TGU itching for more
From the beginning of the 2013 season, TGU appeared primed for a spot in the Dakota Bowl.
The Titans, ranked in the top two in the state media poll throughout the year, ran through their regular season unscathed en route to their second straight Region 3 title. Their only close contest was a 23-18 victory against St. John in the fifth game of the season.
TGU breezed past Beach 42-14 in the state quarterfinal round. Then the Titans fell victim to Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn quarterback Hunter Braaten in the quarterfinal. Braaten carved through TGU’s defense, rushing for 329 yards and three touchdowns in a lopsided 44-12 victory.
“That’s one player that can beat you all by himself and he did it,” TGU coach Scott Thorson said. “I’m not saying they didn’t have anyone else, but he definitely brought something very special to that team.”
While W-N-G’s biggest playmaker is gone, many of TGU’s remain intact. Quarterback Eli Luna returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,633 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushing for 892 yards and 12 scores.
“We expect a lot out of him and have ever since he was a sophomore,” Thorson said. “He’s going to be a key on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. There’s no secret what he’s going to do offensively and teams are going to have to stop him if they’re going to stop us. He really became a more diverse player last year.”
Two of his two three options – wide receiver Colter Thorp and tight end Hunter Schell – also return. Thorp led TGU in receptions (26), receiving yards (712) and touchdowns (11). Schell was third on the team with 279 yards and four touchdowns.
The skill positions aren’t the question mark for the Titans, it’s the offensive and defensive lines.
TGU graduated linemen Luke Bacon, Ray Thomas and Tucker Goodman. The three combined for 148 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles.
The Titans also lost two of their top defensive backs in Ethan Bachmeier and Kendal Green. Bachmeier and Green provided 72 tackles, six interceptions and two sacks.
They still have their linebacking core, led by Thorp. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior recording a team-high 10 sacks. He also had 39 tackles. The other two returning linebackers – Schell and junior Lane Schmitt – combined for 93 tackles, five sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
“Defensively, that’s going to be a key for us,” Thorson said. “With our defensive line being in a rebuilding year the key to stopping the run is the linebackers. We return those guys and that will be what we build around.”
The Titans are glad they won’t have to see Braaten this season, but they know as well as every other team in the region that the Sioux will be just as formidable with nearly their entire team returning.
“There’s a lot of talented kids there that never got their names mentioned when he was playing,” Thorson said. “I look for them to be pretty good.”
Replacing Braaten is no small task for the Sioux, who reached the Class A title game in 2012 and the 9-man championship last season. Braaten threw for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns and ran for 1,697 yards and 27 scores.
“I don’t think any team goes about replacing him,” W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold said. “We as a team are going to be a lot more experienced. We’ve got a couple good kids that could step up that were in the backup position last year that we have a lot of confidence in.”
Nesvold said junior Reese Schell will likely be the starting quarterback when the Sioux open the season Wednesday at Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood. Freshman Trent Marquart will serve as the backup. Schell served as a wide receiver last year, snagging 20 balls for 220 yards and three touchdowns. He threw all of six passes under center, completing four for 73 yards.
Besides Braaten and Ethan Miller, W-N-G returns the bulk of its playmakers. Junior Chase Conway was second on the team in both rushing and receiving. He compiled 1,091 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns.
“In the last two years we’ve played 26 football games,” Nesvold said. “That’s three seasons in two years. All these kids get a lot of experience. They get almost a year older than they are.”
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