SPRINGFIELD – Springfield senior running back Connor Dye has made his case for Class 5A offensive player of the year with eye-popping numbers this season. He saved his best for last. Dye ran the ball 36 times for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns last Friday as the Springfield Millers beat No. 14 Eagle Point 42-14 to secure second-place in the Midwestern League.
“He’s turned it over, man. It seems like he gets better and faster every week,” Springfield coach Frank Geske said of Dye. “He’s shaving the blocks tighter. He’s being sneakier, and then being explosive when he hits the opening. He’s developed into one heck of a running back.”
Dye raised his season totals to 1,782 yards and 24 touchdowns – both top marks in Class 5A football – to help lead Springfield to an 8-1 record, the most wins for the program since 2015.
“They should be so proud of themselves; 8-1 is a good record for anybody. And when your one loss is to your crosstown rival, hopefully that motivates you for the playoffs,” Geske said.
Friday’s game against Eagle Point (5-4) was a battle between two teams who were 5-1 in Midwestern League play – with the winner securing the second seed behind Thurston.
Springfield started out slow, and a blocked punt that turned in to a touchdown gave Eagle Point a 7-0 lead after the first quarter. Dye, and the rushing ability of quarterback Zack Sherman, wore down the Eagle Point defense, though, and the Millers scored 28 in a row in the next 13 minutes of game time.
“The run game wears on teams, so that’s another deal,” Geske said of the slow start. “It always gets going as a game gets going on, because the big dogs start pounding on you a little bit, and it starts hurting.”
The big dogs were pounding on defense too, as the Millers sacked Eagle Point quarterback Bryton Livingston 6 times – led by standout transfer lineman Sam Keen.
“We got a bunch of different variations and combinations of who we were playing. Some bigger guys, and then littler, quicker guys when we thought they were going to a lighter package,” Geske said, noting that Springfield might not just have a candidate on offense for POTY. “The D-line was awesome … and if Connor is an offensive player of the year candidate, I have a hard time thinking somebody is more physical than Sam (Keen). He’s pretty incredible on defense.”
Springfield’s victory secured the No. 4 seed in the postseason, and thus the right to host two playoff games – should it win in the first round.
“It’s huge. I mean, the fans get into it here. This is a great venue for high school football. We gotta get them thinking that they can do something in the playoffs,” Geske said. “But it all does start with that first game. You win the first one, anything can happen. Because there’s going to be upsets … as long as we make sure we’re not one of them.”
Each of the past two seasons a top-six seed has been upset in the first round of the Class 5A bracket. The Millers hope to avoid that fate when they host No. 13 Lebanon (5-4) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
A win over Lebanon means Springfield would likely host defending champion No. 5 Summit in the quarterfinals. But like Geske said, you never know what to expect come playoff time.
“A lot of stuff happens after that first game. You’ll look at the bracket and say, ‘Oh, we were in the hard bracket. Two guys lost that should have been here.’ And all of the sudden we’re in the semis,” Geske said. “It’s always interesting come playoff time. And we’re a physical team. A lot goes right like that when the weather starts turning.”
Dye, 36 rushes, 350 yards, 3 TDs; Sherman, 4-of-9, 33 yards, 1 TD, 48 rushing yards, 2 TDs; Jackson Babbitt, 2 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs.
Defense, 6 sacks: Caeleb Kasperek (2), Jayden Kittrell, Nate Williams, Jordan Provost, Ryan Lucart.