By Dave Morrison

Last year a week 1 victory over Independence provided Midland Trail with the impetus for a school-record 10-2 season.

Though it ended two-yards shy of the semifinals in a playoff loss to Summers County, Midland Trail returns a talent-laden team, albeit a bit different. Midland Trail opens the season against Independence in the annual Patriot Bowl Friday at Coal City.

Coach Frankie Isaacs knows the team lost record-setting running back Thomas Ferris, play-making receiver Noah Minor and Hunter Darby, a leader of the defense.

“Those are guys who produced touchdowns and big plays,” Isaacs said. “Wee might not see the 60 to 80 yard plays this season. But the kids replacing them are super, super excited and they are talented. They just have a different skill set. I was just saying the other day that we might see 13-14 play drives this season instead of 3-4 play drives.”

Midland Trail returns Morgan Ferris, Cordell Lesher, Nathan Hanshew and Colton Yoder to that backfield.

The four combined for 1,008 yards and on 144 carries and eight touchdowns, backing Ferris’ record-setting season of 208 carries for 2,042 yards and 23 touchdowns and the 279 added by Minor (who also caught 21 passes for 475 yards and six TD).

The Patriots finished with over 3,600 yards and 42 rushing touchdowns last season.

“This is what I told the kids. Last year our offense rushed for 3,600 yards,” Ferris said. “I want to hit 4,000 this year. I think we will be a little more physical. I think the guys we are replacing (last year’s statistical leaders) with can produce.”

Issacs said he believes he has some untreated weapons.

“I wouldn’t sleep on (fullback) Cordell Lesher,” Isaacs said. “That’s a 230 pound kid running the ball downhill and in the third quarter a linebacker is going to be tired of seeing that. He started last year and kept his position bit obviously we had Thomas. We will probably utilize (quarterback) Austin (Isaacs, the coach’s son). A little more in the run-game this year. He’s increased his time to a 4.5 40 (yard dash). That was a big leap.”

Isaacs also passed for 845 yard and 15 touchdowns, including a school-record five against Liberty.

Independence coach John H. Lilly certainly believes Isaacs will be a factor.

“They lost some outstanding players but they have some good guys coming back,” Lilly said. “I think the offense will run more through the quarterback, who is a good athlete.”

Lilly, in his first-year at Independence (5-5 a year ago) knows the going might be slow as the team is learning a new offense.

Junior Phillip Spurlock won the quarterback job and sophomore Isaiah Duncan, whom he beat out for the job, will start on defense at free safety.

Indy will run the spread offense that Lilly has touted the last six or seven years at other stops, after years of running the double wing.

Niko Burgess, who Lilly tabbed as a leader on the team, and Derek Farley should benefit in the offense as receivers as will Cohen Miller (who had 10 carries for 115 yards in a scrimmage with Fayetteville), Mason Kump (who is also the team kicker) and emerging freshman Justin James who will see time in the backfield.

Lilly’s troops are largely untested.

“I think we’ll get better as the game goes on,” Lilly said. “There are going to be a lot of nerves. We kind of saw that against Fayetteville (in the scrimmage). We got better as the game went on.”

The game will likely come down to a battle of lines.

Midland Trail boasts “The Great Wall of Hico” with Trevor Harrell (6-foot, 285 pounds, senior) Hunter Jones (6-1, 240 , senior) Zack Wood (5-11, 240, junior) Cy Persinger (5-10, 210, sophomore) and Nic Waugh (6-1, 250, junior).

Harrell and Jones are four-year starters.

“They are huge across the front, bigger than a lot of Class A schools,” Lilly said. “They have veterans on the line. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Of course Lilly’s crew on his own line isn’t small. There is left tackle Michael Powers (6-3, 260, senior), left guard Carter Stiltner (5-11, 255, junior), center Elijah Trotter (5-10, 185, junior), right guard Jacob Hatcher (511, 205, junior) and right tackle Isaac Jarrett (6-1, 270, senior).

“Like all games it will be won in the trenches,” Isaacs said. “We want to be more physical than our opponents. This year we may just keep moving the ball 3, 4 yards a pop until you have to come up to stop it than throw it over you.”

Midland Trail won last year’s game 21-7.