Conway, Garden Plain Ready For Friday's Showdown

By: Vype Magazine Email
By: Vype Magazine Email

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September 22, 2010

In expectation of Friday’s Conway Springs at Garden Plain game, here are two features from this month’s magazine about each team’s quarterback. Conway Springs has won the last two meetings, 19-13 in the 2009 regular season and 45-25 at 2008 sub-state at home. Garden Plain won the five prior meetings, dating back to the 2005 season, the first year Conway Springs did not go undefeated and win the Class 3A state title since 2000.

Aaron Tomlinson faced heavy pressure on the play, so he feared that his hurried pass was a little behind wide receiver Kendrae Arnold. But things seem to work out when Garden Plain’s strong-armed quarterback releases the football, and this situation was no different.

Arnold caught the football, in stride, and raced 45 yards for a touchdown – one of numerous big plays Garden Plain enjoyed in its season-opening shellacking of Bluestem.

“As soon as I released it, I got knocked down, but I still saw Kendrae catch it and take it to the house,” Tomlinson said. “It was awesome, so exciting.

“I just felt like, yeah, this is finally happening. It’s my senior year, I’m starting. Hopefully, I can keep it going.”

Expectations are that he will.

Certainly, no one expects rugged, physical Garden Plain, which has built a successful tradition on a powerful running game, to morph into a pass-heavy program. There’s no Air Joblanski offense in the works.

Equally certain, though, is that Tomlinson’s arm will allow the Owls to take to the air more frequently than in recent memory. Consider this point: Tomlinson reports, with obvious excitement, that Garden Plain has installed the shotgun formation (a gasp would be appropriate here) to use on certain plays during his senior year.

Coach Todd Puetz, naturally, doesn’t want to make too much of all this talk of the passing game.

“We’ll do what we have to do to win,” he said.

However, he acknowledges that the team will likely throw about 15 times a game, compared to the 8 or so average last season – a year that ended when Blake Jablonski-led Collegiate dumped the Owls 51-20 in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

In the season opener, Tomlinson was, by his own admission, just “OK.” He completed 9 of 17 passes for 144 yards and the one TD pass. (As if to remind everyone what makes the offense go in Garden Plain, the running game produced more than 300 yards, including 184 from Joey Capul.)

“I definitely could have done a lot better as far as getting my reads in the spread offense,” he said. “There were some throws that could have been a lot better in terms of placement.”

While Tomlinson needs to improve on accuracy with his shorter throws, all the fans in Garden Plain know he is capable of dropping back and airing it out.

“He’s got a big arm,” Puetz said.

Like any smart quarterback, Tomlinson is quick to credit his receivers. In addition to Arnold, targets include Chris Sponsel, Chris Kerschen, Josh Becker and Nathan Becker.

If they get open, Tomlinson is expected to find them.

“Not to sound cocky or anything because I’m not that kind of person,” he said, “but I do have confidence in my arm.”

Folks in Garden Plain feel the same. –Kollen Long

For some programs, sophomore starters are anathema. Pay your dues on the bench, they’re told.

Other programs embrace talent, no matter its age. Conway Springs, the most successful football team in Class 3A over the past decade, does not discriminate on the basis of age. The Cardinals have their second consecutive three-year starter at quarterback in the works. Tanner Wood, a sophomore, has replaced the graduated Caleb Brill, a prolific dual-threat at quarterback for the Cardinals from 2007 to 2009.

The inexperienced Wood has help, however, as every Conway Springs quarterback does in the single wing offense. This is not your typical quarterback position. The snap may go to the tailback, and any one of four players can end up with the ball in the backfield. Junior tailback Cory Misak, junior blocking backs Matt Seiwert and Brian Doffing and senior wingback Austin Pauly make the 6’4”, 220-pound Wood all the more daunting for defenses.

He is the young gun, not that the company in the backfield minds. “They took me in pretty well,” says Wood, who towered on the varsity bench last fall until rotating in at linebacker for the playoffs. “They’re nice to me. They tell me what I do wrong and what I do right and congratulate me on it.”

Wood, the oldest in his family, says they sold their farm between Norwich and Harper when he and his brother started focusing on sports, namely baseball in the summers. Wood is now fully committed to football, staying busy this last offseason with assistant coach Fred Cottrell’s conditioning camp and Monday night 7 on 7 games.

The beauty of Wood in the offense is that when he becomes a blocking back on a direct snap or reverse, he’s not just asked to block, he’s built to block. Wood can, well, lay some wood.

That’s not all he does, as the tall, filled-out quarterback is also strong-armed, giving Conway a passing option. He passed for over 100 yards in the season opener against Belle Plaine.

He rotates series on defense at weak inside linebacker with Taylor Bodine, a 6’4”, 200-pound transfer from North Carolina. Wood, though he actually lives nine miles closer to Conway Springs than Chaparral, is also a transfer, switching from Chaparral Middle School to Conway Springs after seventh grade. “I like both [positions] equally,” says Wood of playing both ways. “I run up the middle and drill people.” –Tom Witherspoon

Doug Downs and Walt Bettis will have the Conway Springs-Garden Plain starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday night on AM 1330 KNSS for the VYPE Game of the Week driven Mel Hambelton Ford. Score updates from around the area will be included in the broadcast, including live updates from Collegiate at Garden Plain and Salina Central at Hutchinson.

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