Oregon bounced back in 2017, finishing third in the Badger South and returning to the playoffs. The Panthers will have a very difficult schedule again in 2018, facing six playoff teams, and will rely on a large, experienced senior class to lead the way this season.
Head coach Dan Kissling said last year might have exceeded expectations. "We had a young team, and we didn't know where we'd be at," he said. The playoffs were the goal, and that was achieved.
2018 marks a return of some experienced seniors, who have played on varsity for most of two seasons already. The running back and linebacker positions specifically will be the keys for the Panthers, since that's where there's plenty of returning players.
Oregon will welcome back Keion Szudy and Dylan DiMaggio to the backfield, who finished second and fourth in rushing on the team in 2017, combining for 884 yards and seven scores (plus 89 yards and two touchdowns through the air). Jack Haufle and Carter Erickson combined for 15 catches and 247 receiving yards, along with three touchdowns, so some experience returns on the outside as well. With Kardelle Phillips now graduated after racking up 1,197 combined rushing and receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, the Panthers will be looking for a playmaker or two at the skill positions.
Nolan Look will bring some experience to the quarterback position after playing there for parts of the past two seasons, and the offensive line will be nearly brand-new, with lone holdover Colton Rich at left tackle holding down the fort, but up front, there are several players who were in the mix in a reserve role on varsity in 2017. Guard Matthew Rusch and center Brandon Schultz will be a couple of the players who could see a promotion on the two-deep on offense.
Defensively, Oregon should be strongest in the middle. The Panthers have an absolute tackling machine in John Klus at linebacker, after he earned 41 solo tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and well north of 100 assisted tackles last season. Junior Matt Kissling will also be back on the outside, racking up 10 tackles for a loss and an interception in 2017. Logan Ackerman was a productive defensive end, recovering two fumbles, recording five TFLs, and finishing fifth on the team in tackles a season ago, and Carter Erickson is back as well, at the cornerback position, where he had a pick, a fumble recovery, and was eighth on the team in tackles last season.
On special teams, Jack Haufle returns as the primary kicker, while John Klus and Nolan Look both punted last season (Klus was the starter in both games we aired in 2017). There's several candidates up for work in the return game, now that Kardelle Phillips and Jahlil Turner have graduated.
Oregon again gets a pair of pretty solid crossover games, seeing DeForest at home in the opener followed by a road game at Mount Horeb/Barneveld. Those teams finished third and second in the Badger North last year. For good measure, the Panthers will play their Badger South opening contest at defending Badger South champion Monona Grove on August 31, our Madison Taxi Game of the Week broadcast on The Big 1070.
Fort Atkinson will visit Oregon for Week 4 before the Panthers head over to Milton for a game on September 14. Then, on September 21, it's the Battle for Highway 138, as rival Stoughton is in town for Homecoming. The Vikings swept the regular season and playoff contests last year. We'll have it as our Madison Taxi Game of the Week broadcast on The Big 1070.
Week 7 takes the Panthers to Breese Stevens in Madison to play Edgewood, and that'll be followed up by a long drive over to Watertown for the Goslings' Homecoming. The regular season wraps up on October 12 with a home game against Monroe.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Oregon head coach Dan Kissling:
Oregon Panthers - Badger South
Head Coach: Dan Kissling (9th Season), 26-51 (1-3 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 6-4 (5-2), 3rd in the Badger South (Lost in Level 1 of the Division 2 playoffs to Stoughton, 28-7)
Three-Year Record: 14-16 (1-2 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 4 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (13 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 10 First-Team, 12 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (37 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): LB/RB/P John Klus [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-LB), Sr.; RB/LB Keion Szudy (2nd Team-RB), Sr.; WR/DB/K Jack Haufle (HM-WR), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: CB/WR/LS Carter Erickson, Sr.; T/DL Colton Rich, Sr.; G/DT Matthew Rusch, Sr.; DE Logan Ackerman, Sr.; C/DL Brandon Schultz, Sr.; RB/DB Dylan DiMaggio, Sr.; QB/DB/P Nolan Look, Sr.; RB/LB Matthew Strassman, Sr.; DB/WR Zachary Tower, Sr.; DB/RB Carson Smedley, Sr.; DB/WR Ben Adams, Sr.; DB/WR Ian Ganshert, Sr.; LB/RB Matt Kissling, Jr.; RB/DB Damien Johnson, Jr.; TE/DE Adam Yates, Jr.; DE/OL Brady Gagner, Jr.; QB/DB Jack Daguanno, Jr.
BIG Games: at Monona Grove, August 31 (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); vs Stoughton, September 21 (Homecoming) (🔊Madison Taxi Game of the Week); at Edgewood (Breese Stevens), September 28
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