Seniors graduate. Players get hurt. Those are a pair of the, sometimes, toughest realities of high school football. And they attacked South Adams pretty aggressively between last November and now.
Did it slow them? It really doesn’t look like it. There was a dog fight on Friday night in Bluffton as South Adams held off friendly rival Bluffton for the sixth straight season, but the difference really was the fact that South Adams continues to find playmakers, some guys in enhanced roles and others just stepping up anew.
The Starfires started 1-0 in the ACAC with a 42-32 win over the Tigers.
The win came after a week of just trying to figure things out. Last Friday night, South Adams saw their three core returners to the program go down with injuries, with those of Sam Plattner and Aidan Wanner holding them both out indefinitely. It meant another change for a team that was still trying to figure things out after graduating the majority of their state runner up 2020 team. But a win over Bluffton, one that was actually a surprise to many outside of the program, shows that the Starfires still have a “next man up” to shine.
“I was so proud of our kids and how they responded tonight. We knew this year would be different with the incredible senior class graduating, but last week losing a couple key guys, our next man up mentality really came through and our kids grew up real fast,” South Adams coach Grant Moser said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how our guys played tonight and love the leadership Aidan and Sam still display from the sidelines.”
A big part of the response came from that third core returner, who also went down with an injury in week two and even fought through some clear pain too against Bluffton. Trey Schoch became a critical part of South Adams’ postseason run last fall and it has carried over in his confidence this season. The Starfires targeted him early and often at Bluffton; he hauled in six catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 29.8 yards per catch as his speed pushed him by Bluffton defenders.
“Trey is a special player. He is now has tied the school record for receiving TDs in a game with three for the fourth time. He is also our all time return leader. We don’t win tonight without him,” Moser said.
It may have been Schoch’s growing confidence that pushed the pile, so to speak. In him, South Adams knows they have a playmaker, knows they have a kid who can make big catches and run outs. He battled through a tight short yardage defense seven minutes in for the game’s opening score and then put on the burners six minutes later for another, very different, touchdown as he broke off for 60 yards on a bomb from Owen Wanner.
Wanner impressed as well filling in for injured third-cousin Aidan. Just a sophomore, it is not a pressure-less situation he finds himself in, now the leader of an always high powered South Adams offense. In his first start of his career though, he played often with the poise of a seasoned vet.
Connecting with Schoch for three scores, Hunter Kongar for another and running one in himself, Wanner was responsible in some manner for 35 of the Starfires’ 42 points. It must come with the territory of the name Wanner to be a big time scorer. While Aidan helped mentor and coach him from the sideline, Owen Wanner threw for 255 yards on 12-of-18 passing.
“We knew since junior high Owen was going to be a very solid athlete and had a great arm. Obviously following in James Arnold and Aidan Wanner’s footsteps isn’t an easy task for anyone. We anticipated Owen would take over at QB after this year but he has done a great job of stepping in as a sophomore,” Moser said. “He is very similar to Aidan in his ability to run, so play calling hasn’t had to change too much. He is still only a sophomore so there is still some mechanics and techniques to learn but I feel comfortable having Owen at QB and am excited to see him develop as the year goes on as well as the next three years. He is very coachable.”
That solid playmaker at quarterback has allowed others to flourish as well. Kongar, who was 6-of-6 on extra points and averaged 33 yards per punt in the Bluffton game, caught a bomb for a touchdown while Brady Beall, AJ Dull and Jordan Hinshaw were all used as passing targets. Mav Summersett ran for 55 yards and a score while leading the defense with 8.5 tackles.
Hinshaw may have been the guy that shined the most in certain ways on Friday night. A guy who’s numbers weren’t the highest (1 catch for 8 yards, 4.5 tackles and a sack), he was constantly in the play on defense getting to the ball quickly at times when South Adams needed to stymie Bluffton on the ground. Hinshaw, Ken Richardson (7 tackles and a sack), Chase Myers (4 tackles and a sack) and Dull provided some of the hardest hits for the night for South Adams.
And at the end, when it mattered, this new diverse squad of playmakers were also difference makers. South Adams looked strong throughout the battle in Bluffton, but failed to separate themselves from the feisty Tigers; the score just a three point difference into the fourth quarter. Then, Wanner ran it in to push South Adams’ lead to 35-25, which eventually ballooned as high as 17 points.
There is a long way to go in Berne to get back to the level that the Starfires were in 2020. But if Friday taught anyone watching anything at all, it is that the playmaking ability that made them one of the state’s best at one point isn’t gone, it is simply getting revitalized.