Editor’s note: The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the 2020 high school football season is unclear. This story is part of a series that serves as an offseason assessment of all nine Rogers County teams.
CHELSEA — For the first time in his three years at the helm, Matt Hagebusch has a solid, experienced team.
Chelsea returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, and the move down to Class A doesn’t hurt optimism, either. Add in the fact that the Green Dragons’ roster features 14 seniors — up 10 from 2019 — and Hagebusch suddenly has a possible antidote to the program’s recent struggles.
“My first year here, this group of seniors made up the majority of our playing roster,” Hagebusch said. “We’re going to rely heavily on those guys because they’ve been in the mix for a couple of years working hard and learning how to play football. That’s where we’ve been.”
This group of seniors has endured losing records the past three seasons with only three wins to show for their efforts. That means on 27 of 30 occasions, they left the field with their heads hanging in disappointment.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, that trend began some time ago. The Green Dragons haven’t logged a winning season since finishing 8-3 in 2011.
If 2020 has taught us anything, though, it is to expect the unexpected.
That is why Hagebusch hopes this year’s misfortunes turn to blessings for his team.
“Our record I don’t feel like really indicated where we were as a football team,” Hagebusch said. “We were in a bunch of games; we just couldn’t quite get over the hump. I really expect a senior-led team like we’re going to have this year, along with veteran underclassmen that have played a lot the last couple of years, to really help us be able to turn some of those close losses to wins.
“We had a number of freshmen that played a lot for us in all 10 games. We’re in a spot where our upperclassmen have the experience we need to really help guide us to some victories.”
Key Question: Can Chelsea catch opponents off guard?
They might be improved this year, but a playoff spot won’t be easy to come by for the Green Dragons.
“Even though we dropped to Class A, that doesn’t mean it suddenly gets easier because there’s some teams there that can really get after it,” Hagebusch said.
He isn’t kidding.
Powerhouses Hominy, Morrison and Pawnee — which went a combined 26-8 in 2019 — will compete in District A-6 alongside Chelsea.
“There’s three teams right off the bat that are no strangers to success when it comes to football,” Hagebusch said.
The rest of the district shakes out nicely, though, with the likes of Caney Valley (0-10), Chouteau (2-8) and Woodland (2-7).
Taking care of business against the lower tier while scoring an upset over any of those top-three teams could be enough to end the Green Dragons’ nine-year postseason drought.
“I’ve told our guys from Day 1, even though we’ve struggled the last two years, our goal is to not just make the playoffs, but it’s to win playoff games,” Hagebusch said. “That’ll always be our goal, and if we’re able to get in the playoffs, that means we won some games on the road that were tough for us. I feel like by the end of the season, we’ve got a chance to be a battle-tested group and maybe make some noise in the playoffs.”
Key Returner: Cash Ramsey. The young tailback rushed for more than 900 yards and 10-plus touchdowns as a sophomore, including a 276-yard, five-touchdown performance that propelled Chelsea to a 52-13 victory over Ketchum in Week 1.
It was the Green Dragons’ only win of the season and first since October 2017.
“He’s gained some weight and has gotten stronger,” Hagebusch said. “He’s a sprint-relay and mile-relay kid, so he’s tough and can run. He will get the bulk of our carries. We’re going to look at him to really build upon those numbers and continue to set the tone for us in the run game.
“We’re a Spread Wing-T offense, so we’re going to run the football and try to get after people at the line of scrimmage.”
Key Game: Sept. 25 vs. Chouteau. Both teams were in District 2A-4 last season and are together again despite class realignment.
Chelsea kept the last meeting close on the road, but the Wildcats slipped away with a 21-6 win on Nov. 1.
The two meet in the district opener this time around, and given how weak the bottom half of the league appears to be, the matchup could decide the fourth playoff seed in A-6.
Avenging previous losses is always nice, but the early stipulation of a playoff play-in game makes it all the more appetizing.
Hagebusch recognizes the possibilities, but he isn’t ready to award his team a spot in the postseason just yet.
“Getting off on the right foot in district play and getting a win against Chouteau really will be pivotal for us,” Hagebusch said. “When you’re talking about a team that is trying to make the playoffs, they’re all important. I can’t sit here and say one is more important than the other because we’re not at a point where we can look past any of our opponents. Every single game is a playoff game for us.
“You gotta get in the tournament before you can win it.”