Summit High football confident ahead of tough season-opening tilt at Delta
Tigers open season on the road Friday night, return to Tiger Stadium for home opener Sept. 3
The Summit High School football team and its head coach James Wagner know the tilt they’re in for Friday night, Aug. 27. After the 200-plus mile ride — one the bus will need to leave for at 11 a.m. for the 7 p.m. game — the Tigers will be staring through their helmets and across the line of scrimmage at one of the best 2A sides in the state.
The Delta Panthers are fresh off of a 5-2 COVID-shortened 2020 campaign where they outscored their opponents 118-49 in a 4-0 start to the regular season. Delta lost just once more before 2A state-championship finalist Lamar edged the Panthers 7-6 in the state semis.
Shepherding the Panthers through the season-opener Friday versus the Tigers will be Nathan Scharnhorst, a quarterback with extensive experience from last season. Scharnhorst stepped up last year when Delta senior Nolan Bynum was hurt. He threw 31 out of 56 passes for a total of 510 yards, and had three touchdowns compared to four interceptions.
Wagner expects Scharnhorst to be a stiff test for an improved Tigers defense that features big junior Eli Krawczuk at the defensive end, and returning senior Jackson Segal — who missed the 2020 season — filling gaps from middle linebacker and senior star Aidan Collins flying downhill from the free safety position.
“We’re focused on stopping him because he’s a heck of a player,” Wagner said. “When their senior quarterback got hurt last year he did a nice job. He’s very athletic and likes to run.”
Last season, Scharnhorst ran for more than 75 yards in Delta wins versus Englewood and Platte Valley, totaling six touchdowns on the season. Wagner said Delta’s complementary playmakers surrounding the Panthers in the spread offensive attack include a stout tight-end threat as well as their leading rusher from 2020, senior Timmy Horn. Horn averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry and 93.1 yards-per-game in 2020, including more than 100 bruising yards and a touchdown on 24 totes in that 2A state-championship semifinal loss to Lamar.
To Wagner, Summit’s success under the lights Friday night will come down to stimying Horn and Scharnhorst.
“In order to win this game, we need to take (the) run game and ball out of the quarterback’s hands as much as we can,” Wagner said.
As for the Tigers, Wagner said typical first-game-of-the-season focuses will be the primary points of emphasis, namely taking care of the football. If the Tigers can come out on top in the turnover battle, Wagner feels the brotherhood of Summit teammates who have gelled in a full-throttle off-season are poised to compete on each and every down.
“Truly, I think it’s a strength for us having familiarity and a full understanding of our jobs and responsibilities in the scheme, because this is the third year in this scheme,” Wagner said.
On the offensive side of the ball, Wagner, Tigers offensive coordinator Sean Mase and the rest of the team are confident preseason All-State candidate Aidan Collins will be able to win most any matchup in front of him. That said, Wagner and company are cognizant that teams heading into this season are well aware of Collins’ talent and craftiness out wide and in jet motion. Defensive scheming, double-teams and bracketing may be in short order for Collins.
If and when the Panthers look to contain Collins, Wagner said tight ends Zach Elam and KJ Slaugh, whether blocking or pass catching, should have opportunities to keep the offense moving for their fellow junior in first-year quarterback Jack Schierholz.
“Both are outstanding physical kids who know our run game in and out and we are going to rely heavily on them not only in run game, but pass game too to make plays,” Wagner said.
As for the Tigers run game, Wagner said Mase has made a concerted effort in the offseason to cultivate new strategies to take advantage of Summit’s backs. The Tigers would have benefited from having junior Gavin Vogt in the running back room, but Vogt is one of three Tigers starters — tight end and outside linebacker Will Koll and wide receiver and defensive back Christina Broughton — who are out for the season with injuries.
Without Koll, Summit will be looking for that much more from Slaugh and Elam. And without Vogt, Summit will be relying on seniors Phil Brezinski and Alex Sanchez — two top players who didn’t play in 2020 — as well as Elam’s younger brother, Ben.
“He’s very athletic, can catch the ball and moves well in space too,” Wagner said of Brezinski. “He’s going to be a playmaker for us.”
On the defensive side — Wagner’s specialty — the Michigan native coach said he expects consistent pursuit of the football from each level, whether that be Collins in the secondary or Tigers senior captain Graham Kalaf in the trenches. But it’s Segal, Wagner said, at the heart of the defense who will bring something new to the Tigers in terms of intensity and physicality that is contagious for his teammates.
As for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Schierholz, Wagner said though he has his maiden quarterbacking duties, Delta may be too strong of a side to keep the gunslinger off of the field when the Tigers are on defense.
“Offense, defense or special teams, we are trying to put the best product on the field,” Wagner said. “We’re going to have to really drag that kid off the field.”
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