Progress Report: With considerable talent returning, Marengo in position to extend playoff streak

The 2-7 season in Paul Forsythe’s first season as Marengo football coach in 2017 was merely a blip on the radar screen.

The Indians reached the 2015 Class 4A playoffs semifinals under former coach Matt Lynch and were a playoff team in 2016.

The Indians dropped to 2-7 the next year, but reached the quarterfinals in 2018 and won a first-round game in 2019 before being eliminated by eventual state champion Richmond-Burton in the second round.

“Since our first year here, we’ve really changed the program,” said senior lineman Jonah Pace, who was a freshman in Forsythe’s first season in Marengo. “We’ve all gotten a lot stronger. Coach (Forsythe) has really done a good job showing us how to work on and off the field. How to do stuff right. He’s really taken a hold of this program. He’s not only helped the football program, but everything at our school get better.”

Marengo, 17-6 over the last two seasons, lost running back Finn Schirmer (Minnesota for track) and lineman Jagger Ferden (NCAA Division I North Dakota for football) among its 2019 graduates. Schirmer was one of the fastest players in the state – he won three state sprint and hurdles titles in the 2019 Class 2A Track and Field State Meet – and ran for more than 3,200 yards the last two seasons.

Still, as the COVID-19 pandemic has the football season on hold until February, the Indians are loaded.

Head coach: Paul Forsythe (fourth season).

Last year's record: 8-3.

Biggest Question

Who will be the Indians quarterback?

Mitch Kunde started most of last season and Zach Trotz was backup. They are both seniors. Josh Holst, then a freshman, started the two Class 4A playoff games.

The coaching staff is taking a look at all three.

“There’s a competition going on,” Forsythe said. “They’re all going to play for us somewhere. Over the summer (because of the coronavirus) we couldn’t do 7-on-7 stuff. We couldn’t do those periods where you do live competition. We’re using these fall contact days to evaluate.”

Players to Watch

There are plenty, starting with Pace (6-foot-4 1/2, 240 pounds) and wide receiver-defensive back Cole Davis. Pace, a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection on the defensive line, is headed to NCAA Division I Central Michigan. Davis, an All-Area first-teamer at defensive back, will join Ferden at North Dakota.

Those two, along with senior linemen Landon Oine and Mason Feldt and wide receiver-defensive back Michael Jennett, all have started since their sophomore season.

Davis has 87 receptions and 18 touchdowns over the last two seasons and is a playmaker on defense as well.

“We have a lot of starters coming back, and I think, with another offseason under our belts, we’re going to continue to get stronger and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Davis said. “Coach Forsythe’s second season, when we went to the quarterfinals, that really created a winning culture for us. We want to get back to that point. We know what it feels like and we want to work hard to get there.”

Pace feels like the team has multiple offensive threats.

“We can accomplish a lot with our team,” Pace said. “Our defense is going to be pretty good this year. We’re just good all-around. We should be able to win some games.”

Newcomers You Need to Know

Juniors Dylan Stolz, Jack Heinberg and Jack Schirmer should play key roles for the Indians. Stolz likely will be the main running back, while Heinberg plays linebacker and Schirmer will take over at offensive tackle on a line full of experience.

"Jack Heinberg will be big for us," Davis said. "He has a gym at his house and has everyone goes over and lifts. Dylan Stolz will be big, he puts in a lot of work."

Schedule Analysis

It is still unclear how the schedules will look for a slightly shortened regular season, although the Indians likely will see their five Kishwaukee River Conference opponents. Most notable among that group is defending Class 4A state champion Richmond-Burton, who handed Marengo two of its three losses.

R-B beat the Indians, 38-13, in Week 5, then handed them a 49-7 loss in the second round of the playoffs. Marengo returns more starting players, but R-B has several key players back and has been to the semifinals in back-to-back years.

That game will tell a lot about both teams.

Early Take

Finn Schirmer, who had the potential to break a long touchdown run from anywhere on the field, was the focal point of the offense for two seasons and is a huge loss.

But the Indians lost only a handful of other players from a small senior class, so there are a lot of experienced and hungry players returning.

Forsythe appreciates the way the players have lifted the program.

“It’s the way our kids have responded to what we’ve asked of them,” Forsythe said. “We put out there what we believe is going to have success and they’ve embraced it, bought into it and now they’re running with it. I’m pleased that our kids have consented to be demanded of, that’s really what it is. They’ve embraced it, so here we are.”