Sports

Preview: Miners to face 4-1 Cougars at Death Valley this Saturday

Linton will have perhaps their shortest road trip this Saturday as they head to Elnora/Odon to face the Cougars of North Daviess. Coach Trent Fine came aboard in 2018 from Huntington North where he went 15-15, after starting his coaching at Monroe Central. This is his fifth year at ND and is over-all 21-24. The Cougars opened up with a loss to a currently unbeaten Tecumseh Brave team 49-12; however, the Cougars have won four straight, including back to back road games at Edinburgh (44-20, their first loss) and a big one over Washington 49-16.

Linton under Coach Brian Oliver is in his tenth season at the helm of the Miners with a 37-13 career mark that included a 2-16 state championship in Class culminating a four-year run of 51 wins and 4 losses.  Since pushed to Class 2A, it’s been a tougher row to hoe, but Linton has been in the thick of things still winning with a 44-17 record — but have ran into the always staunch Evansville Mater Dei club in post-season too.   Last year’s 28-27 loss was a close as the Miners have seen another Sectional Title that state title run in ’16, but have a rich history of 13 sectional and 10 regional titles along the way.

Linton and North Daviess have quite the history with some of the most memorable games ever played.  The year 2010 saw the Cougars paste 73 points on the Miners at The Valley, although a young Austin Karazsia would set the still standing record for passing yards in a game as Linton scored 33.  Linton would pay the Cougars back — and more — with an 81-20 blasting the following year that saw all 81 points come in the first three quarters. 

These teams first met in 1971 with a Miner win, but ND soon took over winning 4 in a row starting in 1977.  Coach Scotty Helms suffered through perhaps one of the toughest losses in an 18-16 game in sectional championship 2008 that came down to an inch and if it was indeed a fumble or had Webster reached across to the game winner.

Another classic was a 2001 upset of Linton 14-0 in sectional action, when Linton had beaten the Cougars 31-0 earlier in the year.  The best year I have down for ND was a 10-2 squad in 2009 that fell to Linton 28-24 in a sectional championship game. Then-head coach Tim Able, now at Triton Central led his 7-4 Cougars in 1994 to the sectional finale only to lose to Tecumseh.   As for Coach Fine, his best year-to-date was 7-4 in 2019, and North Daviess is off to their best start since ’19.  They started 4-0 then only to win 3 of their last 4.  This is the game when Cougar fans and coaches alike will see how ND will compete against stiffer opposition and in a way, dictates how the season will go. 

In 2021, ND had come in 4-1, but were blanked 47-0 by Linton at The Roy.  In 2020, the Cougars had 4-0 and handed a 50-14 loss from the Miners.  In 2019, it was much the same coming in 4-1 and losing 48-14.  In both ’20 and ’21, ND would lose every game post Linton.  This is where N. Daviess is looking for a change and to get over that hump.  Linton had won 13 in a row, and since 2002 it has had a dominating 33-9 advantage, 42-15 over-all. 

How do you convince your team that this won’t be the status quo again? Yes, North Daviess is 4-1, but Linton is once again coming in as heavy favorites at 5-0 and ranked #1 in 2A.  The Cougars have nothing to lose and everything to gain and should play as such.  They cannot afford to get down early, nor by a big margin either.  Linton has to avoid another game of coming out somewhat flat.  The Miners will be looking to prove something after giving up 40 points to Boonville last week and giving up an awful lot of big plays.  Most likely, Linton will face an air assault most of the night with the success Brock Knepp has had in 1,089 passing yards with a spread offense that has given the Miners some concern to this mid-way point.

Of course, North Daviess probably hasn’t seen an offense as high powered and a versatile as Linton’s to this point in 2022.  Linton has been virtually unstoppable scoring on 65% of their possessions, which include when games are well at hand and the second teamers take over.  Linton averages 443.20 of offense and 52.4 points per game, equal parts rushing at 326.6 and passing 116.6.  Gennicks put up 182 last week in the air, and with 6’5” Braden Walters, 6’4” Logan Webb and 6’3” Paul Oliver running routes there are targets difficult to cover.  Webb is coming off his best receiving night and leads Linton with 18 catches and 195 yards with 2 TDs.  Walters adds 2 TDs as well with 12 catches on 171 yards.  Gennicks had completed 67.6% of his tosses with 48 of 71, and only 1 interception.  WB Jesse Voigtschild gets in on the action with 4-89-1 and RB Hunter Johns caught his 1st two catches of the year for 33 yards both on screens.   

Linton has always been known for their running game that never features one player.  This year, however, it is hard to not look at the efforts of Hunter Gennicks specifically.  Sometimes he seems to carry the Miners on his back with plays reminiscent of 2016’s state champion QB Tyler Maurer with his physical yet elusive rooms, in many cases making something purely out of a sure nothing.  He has had five 100+ yard rush games with last week’s 185 his top output. 

