Playing a huge role in Pacific’s football turnaround, senior Matt Strong made a massive impact on the area football scene in 2017.
For that, coaches and media members took note of Strong’s contributions and named him The Missourian All-Area football defensive and special teams player of the year.
He earned half of the major honors in this year’s balloting, which recently was completed. The other top awards went to Owensville quarterback Wyatt Ellis (offensive player of the year) and Borgia Head Coach Dale Gildehaus (coach of the year).
Playing defensive back, Strong registered 114 tackles and four interceptions on the way to earning Four Rivers Conference defensive player of the year honors.
As a kick returner, Strong returned eight kickoffs for 215 yards and four punts for 53 yards. He was a Four Rivers Conference first-team pick at defensive back, returner and wide receiver.
While listed as a wide receiver, Strong frequently carried the ball for Pacific and logged 1,149 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on 93 carries. He caught 39 passes for 720 yards and six scores.
Strong was a threat to take the ball to the end zone any time he touched it, and frequently did so. With Strong as a centerpiece, Pacific went from 0-10 last year to 5-5 this season.
Borgia linebacker Matthew Sinnott was second in balloting for defensive player of the year with Borgia defensive back Chris Broeder taking third. Broeder was second in special teams player of the year voting with Warrenton kicker Zac Blackwood ending third.
Ellis emerged at the top of a loaded field at quarterback to earn offensive player of the year honors in front of his quarterback rivals Brenden Smith of Warrenton, Ryan Harlan of St. James and Jacob Unnerstall of Borgia.
That’s also the order the four finished in for first-team quarterback honors.
Ellis led Owensville’s comeback from early-season woes to finish 8-4 and reach a district championship game.
Ellis shared the Four Rivers Conference offensive player of the year award with Harlan. He was the first-team quarterback and made the Missouri Football Coaches Association Class 3 all-state team.
He completed 156 of 278 pass attempts for 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, Ellis ran 208 times for 1,892 yards and 29 scores.
Just earning first-team quarterback honors this year was an accomplishment as Harlan, Smith and Unnerstall also put up impressive numbers for their respective teams. All four earned offensive player of the year honors in their respective conferences. The other three were top seeds in their district tournaments.
Smith helped Warrenton win the GAC North title by completing 123 of 187 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ran 251 times for 2,016 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Harlan completed 156 of 268 pass attempts for 2,773 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He ran 155 times for 805 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Unnerstall led Borgia to the top spot in the Archdiocesan Athletic Association Large Division and an undefeated regular season. He completed 116 of 189 pass attempts for 2,201 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. On the ground, he ran 51 times for 218 yards and five touchdowns. Unnerstall passed Kent Skornia as the school’s career passing leader this season as well.
Borgia Head Coach Dale Gildehaus earned coach of the year honors, going 11-1. It was a banner year for the Knights, who were the area’s only undefeated team through the end of the regular season. Borgia lost in the Class 4 District 4 championship game to Rolla. The Knights won the AAA Large title as well.
Greg Harlan of St. James, the Four Rivers Conference coach of the year, was second in the balloting. Pacific’s Clint Anderson finished third.
Below are the All-Area selections.
• Quarterback — Owensville’s Wyatt Ellis;
• Running backs — Owensville’s Tanner Rector and St. Clair’s Josh Richards;
• Wide receivers — Wright City’s Devon Holmes, Pacific’s Matt Strong and Owensville’s Sean Irwin;
• Tight end — Warrenton’s Caleb Strauss;
• Offensive linemen — St. Clair’s Nick Gough (the only unanimous pick), Borgia’s Jared Mullen, Owensville’s Jarrett Payne, Warrenton’s Alex Vogt and St. Clair’s Jonah Thurman;
• Defensive linemen — Warrenton’s Chris Vogt, Warrenton’s Caleb Strauss, Owensville’s Cameron McQueen, Warrenton’s Alex Vogt and St. James’ Nick Wilson;
• Linebackers — Borgia’s Sinnott, St. James’ Drake Ortiz, St. Clair’s Harry Ramos and Owensville’s Richard Nelms;
• Defensive backs — Pacific’s Strong, Borgia’s Chris Broeder and Owensville’s Dustin Faragher;
• Kicker — Warrenton’s Zac Blackwood;
• Punter — Pacific’s Nathan Door; and
• Returner — Pacific’s Matt Strong.
