BRAINARD – After winning the Class D-1 championship in 2017, the East Butler Tigers finished 3-6 a year ago, with the season ending with a loss in the playoffs to eventual state semifinalist Exeter-Milligan/Friend.
The Tigers started the season with just one win in their first five contests, but won their final two regular season contests while scoring 92 points.
EMF defeated the Tigers 60-24 in the opening round of the Class D-1 playoffs, but for longtime coach Shawn Biltoft it was his team’s growth over the final month of the season that has him hopeful late this summer.
“We saw a lot of growth toward the end of the year. We played a lot of young guys and they improved a lot,” said Biltoft.
Biltoft enters his 18th season on the Tiger sideline and will take a career record of 100-60 into the 2019 season.
The Tigers return eight starters on the offensive side of the football in 2019. East Butler averaged 25 points a game last season.
Jaden Rhynalds, a 5-11, 150-pound senior will quarterback the Tigers when they open season on the road against Guardian Angels Central Catholic Aug. 30.
Rhynalds rushed for 937 yards and passed for another 671 while accounting for 25 touchdowns a season ago.
Biltoft is confident Rhynalds will improve on those numbers.
“Jaden has a chance to make impactful plays for us when he has the ball in his hands. He probably has the best arm of any quarterback I have coached,” Biltoft added.
A 150-pound senior, Wade Wright, also returns at running back for the Tigers after rushing for 505 yards and five touchdowns a season ago.
Senior fullback Austin Pierce also returns after starting the past two seasons.
Senior Nolan Makovicka (190) and juniors Colin Bouc (190) and Dillon DeWitt (190) all return along the offensive line for the Tigers. Makovicka will start at guard and figures to lead the Tigers offensive and defensive fronts.
Makovicka will anchor a defensive line that figures to be improved in 2019. Makovicka piled up 65 tackles from his defensive end position.
Pierce and Wright return at linebacker for the Tigers after combining for 181 tackles in 2018.
Sophomores Trevin Brecka and Steven Thomas will also be factors this fall after gaining valuable experience a season ago as freshman. Brecka finished with 88 tackles and Thomas added 46 more.
The leading tackler for the Tigers last season was Rhynalds who played almost every snap on both sides of the ball. He finished with 130 tackles from his safety position and led the team with three interceptions and seven passes defended.
The Tigers gave up 41 points a game last season.
“I think we will be much better defensively. We have 10 guys who got a chance to play a lot of varsity football last season,” Biltoft added.
The Tigers will need to be improved right out of the gate with GACC, Wisner-Pilger and Nebraska Christian the first three opponents.
All three teams made the playoffs and combined to finish 25-6 in 2018.
The final five games should be more manageable (just one game against a team with a winning record) for the Tigers who look to return to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.