At the same time, you cannot over look fellow senior Hunter Johns who lined up at RB alongside Gennicks making the switch from WB in 2021.  He has burst for major runs, including 10 TDs in his 451 yards second only to Gennicks’ 11 scores.  Walters started a game late in week 2 but his impact was immediate in both phases of the game, has 124 yards on 18 touches and 2 scores, along with Soph Voigtschild who has 3 TDs on 22 for 138 running. Nobody of those four has less than 6 yards per carry with Gennicks at 13.04 and Johns at 9.6.  

This all starts up front with a veteran offensive line that has stayed consistent in 2022.  Nathan Watson, Wrigley Franklin, Jacob Breedlove, Aiden Giles and Hank Gennicks have been the centerpiece that has produced 1,633 rushing yards, and 28 TD.  All the while protecting QB Gennicks giving up just 2 sacks in the passing game. Franklin from his pulling guard slot has 21 pancake blocks Gennicks 14 with 13 from Giles.  Franklin and Giles both have been starters from their Sophomore years, while Watson started as a junior in 2021.  Breedlove and Gennicks were both injured most of 2021, but Hank did start week 1 as a freshman, and was on the field against Mater Dei in sectional last year.  Their experience had been a positive point coming into 2022.

Linton will face most likely an all-out passing attack from Knepp, who has hit 69.8 of his 106 attempts and 10 TDs thrown out of his 74 completions.  He has only 3 interceptions thrown. Knepp will have two seniors who have come up big in the passing game to count on in Austin Webster and Mathew Wagler.  Webster at 5’9 170 has 31 catches, 7 of those for scores and 419 yards.  Wagler, 5’11” 160, adds 21 more for 260 yards and 1 TD,  Drew Boyd, 6’0” 160, has 6 for 147 (1 TD)  as well as 6’3 200 Elliott Park with 7 for 92 (1 TD).  The TailBack, Coltyn McNabb has 5 catches for 76 yard as well. 

McNabb just a sophomore at 6’1” 190 has been the running alternative with over half the carries (64) of the team and 434 of their over-all 652 rushing total.  He has 7 TDs, and a 6.8 per carry average.  The only other Cougar to run the ball is the QB Knepp with 27 for 135 and 5 TDs.  The front line is manned by seniors on the right side with 5’8 260 Tanner Wilcoxen and 5’8 220 Ethan White. Nicklaus Fine 6’1 210 Junior is at center with Abraham Victoriano (Jr, 6’2 250) and a freshman Casyn Bishop (5;7 245) on the left.  Victoriano and WIlcoxen are returning starters, as well as Knepp, Boyd, Webster and McNabb from the Linton game last year.

The Miners have allowed 292.20 per game of offense and 21.6 ppg.  They were under fire last week from a very good Boonville squad, but made just enough plays to give the Miner offense the ability to put more points on the board — yet surely the coaches were not be pleased at allowing 40 points, and the success Boonville had at moving the ball both on the ground and in the air specifically.   Opponents have been able to hit on pass plays of 20+ yards 16 times including 7 plays of 30+ yards.  This was evident in 3 TD passes last week of 31, 41 and 59. 

A topic of discussion was that Linton had jumped on top of opponents so quickly in all four games leading into Boonville.  Both Monrovia and Sullivan had played pretty even after the initial scoring onslaught but could never stop the Miner Offense.  The Pioneer/Miner game was dogfight from the get-go that proved Boonville to be a tough bunch with a lot of talent. It also proved the Miners could remain composed and play through adversity. This week will likely see a defensive unit focused on improvement and possibly a point to prove. 

Freshman Russell Goodman is the top tackler with 38 in his role at ILB & Special Team. ILB Bradyn Cox is right behind with 35 total, with safety Hunter Gennicks at the top of solo tackles with 19.  Ashton White has 34 tackles from several roles (ILB, DT and Special Teams). ILB Aiden Giles and OLB Wrigley Franklin both have a total of 31.5 stops, followed by Hunter Gennicks’ 31.

The Miners have had 32 tackles for loss as a team with 8 sacks.  They have also had 6 Nits with 2 of those being returned for touchdowns.  Another noticeable stat is opponent 3rd down conversions which is at 35.4% (23 of 65) compared to Linton’s 62.8%. Paul Oliver, another freshman, leads in TFL with 6.5 and has 2 sacks. Franklin with 4.5 and 2 as well. Christian Shonk has 4 TFL  and 1 sack, with Goodman 3.5 TFL and a sack.  Linton has pressured QB’s a lot in 202s with Oliver leading the way at 10, Shonk and Franklin at 7, and Ty Boyd at 5.  Oliver has 2 Interceptions, with Voigtschild, Boyd, Gennicks and Walters each having 1. 

