DONIPHAN, Neb. — Jordan Slough and Riley Wiltfong know what to expect from each other when they step on the football field.
They should, considering they have played on the same team since the third grade.
“We've been together since flag football,” said Wiltfong, the starting quarterback for Doniphan-Trumbull. “That goes for all our seniors.
“We're pretty tight. I think we have a lot of chemistry and we just kind of feed off each other. And people aren't afraid to say, 'I've seen you play harder' when that needs to be said.”
This year's senior class played a significant role in last year's breakthrough for Doniphan-Trumbull, which had its best season since the schools consolidated in 1999. The Cardinals, who have had just two winning seasons since 2004, finished 9-3 and reached the Class C-2 semifinals.
With 14 seniors this fall, Doniphan-Trumbull believes the best is yet to come.
“I think we're all excited about playing again, especially after getting a taste of what it was like to win last year,” said Wiltfong, one of eight returning senior starters. “We always had dreams, whether it was football or basketball, of playing for a state championship. We didn't get there last year, but everyone feels like we can. And that's everyone's goal.”
Six starters return to Doniphan-Trumbull's no-huddle, spread offense that averaged 41.2 points and a Class C-2 record 483.3 yards per game.
“We like to score often, score quick,” Slough said.
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Slough, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound running back, led the Cardinals last season with 33 touchdowns as he rushed for 2,272 yards. He's already the school's career rushing leader with more than 3,000 yards. This will be his third season as a starter.
“The first time I was out there as a freshman, it was kind of crazy,” he said. “But as you get older and the more you see it, it does get easier. You can see stuff and just play calmer.”
Doniphan-Trumbull coach Brent Breckner said Slough catches the ball well, too.
“That's the thing with Jordan: We try to get him the ball in space,” said Breckner, who enters his sixth season as coach. “We're fortunate we've got some other guys who can carry the ball and we can move some people around.”
Breckner's preference is running the ball. But he has a quarterback in Wiltfong who keeps opposing defenses off-balance.
In his first season as starting quarterback, the 6-1, 170-pound Wiltfong threw for 2,394 yards and 30 touchdowns, tying a C-2 record for single-season touchdown passes. He completed 65.7 percent of his attempts.
“I think the reason our passing game was as good as it was last year was because of the running game,” Wiltfong said. “We could kind of get in a rhythm between them.
“With our offense, you never know when someone's going to break one and go all the way.”
The Cardinals graduated all-state receiver Nathaniel Armon, who caught 50 passes for 930 yards in 2012. But they return tight end Creighton Buhr (6-foot-5, 200 pounds), who caught 25 passes for 371 yards.
Doniphan-Trumbull also graduated three starting offensive linemen, but two-way starters Eric Toben (6-2, 215) and Grady Koch (6-4, 210) return to anchor this year's lines.
Breckner said he expects his offensive line to be “bigger and more physical” than last year.
On defense, the Cardinals return seven starters, though they graduated most of their linebacking corps. Slough and Wiltfong started in the secondary last season, and Breckner said his roster has enough flexibility and athleticism that he can move players to different spots.
The team's other returning starters are linemen Adam Gomez (5-11, 245) and Jonah Blase (6-2, 230) along with running back/linebacker Lorenzo Williams (5-8, 170).
“The work ethic out of this group has been outstanding,” Breckner said. “And you start gaining some confidence when you put in that amount of work and see some success.”