Cubs show growth despite tough schedule

Joe Randleman, Sports Writer
Sam Abraham (29) gained valuable varsity experience for the Nevada football team this fall. The Cubs won two district games against Class 3A competition for the first time since 2005.

The 2016 season was a nice stepping stone for the Nevada football program as the Cubs picked up two district wins against Class 3A competition for the first time in 11 years.

Under the direction of first-year head coach Andy Kleeman, Nevada went 3-6 overall and 2-5 in an extremely tough 3A District 6. Last season, the Cubs were 2-7 overall and 0-6 in 3A District 6.

“I told the players prior to the season that in order to change the culture of our program, we need ‘buy in’ and invest in our core beliefs,” Kleeman said. “We want to be a team known for playing with discipline, toughness and class. We have many areas to improve, but the kids understood the direction we are trying to go.”

Nevada opened the season with a 27-14 road win over 2015 playoff qualifier Collins-Maxwell-Baxter. The Cubs followed that with a competitive 28-21 loss at Perry.

District play began with a rough outing at Carlisle. The Cubs fell by a 55-14 margin.

On Sept. 16, Nevada hosted Knoxville in its first game at the brand-new Cub Stadium. The Cubs christened the stadium with a big home opener — a 19-15 victory over Knoxville.

“Having the opportunity to play in the new stadium was a great experience,” Kleeman said. “Getting a victory made it even more special. Our team had a great deal of respect for the history of our program and all those who have played in Cub Stadium. They were driven to make that night a special experience for all the time, effort and investment the district and community put in to make the new stadium a reality.”

The Cubs lost at North Polk on Sept. 23, 34-20, then fell at home to Bondurant-Farrar by a 49-34 score. Nevada got its second district win on Oct. 7 with its best performance of the season, a 24-13 road win over Grinnell.

The season came to a close with Nevada hosting both participants in last year’s 3A state title game. The Cubs suffered a 45-6 setback to then No. 6 Norwalk, and came out on the short end of a 52-0 decision to No. 1 and defending state champion Pella.

“As expected, the season was full of highs and lows,” Kleeman said. “We made steps in the right direction in how we approach competition, weight training and overall attitude. We were able to see some success in one of the toughest districts in the state.”

Nevada averaged 17.6 points and 306.6 yards per game on offense. The Cubs had good balance with 160 rushing and 146.6 passing yards per game.

Senior quarterback Macade Matuska completed 83 of 151 passes for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions. He displayed dual-threat capability this season by also rushing for 220 yards and three touchdowns.

Cam Shill quarterbacked Nevada in the season finale versus Pella and he completed seven passes during the season for 82 yards.

Senior A.J. Strottman and junior Trent Stahl got most of the carries at tailback for Nevada.

Strottman ran for 491 yards and two touchdowns on 4.7 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 265 yards and one score.

Stahl finished with 420 yards and seven touchdowns rushing on 4.2 yards per carry. Stahl also was the second-leading receiver for Nevada with 26 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns.

Sophomore Jakob Strottman ran for 150 yards and one touchdown on 5.4 yards per carry. Preston Cattanach had 60 yards both rushing and receiving and he ran for one touchdown.

Junior Om’Unique Wilkerson caught 18 passes for a team-high 341 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Wilkerson also ran for 80 yards on nine carries.

Junior tight end Matt Chitty caught eight passes for 134 yards and senior Ross Mitchell made nine grabs for 117 yards. Emilio Saldana tacked on four catches for 51 yards and Preston Shill made one grab for 22 yards.

The Nevada offensive line was driven by seniors Matt Fortmann, Simon Saunders, Mason Wild and Ben Toot, and junior Luke Merfeld.

On defense, Nevada surrendered 33.1 points and 338 yards per game. The Cubs totaled 10 sacks, recovered 11 fumbles and intercepted eight passes.

Fortmann made 45.5 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and one interception. Stahl tallied 41.5 tackles and two interceptions and Jack Higgins registered 39.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.

A.J. Strottman came up with 37 tackles, Chitty 29.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks and Luke Merfeld 27.5 tackles. Cattanach had 27 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery, and Andrew Saunders 26.5 tackles and two interceptions.

Zac Sharp had a good season on the defensive line for Nevada. Sharp produced 24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.

Saldana had 16.5 tackles, Bronzon Mason 14.5 stops plus 2.5 sacks and Shill 12.5 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Jakob Strottman put up 10.5 stops and one fumble recovery, Mitchell seven tackles, one fumble recovery and one sack, Jack Cahill eight tackles and one fumble recovery and Sam Abraham 6.5 stops and one fumble recovery.

On special teams, Cahill was 13 of 17 on extra points and he made one 22-yard field goal. Parker Walden converted both of his point-afters for the Cubs.

A.J. Strottman averaged 32.5 yards on 29 punts and Sharp 32.8 yards on eight punts. Stahl averaged 19.6 yards with one touchdown on five punt returns and Saldana returned two punts for an average of 18 yards.

Cattanach returned 11 kickoffs for a 19.3-yard average, Saldana averaged 13.5 yards on 17 kick returns, Wilkerson 13.9 yards on eight returns and Stahl 17.6 yards on five kick returns.

Next season, Nevada must overcome the loss of Matuska, A.J. Strottman and most of its offensive line.

“Our seniors have seen a great deal of change in the last few years in our football program,” Kleeman said. “I was proud of how they handled themselves and their leadership. They set a solid foundation for what we expect moving forward. Our next step is to build on that foundation.”

But the Cubs bring back enough play makers for more potential growth in 2017.

“We need to make greater strides from November to August,” Kleeman said. “To be a consistently competitive football program in our class, it takes a tremendous amount of commitment to strength and conditioning. We have a lot of returning experience coming back. What we do from now until next season will determine how much success we have.”