Panthers’ hopes high for strong season

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff

GAVIN FALK, Plymouth quarterback shown passing in last year’s football opener versus New Berlin Eisenhower, will engineer the PHS offense this season as a three-year starter. – Review file photo GAVIN FALK, Plymouth quarterback shown passing in last year’s football opener versus New Berlin Eisenhower, will engineer the PHS offense this season as a three-year starter. – Review file photo PLYMOUTH – The Plymouth Panthers have a nice mix of veterans and varsity newcomers as they hope to enjoy a successful 2016 football season.

PHS, which finished third in the East Central Conference with a 5-2 record and was 5-5 overall (including a first-round Division 3 playoff loss to Appleton Xavier) last season, returns five starters on offense and four on defense. The Panthers return 21 letter winners.

“As with any new season we are very excited and optimistic to see what this year’s group can accomplish. We have enough returners to have our hopes high,” said Dan Knaus who enters his 10th season as the Panthers’ head coach.

“We have a nice mix of veterans and new starters. We have a very talented senior class that has had success throughout and should be a strength for us. While saying this, our weakness is a small number of seniors – only 14. We will need to stay fresh and healthy.”

Heading the group of returning starters is senior offensive lineman/ defensive end Derek Schweiger, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, who earned All-BEC first-team honors on offense last season.

Other returning starters who made all-conference in 2015 are senior wide receiver/outside linebacker Cody Kuhn (secondteam defense), senior quarterback Gavin Falk (honorable-mention offense) and senior tight end/inside linebacker Joe Chandler (honorable mention interior defensive lineman). Chandler was second on the PHS defense in total tackles last season with 74 (31 solos).

The other starters back include senior offensive linemen Logan Rusch and Tyler Luedtke and senior inside linebacker Erik Ohman.

“Derek Schweiger will lead the way on the line, both offensively and defensively. Cody Kuhn should be a leader at slotback, Erik Ohman is a great leader and linebacker, and Joe Chandler brings back starter’s experience as well,” Knaus pointed out.

Falk is the starting quarterback for the third straight year. He passed for 867 yards and three touchdowns last season. Falk was the Panthers’ second-leading rusher with 447 yards with six TDs.

“It’s always nice to have experience at starting positions but espe- cially at the QB position. Hopefully we can use Gavin to his fullest potential,” said the coach.

Novotny will take over the reins at tailback for Samuel Staehling who graduated after an outstanding career at PHS. Staehling was an All-ECC first-team running back last year and led PHS in rushing with 1,035 yards, including 17 TDs. Novotny ran for 252 yards which ranked him third on the PHS team in 2015.

“Derek Novotny will start at tailback and has great explosiveness and speed. We are excited to see him explode this season. Cody Kuhn will also get touches at running back and is a great athlete,” said Knaus.

Kuhn played mostly wide receiver last year when he led PHS in receiving yardage with 293 and was second in catches with 21 (Staehling led with 25).

Knaus mentioned newcomers who have impressed him.

“Novotny has been very impressive. Mackade Mella has done a nice job at outside linebacker. Trevor Horneck has done a nice job at guard and Alex Shutter at defensive back,” he said.

Knaus said the keys for the team to have success are to play with an attitude (a chip on its shoulder) and stay healthy.

He wants to have a balanced offense, and tackle better and be more physical on defense.

Knaus sized up the ECC race.

“Berlin is the favorite, followed by us and Kewaskum and Winneconne,” he said.

Kewaskum is the defending league champion and Berlin took second last year.

The coach stated his top goals for the season.

“Get better each day and each game, win the conference title and make a deep playoff run,” said Knaus.

PHS participated in a four-team scrimmage Friday at UW-Oshkosh’s Titan Stadium against Sheboygan North, Little Chute and Oshkosh North.

“The scrimmage was very productive. It had some bright points and some negative ones but as a whole it was successful,” observed Knaus.

“We still need to tackle better but for the most part we played with a good tempo and played physical.”

The Panthers open their season Friday at New Berlin Eisenhower in nonconference play at 7 p.m.

“Eisenhower will be a very tough test but exactly what we want in a week-one game,” Knaus said.

“They are big and have some very athletic players at the skill positions. We will have to play physical and be sound in our fundamentals to win.

“We are excited to get started.”

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