Patience paid off for the Collins-Maxwell football program in 2018.
The Spartans entered their second year as a program in search of their first victory after an 0-9 2017 campaign. Last year’s team had to deal with a roster full of players with no meaningful varsity experience adjusting to a brand new game in 8-man football under a new head coach in Cory Crnkovich.
The 2018 season started off with things looking just like last year. Collins-Maxwell dropped each of its first five outings.
But on Sept. 27 at Colo, things took a turn for the better. Not only did the Spartans snap a 14-game losing streak, but they began a fantastic second half of the season that saw them win four of their last five games to finish 4-6 overall and place third in 8-man District 5 with a 4-3 mark.
“The first part of the season wasn’t pretty — started off 0-5 and our guys could have given up,” Crnkovich said. “Our guys came together Week 6 and they didn’t look back.”
Collins-Maxwell was overpowered by Iowa Valley (62-16), Newell-Fonda (53-14) and Murray (44-6) in its first three games. Game four saw the Spartans put up a better effort against AGWSR before falling, 43-22.
Baxter was Collins-Maxwell’s fifth opponent. The Spartans amped up their game for their main rivals and managed to force a game to go all four quarters without a running clock for the first time before running out of steam late in a 42-22 setback at Baxter.
“After that Baxter loss was when our season changed,” Crnkovich said. “We had guys buying in since they realized how good we could be. Had more effort at practice, lifting, etc. They wanted to do something special. They could have easily just packed up shop and went home, but they wanted to show their community we had something to prove.”
Then came the game against Colo-NESCO in Colo. The Spartans took a 28-14 lead on two long Brett Livesay touchdown receptions and coasted to the first victory in program history with a 42-20 triumph.
“The first win as a program was by far the most enjoyable moment,” Crnkovich said. “Seeing the look on the guys’ faces after we won, knowing we were capable of beating teams, was the greatest accomplishment as a coach. A lot of kids on the team put in time during the offseason. Now they can see that when they put in the time, they can be rewarded.”
The landmark win also forced Crnkovich to make good on a promise to his players — he proposed to his girlfriend, Jadyn Kooiker, following the game.
Collins-Maxwell endured a brief hiccup the following week with a 48-0 loss to eventual district champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck. That didn’t sit well with Crnkovich and he wanted to make sure the win over Colo-NESCO wasn’t a one-time deal.
“After we lost Gladbrook-Reinbeck, we held our weekly Monday film session — we didn’t even watch film,” Crnkovich said. “I made them get a sheet paper and answer two questions: ‘Why are you on this team and what are you going to do to turn this season around the last three weeks?’”
“They got up one by one and shared what they wrote to each other,” Crnkovich said. “The guys got to express to each other why they were on the team and how they could hold each other accountable for what they shared at the meeting. After that, it was total 360. Guys were holding each other accountable and they knew we could finish the season on a high note if we put in the time for each matchup.”
Collins-Maxwell responded with a 48-12 win at Meskwaki. The following week, the Spartans scored their first-ever home win with a a 54-20 victory over Twin Cedars.
The season came to a close Oct. 19 with a game at Melcher-Dallas. The Spartans pulled off a hard-fought 28-20 victory to secure third place in the district and end the season on a high note.
“To finish 4-1 in the second half of the season is a great way to head into the offseason,” Crnkovich said. “They wanted change from last year, and they stepped up when they needed to as a group.”
The Spartans ended the season averaging 25.2 points and 248.8 yards at 5.1 yards per play. They put up 143.2 passing and 105.6 rushing yards per game.
Livesay was Collins-Maxwell’s top offensive weapon. He caught 48 passes for 843 yards and seven touchdowns in his junior season.
Quarterback Kadin Bennett completed 78 of 185 passes for 1,184 yards and 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his junior campaign. He also was effective at running the ball, picking up 263 yards and one touchdown rushing.
Senior running back Caleb Fullerton played an important part in Collins-Maxwell’s second-half turnaround. After the running game struggled to get anything going over the first five games, Fullerton finished the season strong — rushing for 821 yards and 12 touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry and adding 11 catches for 135 yards and one score.
Junior receiver John Kasper caught 16 passes for 201 yards and one score and Simon McKinney made 10 grabs for 80 yards and two scores. Sophomore A.J. Smith had four catches for 74 yards, freshman Weston Kahler hauled in a 70-yard touchdown catch, Nathan Leonard made two receptions for 15 yards and a touchdown and sophomore Hunter Clair finished with two grabs for 11 yards.
Sophomore Mason Markley completed 16 of 40 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns and added three rushing touchdowns. Rylee Scott chipped in 21 yards and one touchdown rushing during his sophomore campaign.
On defense Collins-Maxwell allowed 36.4 points per game. The Spartans only gave up an average of 17.3 points over their final three games.
Fullerton made 86 tackles and recovered one fumble and Simon McKinney recorded 68 tackles and recovered two fumbles at linebacker for Collins-Maxwell. Livesay finished with 47 tackles, seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a sack.
Scott came away with 47.5 tackles, Bennett 40 and Kasper 33. Scott also recovered a fumble and Kasper intercepted two passes
Freshman Kayden McKinney racked up 22 tackles and Mitchell Bienfang and Carson Skinner 18 apiece. Skinner also recovered a fumble.
Smith added 13 tackles, Leonard 11 and Clair 10. Leonard and Clair each added one interception and Kahler recovered a fumble.
On special teams, Livesay averaged 31.0 yards on 37 punts and Fullerton returned 16 kickoffs for an average of 24.8 yards with one touchdown. Livesay also recorded eight touchbacks on 43 kickoffs.
Next season, Collins-Maxwell only has to replace four seniors.
“The biggest thing from the senior class is only one out of our four seniors played on the team last year (Fullerton),” Crnkovich said. “The other three I had to talk into going out. I’m glad they decided to go out because they made this year a memorable one for not only our community and our coaching staff, but themselves. They will remember this season for the rest of their lives and they can say they got our program headed in the right direction.”
That makes a winning season a real possibility in 2019.
“We just had our end-of-the-year meeting as a team,” Crnkovich said. “I told them year one we went 0-9, year two we finished 4-6 (and) third in the district and in year three I want a district title. It’s as simple as that. We have a lot of key guys returning, and if we put in the time in the offseason, I don’t see why we couldn’t finish better than last year.”