When Falls City head coach Mark Kirchhoff was asked who the favorite was to take the District 31-1A football title this season, the laughter could probably be heard all the way to Louise. "Shiner," Kirchhoff chuckled. "Anytime realignment comes in, they're the frontrunner." The eight-year Falls City coach then said something that may frighten five other coaches in the district.
"Defensively, they may even be better than they were last year," he said. "They have some holes to fill in the secondary, but their front seven is going to be better than last year." The Class 1A state finalist Comanches return six members of a defense that allowed only 54 total points in five District 30-lA games and 11 points a game the entire season.
In so many words, Kirchhoff typified the beliefs of most in District 31-1A before the season even begins. Shiner was picked by a vast majority of the coaches to win the district, and the only doubts stem from how long it will take to adequately replace quarterback Garet Pustka. "Offensively, it'll take them a little while," Kirchhoff said. "You can't replace someone like Pustka immediately."
While Shiner will return District 30-1A Co-MVP Chris Baer and his 1,652 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 quarterback sacks and 122 tackles from last season, the reigning district champion, Falls City, lost much of its offensive and defensive starters from a year ago.
"We're a lot like we were last year, we just don't have the experience," Kirchhoff said. "We had a lot better team speed defensively last year. We don't have the size we had last year."
The only team that could top Shiner's defense last year was Falls City, which allowed 10.1 points per district game. Falls City handed Shiner its first shutout in 75 games with an 8-0 win over the Comanches last year. Shiner avenged the loss with defense of its own in a 16-14 victory in the Class 1A quarterfinals. The two teams will kick off district play on Oct. 1.
COACHES' POLL (first-place votes in parentheses) 1. Shiner (5) 41 2. Flatonia (1) 36 3. Falls City 27 4. Woodsboro 23 5. Runge 19 6. Louise 12 7. Pettus 10 (Shiner did not participate in poll)
Defense may be as vital to the other teams in 31-1A to make a run at a playoff berth. The five other teams, including newly-aligned Woodsboro and Pettus, ceded an average of 36.2 points per district game last season.
Flatonia, picked second in the district among the coaches, will return seven offensive starters, including 6-foot-5 receiver Galen Dunk and tailback Lyndon Gutierrez, and nine defense starters. A question mark may in the Bulldogs' district campaign will be how the experienced defense can shut down ball movement as it allowed 40-plus points three times in the last five games.
Louise found the same problem, allowing an average of 48 points a game against larger and more physical teams than in the Hornets' non-district schedule.
"(Our weakness is) our lack of size relative to other teams in district," Louise head coach Rick Frauenberger said. "We've been muscled around the last couple of years."
On a two-year streak of making the postseason, Woodsboro will try to make it three after appealing the UIL realignment to move back into District 32-1A because of travel concerns. That appeal was denied, pushing the Eagles into a district with little to no knowledge of many of those teams.
"We've played the Ben Bolts, the Benavides," Eagles head coach Johnny Gardner said. "We've played them for several years. We know them. Pettus moved up with us, Falls City we've played them pre-district. But all the rest of the guys are all new. We don't have any tapes. We don't have any background on those people. We're playing these guys for the first time."
Woodsboro shows strong promise to contend for the district title with Gardner's first year under his belt.
"I look for them to be little bit better because the kids will be more accustomed to what he's looking for out of them," Kirchhoff said. "Their younger kids were pretty good last year at the lower level."
Runge was 4-6 last season and looks to better that mark this season with nine offensive and eight defensive starters returning.
"Shiner and Falls City are the two powerhouses in the district," Runge coach Jesse House said. Pettus was 10-1 in 2002, but fell to 1-9 and went winless in district play last year. The Eagles return eight offensive and seven defensive starters. First-year coach Steve Marbach said the biggest problem for his Eagles will be contending with the speed of Shiner, Flatonia, Falls City and Woodbsoro.
"We're not going to be able to outrun any of them," Marbach said. "We'll be as fast as about three or four of the teams in district." Marbach said he thinks the race for the title will be a fierce one. "I think all of the games will be incredibly close," he said.