North Daviess returns 7 starters from their 2021 team.  McNabb leads ND with 25 tackles 2.5 TFL. A trio of Cougars with 20 tackles each-Elisha Swartzentuber, Elliott Park and Matthew Wagler.  Park has 5.5 TFL and 2 sacks.  Corey Andrews, a freshman playing SAM, has 17 tackles but leads the team with 6 TFL and 4 Sacks.  The down linemen are essentially the same as on offense so there is almost every player going both ways.  Linton has a lot of 2-way players as well, but certainly a little more depth.  ND does have 8 interceptions to their credit, and I do expect Linton to work on it’s passing game.  Looking at the starters for both teams listed below, Linton will definitely have a size advantage.   

This is definitely an opportunity for the Cougars.  It is a good litmus test for where they are, and every year Coach Fine says this is a game they have circled because it is the game North Daviess needs to win to get the monkey off their back.  No question that the Cougars are improved in an offense Coach Fine brought to Cougar Valley that completely was different from what Cougar fans knew from Coach Helms before.  ND has gone 0-10 in both ’21 and ’20 from week 6 through an exit in 1st round of sectionals.

A win would be monumental for the Cougars as an impetus for moving onward and upward. The season is by no means over one way or the other as ND continues down the schedule, but it goes a long way in getting respect and gaining confidence. 

Linton, on the other hand, will need to show improvement in some areas.  It’s good to be facing this type of offense again as you simply can’t duplicate it in practice in game time speed in small schools.  It is an opportunity to get better, though, and more comfortable in handling situations you only see in a game setting as opposed to film study.  Linton must avoid coming out too relaxed or the term ‘flat’.  After 3 long road trips this year another to South Putnam in a few weeks, this trip south of Elnora will be a breeze travel wise.  No matter how hard you try to convince high school kids to be focused, you know history plays a role in things, and North Daviess simply has not put up much threat in many years.  Linton has put up over 699 points total over the last 13 meetings, a 53.8 average.  They’ve surpassed 50 points 8 of those games and most the time early.  The Cougar’s battle as you would expect them to, but they have trouble scoring against varsity defense, with only 47 points scored in the last 7 meetings.  The closest game in recent memory was perhaps 2014 (a 55-28 score that was a game early on) and in 2012’s 35-12 Miner win.  There was a time this game was a hard-fought battle for bragging rights in the area.  In the 90’s there were tight games of a 6-0 Cougar win in ’94, and a Miner 13-7 in ’95. And I recall walking the sidelines at Sportland Field in Sullivan as N.D> beat the 1999 Miners 44-40!  

And then there was the immaculately played 2006 game at Cougar Valley… you might remember that one!   Oh wait, it was never played.  Lightning caused it to move to Saturday morning, which then was moved again due to nasty weather to a Monday Night against IHSAA rules.  Linton would have been heavily-favored and went on to an 8-1 regular season, and lost to Perry Central to finish 8-2.  But they won the SW7 conference, but alas had to share it with the 8-3 North Central Thunderbirds over the fact both had won 5 games in conference.  Head-to-head, Linton beat NC 28-7.  The rules were changed after that year, so it would not happen again.  Linton was 5-0, NC 5-1, but both were named champions. 

That has nothing to do with this game, but, as of this writing it has been moved to Saturday at 11 AM due to a huge lighting pole falling into the field.  That would have been disastrous had it occurred with the game in full-flow and stands packed with people standing along the fences.  It could have been a tragedy, so everyone should be very thankful it happened when it did, but I bet it would have made ESPN highlights.  You don’t hear about stuff like that happening very often. 

So, it’s a Saturday morning meeting instead of a Friday Night under the lights (I like being under the lights).  Will that have any affect on either team?  It’s another day of practice for sure — and a lot of coaches have great disdain for a change in habit — so guess we will have to see.  I hope Linton fans will make the trip to support the Miners because as I have gone to great length to express — the kids feel it, and it helps them undoubtedly and it also shows everyone that Linton brings the town with them.  

As always, you can hear these stats and a lot of other information live as it happens from our radio broadcast on 93.3 FM WQTY or on your phone or anything else digital related at www.wqtyradio.com as I am in mid-year #23 of Miner Broadcasting. Kevin Rader has been a great addition to the booth, as Darren Clayton moved onward and upward to be Athletic Director.

Go Miners!

Linton Offense vs N. Daviess Defense:

North Daviess Offense vs Linton Defense:

Photo within the featured header for this article is by Austin Gordon Photography.

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