Entering his first year at the helm of the Warrenton football program, Coach Jason Koper never expected to call on his freshmen this much. Playing time for underclassmen usually comes as opportunity …
Entering his first year at the helm of the Warrenton football program, Coach Jason Koper never expected to call on his freshmen this much. Playing time for underclassmen usually comes as opportunity is available. But for the Warriors, it has suddenly become a necessity.
Koper looked to his young cast again last Friday during a 48-6 loss at home against Union.
“The freshman, I have been praising all year,” said Koper. “They’re working hard. They’re hungry and have the right attitude and work ethic. They’ve really been stepping up in a big way.”
Warrenton has leaned heavily on those newcomers, as pivotal playmakers have gone down with injuries. Both members of the Warriors’ starting backfield, sophomore Joe Goldsmith and senior Issiah Jones, watched from the sidelines during Week Six.
“Losing Goldsmith and Jones in the running game cost us,” said Koper. “You can’t replace those two guys. Goldsmith has really started to come into his zone and play some great football. He was pretty irreplaceable at this point the way he’d played the last two weeks.”
Their absence has provided a chance for freshman Austin Haas to contribute early in his career, as he took the bulk of carries with 25 yards on 11 touches against Union.
“Not to take anything away from Haas,” said Koper. “In the first half he averaged five yards per carry, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but for our offensive production that wasn’t bad.”
Yards proved difficult to earn against a Wildcat team that was a semifinalist during last year’s state tournament. The one area in which Warrenton did experience consistent success was in the kickoff return game on special teams.
“That was probably the highlight of our performance as a team Friday night,” said Koper.
Senior Kolby Meine had a 53-yard kickoff return that set up the Warriors only score. On the same drive with the Warriors already trailing 42-0, Meine caught a 14-yard touchdown strike with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Meine returned another kickoff 17 yards, while senior Joe Evans had a 47-yard return and junior Colton Brosenne recorded a 23-yard return.
“The turnovers killed us, and we never really had a chance to sustain a drive,” said Koper of the promising field position established by those returns. “We did not execute very well. We popped a couple big plays but could not get anything out of them.”
Senior quarterback Caelon Weir finished 8 of 23 passing for 57 yards. The Warriors managed just three receptions over 10 yards the entire game, with Meine snagging five catches for 38 yards.
Meanwhile, Union’s execution was on point, with the Wildcats scoring on every drive of the first half. They finished with 411 yards of total offense, adding another touchdown in the third quarter.
For Warrenton, part of the challenge was the learning curve on the offensive line, which included three freshmen at points throughout the game.
“Alex played on the line most of the game and did a heck of a job for not having much varsity experience yet,” said Koper. “Evan Schenck did a good job at left tackle, and Mason Johnson came in due to injuries and ended up playing quite a few more reps.”
But it was not just on offense that the underclassmen’s impact was felt.
The Warriors’ top two leading tacklers were freshman Mason Stout, with 10 takedowns, and classmate Brandon Johnson, with nine total tackles.
Senior John Starkey and senior T.J. Ray each had five tackles.
Warrenton dropped to 2-3 with the loss and will host Winfield for Homecoming this Friday at 7 p.m. The improved Winfield program is now 4-2 and averaging 49 points per game this season.