DISTRICT 31-1A TEAM CAPSULESSHINER COMANCHES HEAD COACH: Steve Cerny - third year (25-4), all at Shiner. 2003 RECORD: 14-2, 4-1 in District 30-1 A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2003 - lost 28-27 to Windthorst in Class 1A state final. RETURNING STARTERS: 4 offensive - RB Chris Baer, TE Scott Shimek, OL Clayton McCorkle, FL Nick Evans. 6 defensive - DE Shimek, LB Baer, LB Ryan Kloesel, LB Jared Boedeker, CB Nick Evans, S Trey Curtis. TOP PROSPECTS: FS Kenzley Wright, TE/CB Bucky Boehm, TE/LB Chase O'Connor, C/LB Kevin Berger, OG/NG Dustin Pohler, OT/DE Dylan Hagens. FLATONIA BULLDOGS HEAD COACH: David Sine - fifth year (23-20), all at Flatonia. 2003 RECORD: 6-4,3-2 in District 30-1A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002 - lost 49-6 to West Sabine in Class 1A regionals RETURNING STARTERS: 7 offensive - QB R.J. Lester, RB Lyndon Gutierrez, WR Galen Dunk, TE Juan Grifaldo, OL Wade Berger, OL Jim Schneider, OL Neil Freytag. 10 defensive - DL Dunk, LB Kurt Morrill, LB Margorrito Grifaldo, DL Tyrone Williams, DL Berger, DL Freytag, DB Jose Manzano, S Gutierrez, LB Schneider, LB Juan Grifaldo. TOP PROSPECTS: RB Isidro Aguillon, DB Dustin Blackwell, WR/DB Isaac Beck. FALLS CITY BEAVERS HEAD COACH: Mark Kirchhoff - ninth year (88-48), all at Falls City. 2003 RECORD: 13-1,5-0 in District 30-1A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2003 - lost 16-14 to Shiner in Class 1A quarterfinals. RETURNING STARTERS: 3 offensive - RB Joe Theis, C Justin Sturm, OL Bennie Bordowsky. 3 defensive - S Theis, CB Clayton Wiatrek, DE Rudy Garza. TOP PROSPECTS: QB Cameron Wright, OG Mason Kroll; OG Josh Woelfel. WOODSBORO EAGLES HEAD COACH: Johnny Gardner - second year overall (7-4), all at Woodsboro. 2003 RECORD: 7-4,5-1 in District 32-1A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2003 - lost 70-34 to Falls City in Class 1A area. RETURNING STARTERS: 5 offensive - QB Mitch Minshew, TB Matt Jones, SE Jeremy Salinas, OL Noel Valderrama, OL A.J. Dunn. 5 defensive - DT Valderrama, S Minshew, S Jones, DE Salinas, LB Darin Hadden. TOP PROSPECTS: WR Jared Jessop, SE Brett Schubert, CB Josh Moya. RUNGE YELLOWJACKETS HEAD COACH: Jesse House - second year (4-6), all at Runge. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 1997 - lost 26-6 to Sabinal in Class 1A bi-district. RETURNING STARTERS: 9 offensive - RB Henry Ramirez, WR Johnathan Brasher, WR Gabriel Gutierrez, WR Domingo Cano, TE Zed Zapata, OL Henry Reyna, OL Joseph Garza, OL Brian Arigullin, OL Kevin Shattuck. 8 defensive - DL Arigullin, DL Zapata, DL Garza, DL Reyna, LB Brasher, DB Cano, DB Gutierrez, DB Ramirez. TOP PROSPECTS: QB Casey Oldham. LOUISE HORNETS HEAD COACH: Rick Frauenberger - first year. 2003 RECORD: 3-7,0-5 in District 30-1A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2000 - lost 30-14 to Brazos Consolidated in Class 2A, Division II bi-district. RETURNING STARTERS: 9 offensive - WR David Manzano, RB Kurt Cerny, WR Barry Kutac, WR Thomas Garcia, QB Clay Zboril, RB Jordan Gresham, OL Matt Fiala, OL Craig Wendal, OL Shawn Poncik. 8 defensive - CB Zboril, CB Kutac, LB Cerny, LB Gresham, CB Manzano, CB Garcia, DL Wendal, DL Fiala. TOP PROSPECTS: RB/CB Malcolm Warner, LB Andrew Clements. PETTUS EAGLES HEAD COACH: Steve Marbach - first year. 2003 RECORD: 1-9,0-5 in District 32-1A. LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002 - lost 21-19 to Flatona in Class 1A bi-district. RETURNING STARTERS: 6 offensive - QB Jon Perez, TB Willie Santry, TE Darrell Barrett, OL Ernesto Benavides, OL Leroy Martinez, OL John Thompson. 7 defensive - DL Benavides, DL Thompson, DL Patrick Steele, LB Jeff Matus, DB Perez, DB Santry, DB Barrett. TOP PROSPECTS: FB/LB Aaron Herrera, WR Israel Charles, DL-OL Alfonso Carreon.