Everything seems to go in cycles, and the Lowry High School football team has been enjoying one of its best stretches in school history over the last four years.
The Buckaroos have played in the last four state semifinals, losing all of them to Southern I-A opponents. Lowry has won a school-record 10 wins in the last two seasons, in search of its first state title in school history.
In order for the Buckaroos to do that, they will need to replace 22 graduating seniors, including the Division I-A Player of the Year, Calvin Connors, who is now playing for Eastern Oregon University. Connors threw for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for another 1,169 and 14 TDs.
Lowry also lost all-state players in tight end Robert Stepper, linebacker Brandon Okuma, cornerback Tanner Lecumberry and lineman Matt Ourada.
“There are people out there that think we will be down” said LHS coach Tim Billingsley. “We lost a bunch of quality guys that contributed quite a bunch for us. I still think we are going to have a good season. Our starting groups are pretty decent. There are some guys that haven’t had a lot of on the field game time. They were back ups last year, but will have to step up. They are ready to get their chance to play and show what they can do.”
The Buckaroos put up more than 5,000 yards in total offense last year, including 3,683 on the ground.
With the loss of Connors at quarterback, who could make plays with both his legs and arms, there is a battle at the position to replace him. Garrett Naveran and Christian Gray, both seniors will lead the Buckaroos.
Both players have strong arms to throw the long pass, but also have the ability to make plays if the pocket breaks down. Naveran threw for 114 yards and one touchdown in limited action last year. Gray was 2-for-5 for 53 yards.
“We are going to be solid at quarterback,” said the coach. “Both of them are pretty good athletes. We are going to try to work in Garrett at tight end when he is not quarterback and Christian at wide receiver.”
The rest of the skilled spots will be just as strong, with Beau Billingsley, Donovan Brumm and Thomas Schwartz at the running back spot. Billingsley, a senior, ran for 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. Schwartz gained 156 yards and scored five times. Caleb Ahefeld and Jose Bernal could also see time at running back.
“We might not be as quick as we have been in the past,” Billingsley said. “But, we have big guys that can run the ball and run over people.”
The entire receiving core will need to be replaced from a season ago. The leading returner was Billingsley, who caught 22 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns. Twelve other touchdowns from the air are gone.
The Buckaroos will look to Colin Doyle, Sterling Dennis and Omar Guerrero to fill those spots. Jacob Welty played at tight end last year.
“We want to be as two dimensional as possible with our offense,” Billingsley said. “We are looking to some different things on offense this year.
The Buckaroos will have to fill a few spots on the offensive and defensive lines. Luis Cardenas, an all-state selection in 2013, leads the offensive line at center. Kelvin Meza, Anthony Hummel and Felipe Moreno will fill in spots as well.
Defensively, Lowry turned in another solid performance, allowing 11 points a game. The Buckaroos shut out three opponents a season ago, and allowed single digits in three other games.
“Our defense has done a great job over the past few years,” Billingsley said. “It will be the same thing this year. We have some quality kids that will get after the ball.”
Lowry opened its season on Thursday night with a non conference matchup against North Valleys. The Buckaroos jump into Division I-A North play in a big way, as they travel to Fernley on Friday, Sept. 5. Lowry also played at Fernley a season ago.
The schedule is tough for the Buckaroos with return road trips to Wooster, Dayton and Fallon to end the regular season. Lowry also plays at Spring Creek. The Buckaroos have four home games against Truckee, South Tahoe, Elko and Sparks.
The run to the top of the Northern Division I-A will be a tough one for the Buckaroos with the likes of Elko, Churchill Count and Fernley.
“It’s not the most ideal schedule, but it is what it is,” Billingsley said. “There is not going to be an easy game for this year. We always have a target on our back and teams want to beat us.”
The top four teams in the league advance to the regional playoffs, where the No. 1 seed will host the No. 4 seed, while the No. 3 seed travels to face the No. 2 seed. From there, the teams will be re-seeded for the state semifinals to account for the two Southern I-A schools.
Moapa Valley and Faith Lutheran should provide the toughest challenges in the Southerh DI-A. Both schools won their respective leagues a year ago. Faith Lutheran beat Lowry 16-8 in the state semifinals on its way to a state championship.