of the other top Division II West teams heavily rely on a dual threat quarterback, Victoria is deeper with multiple players at key positions. As well, senior all-purpose threat Carson Werth, a returning first team all-state player, returned from a hip injury against Sylvan-Lucas. He delivered a key 72-yard touchdown run.
This is the sixth time that Oberle has opened a season 7-0 for a program that has posted a winning record every year since 1999. Compared to past years, Oberle noted two factors that separate this team.
“I would like to hope that we are a little more balanced,” Oberle said. “…And depth, honestly, depth. I feel like we are pretty deep.”
The victory marked milestone win No. 150 for Oberle in 17 seasons as head coach. Oberle, who has lost just 35 games, has three state titles and a runner-up as head coach. The Knights have reached the state semifinals in each of the past two years.
This marked the third time in the last five seasons that Victoria’s starting quarterback has suffered injury.
The backup stepped in and led the Knights to a victory each time.
In ’18, Grant Schoenrock replaced Cooper Windholz in Week 9. Last season, Wohler took over for Schoenrock. This year, Schmidtberger, a quarterback since fifth grade, has replaced Wohler.
“Definitely during the week, we try to get our No. 2 guys some reps, we had some games earlier in the year, where certainly Landon got quite a bit of time, so he certainly has had some snaps,” Oberle said. “Sometimes too, like last week, coming in in the third quarter, it’s almost easier, because you are in the flow of the game, you just go, there is no thinking, and so I was a little worried about him tonight just having that job the whole week, and stayed calm.”
Sylvan-Lucas (5-2) has clinched its seventh straight winning season under Labertew. Sylvan-Lucas missed its starting fullback and end. Both start at cornerback. The replacements were a 115-pound freshman and a player who ran cross country last season. Victoria scored three touchdowns on sweeps.
“They work extremely hard,” Labertew said. “They are not selfish. You don’t have any ‘me’ kids out there. We are not overly talented, I think we make up for that with how hard we work, and they are a fun group to be around.”
Victoria is 3-0 in the district and has won three straight district titles.
The Knights have not dropped a Division II district game since a loss to Otis-Bison on Oct. 5, 2012. Victoria was at the Division II level from ’12-15 and ’20-22.
In Division II, No. 1 Axtell and No. 2 Canton-Galva are both on the East and are significantly favored to meet in the state semifinals.
However, the West has a mix of teams for the eventual state berth, including Victoria, No. 4 Thunder Ridge (6-1), No. 5 Dighton (7-0), Stafford (7-0), Minneola (7-0), Sharon Springs (5-2), Osborne (6-1) and Kinsley (4-3).
Dighton will play host to Minneola for the District 8 title this week. Wallace County will go to Thunder Ridge for the District 6 crown Friday. Osborne has already won District 5. Kinsley, healthier now after early season injuries, will host Stafford with significant District 7 ramifications.
This season, the Knights have collectively outscored teams 347-78 and delivered 8.2 yards per play. Victoria has rushed for 237 yards and passed for 77 yards a contest, per SIK research and Hudl boxscores.
Among the four other Western undefeated squads, that ranks third in yards per play. Minneola is at 9.8 yards per play, Thunder Ridge at 9.2, while Stafford and Dighton both at 8.0.
All of them have a dual threat quarterback with at least 1,350 yards of total offense. Three quarterbacks, TR’s Dylan Bice, Stafford’s Dylan Gantz and Minneola’s Eli Lang, have exceeded 1,900 yards.
Defensively, only Dighton at 62 points has a better scoring defense than the Knights.
Those four have much smaller numbers than Victoria with rosters ranging from 18 to 21.
“We still continue to make mistakes, but guys stepped up,” Oberle said. “We have certainly had some younger guys in the last couple weeks, and I thought they’ve done a good job.”
In a Week 1 win against Kinsley, Werth didn’t score. Against Sylvan-Lucas, five players tallied a touchdown, including a pair of rushing TDs from senior Lane Schmidtberger, Landon’s brother.
Werth has seen significant offensive touches in four games. In those contests, he has 38 offensive touches for 569 yards and seven scores, plus a kickoff return for a touchdown.
“He finally realized we can’t rely on Carson all the time with his hip, so he needs to step up, and I think he did a good job of that,” Landon said.
Wohler has 25 of 45 passing for 498 yards with 10 scores, along with 30 rushes for 482 yards and 12 TDs.
In limited time, Schmidtberger has been efficient with 10 of 20 passing for 133 yards with three scores, and 17 carries for 117 yards. Victoria has yet to throw an interception.
Overall, Victoria has allowed 3.5 yards per play and limited squads to 83 rushing yards a contest. Teams have collectively completed 34 of 93 passes for 619 yards with three scores against five interceptions. Taylor Anderson (RB/DB) and Jarron Schmidt are key seniors, too.
Schwien, a starter since his freshman season, has emerged as one of eight-man’s top players. He has played with great intensity on defense. Offensively, Schwien is Victoria’s top receiver.
“Pedal to the metal,” Schwien said. “Not a lot of people like to go pedal to the metal on the opposite side of somebody else, but pretty much just pedal to the metal all game.”
“Seth is really, really coming into his own,” Oberle added.
Up front, Victoria senior Tanis Brungardt, a first team all-state pick last year, elected not to play football in 2022. The Knights have filled roles. In the summer, Oberle noted the 6-foot-2 Huser, easily the team’s biggest player, could emerge. Huser has started on the offensive line. Oberle said Huser is key in short yardage defensive situations with his size.
“They have been good,” Schwien said. “And it keeps the whole D-line fresh, and we are able to tire out the (opponents’) o-line.”
As well, Miller, seeing significant snaps for the first time this fall, has impressed with his extension and getting off the ball. Hockersmith collected all-league recognition in 2021. He dropped weight and shifted from nose guard to defensive end. Victoria continually revolved players against Sylvan’s physical, run-heavy attack.
“Each one of those guys brings a little bit of something to the table. We really have got three nose guards we really feel good about,” Oberle said. “We feel like one does a better job in short yardage. We feel like one does a little better job in the pass. One is a little more overall, can do a little bit of both.
“D-ends, I feel like, man we have got some depth there,” he added. “We just have got to be a little more consistent in what we are doing up front, but those young guys are coming along. We are getting better at that. I like our depth. Obviously if we get in those long games, in those physical games, if we can get those guys in and out, I think that will help us down the line as well.”