C-T 2019 AREA HS FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Trojans will reap bonus points from league play in second half of 2019, hope on-field improvement will boost its district-playoffs position

CARROLLTON, Mo. — After several years of – as its student enrollment numbers slipped lower and lower – scheduling mostly Class 1 non-conference opponents before facing Class 2 foes during its Missouri River Valley Conference-East competition in the latter half of its regular-season schedule, Carrollton in 2019 has crossed over the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) football-classification line.
Its postseason prospects likely are much better for it.
When the MSHSAA classification and district assignment lists were made public late last week, Carrollton emerged as a Class 1 team for this year, at least, and was assigned to a district (5) heavily populated with schools whose 2018 teams fared poorly.
Of the eight District 5 schools, only Marceline and Fayette had winning years last season and both were very senior-reliant in 2018, making them likely to take at least a step or two back this fall.
Of the other six, Carrollton, 3-7 mark last fall in its initial year under the leadership of Chillicothe High alumnus Scott Finley, had only the fifth-best won-lost record, but – with its five MRVC-E games taken into account – probably would have been the third-best team, had the octet been grouped together in ’18.
Salisbury and Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran, both of which the Trojans played and shut out, both finished 2-8 and Alma: Santa Fe plummeted to 1-9. Slater wound up 4-5 against full-fledged 11-man opponents (it also played and defeated normal 8-man participant Norborne/Hardin-Central), but two wins were over winless clubs and a third over Santa Fe. The other was over a 2-8 club.
Only Sweet Springs, which co-ops with Malta Bend, finished better than CHS, going 6-6, and five of its triumphs were over Class 1 clubs which won three or fewer contests.
This year, when the Trojans will get the 10 bonus points each of the last five weeks for facing its larger-classification league foes, even a 3-6 regular-season mark might well make them a challenger for a top-3 finish in the district ratings and a home playoffs game or two.
Being in their second year in Finley’s systems and returning 10 players with starting experience on one or both sides of the ball, the Trojans legitimately should have hope of doing better than 3-6 during the regular campaign.
Whether that indeed will be the case will begin crystallizing right from this week’s outset of the 2019 season as Carrollton goes to Fayette. Now-district foes Salisbury, which some foresee as perhaps much improved, and St. Paul Lutheran come along in weeks three and four.
While there certainly are personnel like Cawyer Davis, Hayden Ritchhart, Gabe Frank, and Tragan Cox who were among Carrollton’s better performers a year ago, but who graduated last May, there are multiple 2018 contributors who have at least one more year – and in a number of cases, two – of eligibility, including the quarterback who led them to their three wins and led it in passing before being felled by a late-season injury and the team’s three rushing-yardage leaders.
Junior QB/DB Gavin Claud (6’, 170) had thrown for 800 yards through seven games last fall before being felled by his injury. In his absence, classmate Gage Fitzpatrick eventually switched from receiver/wingback to under center and himself threw for 227 yards with about 65 percent accuracy as the starter in the last two games. With Claud back, Fitzpatrick (5’7”, 145) heads back to his former spot.
If the senior-heavy offensive line, which has lots of experience, upgrades its play with that experience level, juniors Dillon Staton, Darrik Diamond, and Xavier Yoakum could lead a healthy, viable running game that gives Carrollton desirable offensive balance.
Diamond (5’8”, 155) had consecutive 100-yards games against Salisbury and St. Paul Lutheran early last year, but lugged the “rock” only 40 more times for only another 126 yards the final six games. Still, he averaged over five yards a carry.
Staton (5’10”, 165) likewise got most of his workload early with 33 totes and 121 yards in the first three games before finishing with a mere 52 attempts and 193 yards.
Yoakum (5’6”, 175) had nice games against Salisbury and St. Paul Lutheran last year, too (14-111). While he ended up with only 153 total yards, his per-carry average was right at 4.0 yards.
When Claud goes to the air, he’ll be without his two most-reliable targets. Davis and Ritchhart combined for 101 receptions and 1,025 receiving yards in 2018, while returnees Cedar Metz (6’, 155, jr.), Treyton Bennett (5’10”, 170, soph.), Diamond, Staton, Fitzpatrick, and Yoakum hauled in a mere 14 aerials for 54 yards, collectively. Potentially helping in that area could be senior Garret Calvert (5’10”, 195) and junior Alec Applebury (5’6”, 140), Finley reports.
In the trenches on offense, the senior quartet of Hunter Peel (5’10”, 225), Wyatt Rowan (5’10”, 240), Tristan Cooper (5’10”, 230), and Kaedan Schuster (6’, 225) offers some beef and experience. Also on hand is junior Nolan Johnson (5’11”, 175) and classmate Chase Defibaugh (5’11”, 230) mimics the size of the four 12th graders. If they jell as a unit, the Carrollton “O” could click into a higher gear.
Defensively, the top three tacklers from 2018 (linemen Davis and Frank and linebacker Cox) have departed, leaving lineman Cooper (36 total stops) as the leading returnee. Rowen (35 tackles) should anchor the interior linebacking with Yoakum, Staton, and Johnson in that corps, as well. Diamond might take one of the spots, though.
Down linemen, in addition to Cooper, likely will come from the group of Schlueter, Peel, Peyton Pierson (6’, 175, sr.), and Shadron Castor (5’8”, 330, sr.), but, as a group, they were in on only two stops last year.
In the secondary, Claud and Fitzpatrick are likely starters with Metz or Bennett probably dueling for the other spot.
In the kicking game, Yoakum did boot 14 extra points as a sophomore, a solid rate, considering Carrollton only found the end zone 18 times.
Since they won’t overwhelm anyone with their overall numbers, the Trojans – like most Class 1 schools – will need good fortune, health-wise, to maximize their potential this season. While the overall youth at the skill positions hints at a 2-years window for further development and growing achievement, the anticipated dependence on senior offensive linemen might make this the season of Carrollton’s best postseason prospects, particularly with the possibility of enrollment numbers elevating them back up to Class 2 next year.
Within the MRVC-East, an improved performance by Finley’s foot soldiers could have them more competitive, but wouldn’t figure to make them more than a middle-of-the-pack finisher at best. Repeating last year’s win over Richmond to avoid returning to the cellar might be as good as Carrollton can manage, but even that – to go with the bonus points from each league outing – would be very beneficial from the playoffs perspective.