SEILING, Okla. — Midway through Seiling’s 2018 season and during the midst of the Wildcats winning streak, head coach Gary Manuel could sense something was wrong.
Despite his offense scoring nearly 46 points per game and his defense allowing 20 points or less during the first five games, Manuel felt like the teams drive wasn’t there. By game seven, a 24-point defeat of Canton, Manuel delivered a sobering prediction.
“You guys have played well to this point,” he said to his Wildcats. “But you’re looking at finishing the season 0-4.”
That’s exactly what happened. Seiling ended the regular season with a three-game losing streak before losing in the first round of the Class B playoffs. Seiling lost by 20 to Pioneer, a team it defeated by 24 points eight weeks earlier.
The loss made it the second time in as many seasons the Wildcats lost in the first round of the playoffs despite holding a halftime lead. Following the loss, Manuel said Seiling had a singular focus during this past off-season: finish.
“Our whole deal this spring has been to finish,” Manuel said.
While the system remains the same, the Seiling offense will see some changes this season, starting with its overall speed. Manuel said he wants the Wildcat offense to dictate the tempo of the game.
“When (the refs) get the ball spotted, I want us to get the ball snapped,” he said.
Seiling will also see a change under center. Junior Bryson Gore, who transitioned to quarterback last season, will transition to running back this season. As a dual-threat quarterback, Gore threw for 777 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.
“At running back, he can just get the ball and just start running,” Manuel said. “I think this really benefits his style.”
Junior Noah Hammons will take over at quarterback. Manuel described Hammons as a “very intelligent kid” who can throw the ball well. While he is not as fast as Gore, Hammons does have solid athleticism and running ability, which Manuel hopes will help Seiling’s play-action.
The Wildcats will be without “true speed” this season after graduating receiver Rhett Gambill, who was able to stretch the defense last season. The Wildcats hope to adapt their game by creating mismatches with Gore and receivers like sophomore receiver Jarrett Tautfest and senior tight end Jarrett Ham.
Seiling graduated five seniors, three of whom were starters. However, both sides of the line return experience, size and strength. Seniors Riely Tune, Kaden Templin, Josh Colvard, and David Wion all clock in at 200 pounds or more.
“That’s a blessing as far as having everybody back up front,” Manuel said. “Now, my job is to get them to play consistently because at times last year, we were pretty good and at times, we were pretty average.”
The Wildcats will rely more on the defensive line this season as Seiling’s defense adapts to the loss of graduated linebacker Brock Hedrich by changing its base defense. Seiling will play a four-man front with one linebacker in hopes of adapting to it’s lack of depth at linebacker.
Manuel said the key for the defensive front will be for the interior linemen to keep blockers from getting to the second level.
“We have a lot of big kids and we feel like those guys are the strength of the team right now,” Manuel said.
Replacing Hedrich will be difficult, as he not only played the linebacker position well but set the tone of the defense.
“Not having a guy like that out there will leave a big void,” Manuel said.
Senior Payton Gregory and Ham will be expected to help fill that void in the middle of the field. Behind them, Gore will lead the defensive secondary at free safety. Gore recorded more than 70 tackles and intercepted two passes at that spot last season.
Manuel said the Wildcats will have a handful of players who can step into the corner spots.
“I feel pretty good about (the secondary),” he said. “We still have some fundamental techniques we got to get worked out. But I feel pretty good.”
After some soul-searching, Manuel said that, as Seiling’s coach, he’s committed to preventing another four-game losing streak to end the year. The Wildcats are committed to extending their season beyond the first round of the playoffs.
“I make sure to remind them every day that we have to learn to finish,” he said.
Seiling opens its season Aug. 30 on the road at Carnegie.