Dillon begins St. Edmond run vs. Panorama

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla St. Edmond Football Team are, left to right, Front Row: Tyler Rossmanith, Thornton Aljets, Peyton Scott, Kase Baker, Jake Kossow, Peyton Spangler, Brender Loreth, Nathan Russell, Andrew Elbert Middle Row: Grant Webster, Sean Newell, Drew Schaeffer, Elijah Litwiller, Mason O'Brian, Bryce Anderson, Nick Bennett Back Row: Isaac Landwehr, Sean Flattery, Jackson Bemrich, Ethan Lursen, Nick Lawler, Jonah Hindt, Grant Bemrich, Zach Lawler

The St. Edmond football team heads under the lights of Dodger Stadium to begin 2018 here Friday night vs. Panorama.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

New Gael head coach Matt Dillon will be making his return to Iowa for the first time since 2009 when he was in charge of the Cornell College program in Mount Vernon. Dillon had a successful run at West Des Moines Dowling from 1996-2005 that included back-to-back state championships and a record of 79-20.

“We are excited to get going,” Dillon said. “I’m excited to be back in Iowa as I consider this my ‘old’ home. The kids having been working hard and we are coming off an excellent week of practice.”

Dowling led the entire state in total offense and points scored in 1997, ’98, 2000 and ’01, winning 26 consecutive regular season games from 1999-2001. They were crowned state champions in 2000 and ’01.

Dillon now replaces Jon Borer, who resigned to return to Nebraska after one season with the Gaels. Borer went 3-6 in 2017, scoring wins over MMCRU, South O’Brien and North Union.

“We need to see our guys in game situations,” Dillon said. “We had a scrimmage (vs. Belmond-Klemme), but that wasn’t game-type situations. We’ve got to see what happens live on the field.”

St. Edmond’s offense struggled a year ago, scoring under seven points in four of the final five games and posting over 27 points just twice all season long.

Eli Litwiller saw time at both quarterback and wide receiver as a junior. Litwiller completed 16 passes for 290 yards, averaging 18 yards per completion. He also had nine receptions for 87 yards.

“We’ve got some returning players and the kids have been quick to pick up on the playbook,” Dillon said. “Everybody is ready for kickoff.”

Peyton Spangler, a senior, is the leading rusher back after recording 126 yards on 35 carries with a touchdown. Jake Rossow had seven receptions for 160 yards, with Jackson Bemrich adding six for 144 and a score.

The Gaels will return to a more run-first offense with fullback Sean Newell expected to be featured. Newell had a handful of carries as a sophomore before playing along the offensive line last year.

Spangler, Newell, Bemrich, Litwiller and Nick Lawler all recorded at least 33 tackles last year and are back on the defensive side of the ball. As a team, St. Edmond forced just 10 turnovers, including three interceptions — two of which Litwiller had.

“We’ve got some good speed on the defensive side of the ball,” Dillon said. “We aren’t very big, but we have good athletes who can chase down the ball.”

Panorama went 3-6 a year ago, scoring all three victories in the first four weeks of the season. They scored 49, 52 and 40 points in those triumphs, but managed just 64 during a five-game losing skid to end the year.

Michael Kauzlarich is the new head coach of the Panthers after serving as Centerville’s offensive coordinator for two seasons. The Big Red reached the playoffs both of those years and finished second in their district in total yards and touchdowns in 2017. Kauzlarich also had a two-year run as head coach at Meskwaki, where he went 9-10.

Luke South was the starting quarterback for Panorama last year as a sophomore, throwing for 1,152 yards and seven touchdowns with another 310 yards and four scores on the ground. He also started as a ninth-grader, throwing for 1,182 yards with 13 touchdowns and another five rushing scores.

“We don’t know much about Panorama because we didn’t play them last year and they are bringing in a new coach,” Dillon said. “Of course, the same can probably be said for them about us. We know they have a talented quarterback that can do a lot of things with his arm and his feet.”

Leading tackler Gunnar Grunsted has graduated, but Trey Cobb and Connor Powell are both back. Cobb made 63 tackles and Powell had 33.5, including five for loss, last year.

Panorama forced 22 turnovers last year and scored three defensive touchdowns and two more scores on special teams. The Panthers are coming off their first losing season since 2008, as they were 60-23 from 2009-16.