Hanover puts win streak to test with trip to Rock Hills

By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Sep 20, 2019

Share This Story:

During Week 1 of the 2019 football season, Hanover head football coach Matt Heuer drove the 66 miles round trip several times from his home to Beatrice, Neb.

Heuer and his wife, Amy, were at the hospital on Sept. 4. Shortly after midnight on Sept. 5, Amy delivered the couple’s son, Camden. Matt went back to Hanover in the early afternoon for Sept. 5’s practice and pregame.

The following day, Heuer brought up his family back from Beatrice. Once Heuer returned, he went to the school for the contest.

Hanover, with senior lineman Jonah Weber as the only returning starter, pulled away for a 58-14 season-opening victory versus Pike Valley. Last week, the Wildcats captured their 40th straight win with a 44-8 victory against Doniphan West.

Heuer said there’s “no probably no better feeling” than being a father, and he has been “pretty blessed” with his family at home, along with quality assistant coaches during his 15 years as head coach at his alma mater. Heuer has long had assistants Chris Beikmann, the defensive coordinator, and John Bruna, both Hanover graduates, on staff.

“It definitely adds a little bit more to your plate, and brings a little bit more of your time to the table to where it’s probably a little bit tougher,” Heuer said. “But at the same time, I have to thank my family, because my family has been great about it, and they’ve understood that there’s also other things I have to take care of.”

On Friday, Hanover, the three-time undefeated state champions and ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man, Division II, travel to 2-0 Mankato-Rock Hills, just outside the top-five in the rankings under new coach Colby Hamel. A win for the Wildcats gives them 41 straight and ties Hanover with Almena-Northern Valley for the longest eight-man winning streak in the 50-year KSHSAA era.

Northern Valley’s run lasted from ’85-88. Heuer believed the record would likely be in the back of some people’s minds, but he has long kept a singular direction on the current season and game. In both contests this year, Heuer believes the team has improved its execution from the first half to the second half.

“Just trying to move forward, this is the last technical non-district game that we have as a football team,” Heuer said. “And we have got a lot of things that we need to correct on our own, and it’s one of those things, we are playing for 2019. We are playing for this group that we have right now, and obviously as we move forward, we are wanting to get better each and every single week, so that’s our main focus.”

Rock Hills has posted a highly explosive offense, especially in the running game, and tallied 144 points, tied with Leoti-Wichita County for the most in eight-man football through the first two weeks. The Grizzlies defeated Blue Valley-Randolph, 78-28, and Lakeside-Downs, 66-20 with new coach Colby Hamel, a Lakin graduate and former collegiate offensive linemen most notably at Fort Hays State.

Hamel was an assistant at Lakin last year and took over Rock Hills in May. Rock Hills has rushed for 591 yards a game. Senior Rylee Whelchel, one of the state’s best big play threats for the last three years, has 21 carries for 600 yards and 10 scores, and tallied a punt and kickoff return.

In his career, Whelchel has 125 rushes for 34 touchdowns and 13.3 yards per carry, along with 18 receiving scores and five on special teams. Hamel said the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Whelchel, who battled a hip injury earlier in his career, has changed his approach in the weight room. Hamel believes junior right guard Caden Slate (6-2, 280) is a college prospect.

Juniors Mason Higer and Jerrod Gillet start at fullback and quarterback, respectively. Senior Noah Williams came out football. He is listed as an athlete. He can run a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash but is starting on the offensive line. Junior Kole Vance starts at end, and sophomore Buck Luedke starts at guard.

“He’s taken care of his body,” Hamel said of Whelchel. “He has definitely changed up his approach I would say to the weight room and how he handles things. He is not as stocky and stiff as he used to be, and I think that was an issue. He was more body-building type workouts, and I think he has kind of adjusted that, and he’s leaned out, gotten more flexible, got some more elasticity in his muscles.”

Weber has mainly started at nose guard and guard and is the team’s most experienced player at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. Hanover starts six non-seniors on defense, five offensively. Junior Jacob Jueneman is the quarterback, with senior Taegan Schwartz and junior Colin Jueneman in the backfield.

Heuer said junior Jacob Klipp has “done an exceptional job” on defense. Senior end Tanner Link is a starter, and along with sophomore running back Emmitt Jueneman, and sophomore guard/outside linebacker Philip Doebele.

Last season, Jacob Jueneman, in spot time, completed four of eight passes for 64 yards with three scores against one interception. Schwartz and Colin Jueneman combined for 67 rushes for 626 yards and 12 scores. Weber finished with 62 tackles, Klipp with 28 last year. This marks the second time in recent history than Heuer has basically started over.

In ’15, Hanover returned zero offensive starters and two defensive starters. Hanover still went 12-1 and lost to Spearville in the Eight-Man, Division I title game, the last loss for the Wildcats.

“It is especially fun when you have the kids wanting to learn or wanting to step forward, and I think that’s one thing with this group, kind of trudging through right now,” Heuer said. “Realizing it takes a little extra work just to get to that experience level, and get to what we are asking them to do. I think that’s really important that they continue on that track.”

Hanover has won five straight in the series, including 62-32 in the playoffs in ’17, and 68-0 in a high-profile matchup in Week 3 last fall when Rock Hills came in injured. The Grizzlies defeated Hanover, 26-0, on Sept. 7, 2012.

Rock Hills has posted five straight winning seasons and is 37-13 since the start of the ’14 season. Hamel’s wife is from Belleville, and graduated from Scandia-Pike Valley, both towns within 30 minutes of Mankato.

Hamel learned from multiple former coaches, notably Justin Iske, previously Fort Hays’ offensive line coach. Iske has more than 20 years of collegiate coaching but is currently unemployed. He helped with FHSU’s turnaround under current head coach Chris Brown.

Iske was well-known for his passion and personality and connecting with his linemen. Hamel referred to Iske as “my dude.” As well, Hamel gave great credit to Lakin boys’ basketball coach Nate Schmitt, and Lakin football coach Chris Bamberger, who values high character and relationships.

Bamberger won a state title at Ness City and has achieved a big turnaround with Lakin. He taught Hamel how to approach each individual differently. Hamel learned practice plans from Schmitt.

“It (stinks), he’s not coaching anywhere,” Hamel said on Iske. “Schools missing out on him being a coach, but he definitely was the guy I looked up to the most when I was in college. I could go up to his office, and we talked football, we talked life. It wasn’t just football all the time, and I think that’s kind of helped me translate into my style of coaching. I don’t want to be football 100 percent of the time with these guys.”

Hamel has worked to change the mentality and has implemented several new changes. He believed he needed to improve the team’s confidence. In Hamel’s mind, Rock Hills has “struggled winning the big games.” 

Hamel addressed “some bad habits” with the team’s film study and practice. For the past six years, Rock Hills averaged four to five players in the summer weights. This summer, Rock Hills topped out at more than 30 and averaged about 20 each day. Hamel was appreciative of the middle school buy-in, too.

“They have been successful,” Hamel said. “But I think trying to get over that hump where they are competing against the best teams in the state every year. We think we might be at that stage. We will see Friday, but I think just total buy-in. We have got the athletes to do it. We have got the size and speed, the athleticism, so if they just believe that they can, anything is possible with this group.”


Use your Facebook account to add a comment or start a discussion. Posts are subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.