Nick Benes

The ideal football team begins with the offensive and defensive lines. Because of that, Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing has an advantage in every game it plays.

The trenches have led the Renegades to a 5-0 start, including last Thursday’s 42-6 victory at O’Neill St. Mary’s. CWCE enters the ratings for the first time this season at No. 9 in Class D.

“Our offensive and defensive lines are our strength, and where we have the most depth,” CWCE coach Tom Thramer said.

Most coaches say it, but Thramer’s squad lives it in a manner most eight-man teams don’t get to experience. All 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds of that manner, to be exact.

Joshua Klabenes is that manner. The 6-4, 270-pound senior, who is coming off knee surgery, was regarded coming into the season as one of the best Class D2 linemen.

“He’s really lived up to it,” Thramer said. “Having a guy like that anchoring the line in eight-man means the other team is doubling up and freeing up our linebackers.”

It isn’t just Klabenes, as juniors Logan Sanford and Trevor Stamp, have combined to give the Renegades what has developed into a ferocious starting defensive line that has provided 98 of the team’s 319 total tackles.

“Both (Sanford and Stamp) started last year, and both are having a great year, especially on the D-line. Both are probably the best D-ends that we’ve had,” Thramer said.

That’s saying something, and here’s why.

It’s not like the Renegades haven’t experienced success in their brief history. Between the original CWC and the recent addition of Ewing, the co-op won at least one game in the playoffs each year from 2013 through 2017, highlighted by a Class D2 runner-up finish in 2015.

This year’s team has at least one similarity with the one that reached Memorial Stadium — Thramer said it’s focused on one game at a time.

“That team, we had 15 guys (but) we were older, a little bit more experienced,” Thramer said, comparing the runner-up team with this year’s squad. “This year, we’re starting a sophomore quarterback and sophomore at a wildcat-type of guy. We’re younger ... but I think the drive is very comparable. We’re worried about who we’re playing each week and then we’re moving on.”

Since a season-opening 62-32 victory over Wausa, the Renegades have given up 13.5 points per game, including a 36-14 victory over Hartington-Newcastle. The win over the Wildcats was unusual in that it was originally scheduled for the opening week, but it was suspended until Sept. 20, when the teams both had a bye week and they could finish the game.

Thramer said he has not been necessarily surprised by this year’s team.

“I don’t know about surprises,” he said. “I knew we were returning a lot of kids from last year. I think they’re surprised more by their defense. We’re giving up about 150 yards per game, and it’s hard for teams to run on us. We have an experienced defensive line.

“The biggest surprise to me is how our defense is playing.”

Offensively, the team has been able to weather some rough starts thanks to its defense. Senior Wyatt Wagner has 798 rushing yards (159.6 per game), while sophomore Cole Duba at quarterback has thrown and run for 521 total yards.

Duba, one of the more diminutive quarterbacks in the area at 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, started the last five weeks of his freshman season and has improved this year.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s a competitor,” Thramer said. “The biggest way he’s gotten better is the way he’s reading defenses, especially when running our zone read, and getting more physical as a runner.”

A numbers game

The past couple of months have involved some big issues for school boards across the state.

Last month, they had to approve their budgets — which affect everyone from school employees to taxpayers. This month, some boards will face another decision that may have an impact on their school.

Will the school, or cooperative, participate in 11-man, eight-man or six-man football?

In some respects, that decision may garner more discussion than the annual budget hearing. I don’t think it’s necessarily right, but one cannot ignore the passion that sports — and football, in particular — spark among those with ties to a certain area.

If schools want to be honest with themselves, the answer lies in the number of students planning to play football in the future. Longtime prep rater Stu Pospisil of the Omaha World-Herald suggested 25 non-freshmen on the team over the next two years to field a viable eight-man roster, and he also said 18 over the same time frame for six-man.

I don’t know that it’s such a hard and fast rule, because sometimes there are freshmen who are capable of developing into a four-year starter. But you need enough athletes to absorb attrition throughout the season due to injuries. I have yet to see a team play through an entire season with zero injuries.

Thramer has experience with this, with the Renegades welcoming Ewing into the mix before the 2017 season.

“Ewing came in at a good time,” he said. “Our numbers at Chambers and Bartlett (Wheeler Central) were really dropping off.”

Now, those same numbers are rebounding, just in time as Clearwater/Orchard and Ewing plan to form Summerland starting next season in football.

“We’ve talked about it a little bit, Thramer said. “We should be able to stay in eight-man football for the foreseeable future. We’ve got a good number of boys coming up.”

What other cooperatives will be coming? Stay tuned.

Ratings recap

For the first time this season, the No. 6 team in Class C won its game that week.

Valentine did the honors in a big way, defeating Gordon-Rushville 46-8, and the Badgers moved up a spot following North Bend Central’s initial loss of the season. That opened up a position for Hartington Cedar Catholic at No. 6, which deserved a spot after its big win at Norfolk Catholic.

In Class D, Neligh-Oakdale dropped out after its loss to No. 2 Howells-Dodge. The No. 5 Warriors dropping out was more of an indictment on the number of deserving teams in the ratings than anything else, as the other nine teams ranked won.

Suckstorf, Kuchar announced

Darin Suckstorf of Lutheran High Northeast and Matt Kuchar of Bloomfield were announced last week among the assistant coaches for next year’s Sertoma Eight-Man All-Star Football Game.

Both Suckstorf and Kuchar will be members of the East team coaching staff. The head coach is Clint Jones of Meridian, and the other assistant is Jacob Baber, also of Meridian.

The West will be led by Jason Spady of Garden County with assistants Paul Heusinkvelt of Overton, Ryan Jones of Maxwell and Chad Dormann of Garden County.

In other news

HASTINGS — With only two starters back from last year’s Class C state championship season, one might think the Wayne softball team might have some jitters in its return to the Class B division of the state softball championships.