• Quarterback — Warrenton’s Brenden Smith;
• Running backs — Borgia’s Justin Heggemann and St. Clair’s Marcus Kirk;
• Wide receivers — St. James’ Grant Conway, Carter Keeney and Cade Snitker;
• Tight end — Owensville’s Colton Moore;
• Offensive linemen — Pacific’s Max Meadows, Borgia’s Justin Thacker, St. James’ Cole Petty, Owensville’s Garret Bunt and Warrenton’s Chris Vogt;
• Defensive linemen — St. Clair’s Jonah Thurman, Pacific’s Camelle Fleming, Borgia’s Tyler Patton and Wright City’s Ricky McDonald;
• Linebackers — Warrenton’s Jaime Malta, Borgia’s Justin Heggemann, Pacific’s Colby Hootman and Hermann’s Trent Gleeson;
• Defensive backs — St. Clair’s Kamalei Bursey, St. James’ Ty Lewis and Owensville’s Sean Irwin;
• Kicker — Borgia’s Jake Nowak;
• Punter — Wright City’s Devon Holmes; and
• Returner — Borgia’s Chris Broeder.
• Quarterback — St. James’ Ryan Harlan;
• Running backs — Hermann’s Tanner Unger and Borgia’s Louie Eckelkamp;
• Wide receivers — Union’s Peyton Burke, Borgia’s Quinton Poepsel, Owensville’s Dustin Faragher and Borgia’s Drew Piontek;
• Tight end — Borgia’s Jonah Chisamore
• Offensive linemen — St. Clair’s Luke Feddersen, Owensville’s Aaron Budnik, Wright City’s Donnie Grueneberg, Borgia’s Luke Grayson and Hermann’s Sam Krull;
• Defensive linemen — Borgia’s Adonis LaBeaume, Wright City’s Collin Schlapper, Union’s Drew Stallmann and St. James’ Cort Petty;
• Linebackers — Borgia’s Dylan Hellebusch, St. James’ Sage Gibson, Owensville’s Colton Moore, Union’s Haiden Meyer and Hermann’s Tanner Unger;
• Defensive backs — Warrenton’s Brandon Molinari, Wright City’s Devon Holmes and Washington’s Kaden Bollmann;
• Kicker — St. Clair’s Landen Roberts;
• Punter — Washington’s Cory Hardesty and Owensville’s Aaron Budnik; and
• Returner — St. Clair’s Marcus Kirk.
• Quarterback — Borgia’s Jacob Unnerstall, Wright City’s Sean McDonald, Pacific’s Jobe Courtney, Cuba’s Levi Mitchell, St. Clair’s Tim Hoffman and Union’s Jacob Fleming;
• Running backs — St. James’ Gunnar Seams, Sullivan’s Blaine Blankenship, Warrenton’s Dylan Smith, Pacific’s Nathan Door, Cuba’s Terry Copling and Sullivan’s Lucas Cottrell;
• Wide receivers — Warrenton’s Brandon Molinari, Washington’s Nate Busch, Hermann’s Trent Oberg, Borgia’s Matt Piontek, Cuba’s Jared Priest and Cuba’s Gavin Sparks;
• Tight end — St. Clair’s Jacob Hawkins and Wright City’s Joe Phillips;
• Offensive linemen — Owensville’s Brandon Faragher, Washington’s Ty Rinne, Sullivan’s Cole Richardson, Pacific’s Eddie Meyer and St. James’ Logan Ives and Zach Davis;
• Defensive linemen — St. James’ Randy Maloy, Hermann’s Sam Krull, St. Clair’s Mason Dodson, Owensville’s Aaron Budnik, Borgia’s Connor Breckenkamp, Washington’s Jack Tyree, Pacific’s Eddie Meyer and Borgia’s Justin Thacker;
• Linebackers — Warrenton’s Johnny Wiltsch, Pacific’s Max Meadows, St. James’ Cole Petty, Warrenton’s Tyler Null, Sullivan’s Issac Peregoy and Wright City’s Joe Phillips;
• Defensive backs — Warrenton’s Dylan Smith, St. James’ Michael Higginbotham, Borgia’s Matt Piontek, St. Clair’s Chris Scott, Hermann’s Trent Oberg, Sullivan’s Wyatt Schmidt, Union’s Demetrius Clark, Warrenton’s Nolan Chmiel, Pacific’s Devon Johnson, Borgia’s Ryan Zeitzmann and Sullivan’s Ty Wheeler; and
• Kicker — Owensville’s River West-Derby.