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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

From left, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football players Aidan Laughery, Jordan Lee, Keegan Kutemeier, Cade Elliott and Payton Kean take a peek outside the football field’s press box in Gibson City. The Falcons will open up defense of their back-to-back Class 2A state championships on Aug. 30 against rival Paxton-Buckley-Loda.

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GIBSON CITY — It’s not the biggest or gaudiest display in the world. Yet it’s a display all the same.

A small sign is staked in the grass in front of a much-larger video board welcoming visitors to Gibson City.

And it reminds folks that pass through the town of roughly 3,400 in Ford County that the hometown high school football team is a force. On a statewide level.

That’s what happens when programs win consecutive state championships, like Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley has done each of the past two seasons.

It doesn’t go beyond the notice of the GCMS athletes who are trying to make it three in a row, beginning Aug. 30 with a home game against county rival Paxton-Buckley-Loda.

“We all want that to happen and wish that would happen, and we’ve been putting in the work, and hopefully it’s paid off enough to where we can make it happen,” rising sophomore Aidan Laughery said. “But we’re focusing game by game. ... Hopefully we’ll just have a fun season and leave our own legacy here.”

The Falcons, rated No. 2 in The News-Gazette’s preseason top 10, have experienced plenty of fun in the previous two years.

They haven’t lost in that stretch — 28 games — en route to a pair of Class 2A state crowns.

“I wouldn’t say (2019) feels any different, just because of the program that we’re in,” rising senior Payton Kean said. “We all know what it takes. It’s just doing it over again.”

That’ll be without some pieces critical to one or both of those championship-trophy performances.

Guys like Bryce Barnes, Ryland Holt, Nathan Garard, Jared Trantina, Hayden Workman and Ben Freehill have moved on — all to play collegiate sports, no less.

“The guys before us set the example,” rising senior Jordan Lee said. “We wanted to do the exact same things they were doing: putting in the ... extra work, just going the extra mile.”

The returning Falcons’ preseason aim — balancing what worked in the past with carving out their own niche in the present — means 19th-year GCMS coach Mike Allen isn’t exactly sure what to make of his latest outfit.

“We’re still trying to find our identity,” he said. “Without starting practice and having pads on, it’s difficult to see what that’s going to be. ... We’re looking forward to finding out those answers.”

Some replacements will be required, of course.

Rising senior Cade Elliott projects to take over for Garard at quarterback. And he’s readily grasped that starting mentality.

“Just really pushing each other in the weight room, pushing each other on and off the field (is big),” Elliott said. “Just trying to make each other better.”

Even with Trantina’s 1,677 rushing yards on the outs, Falcons such as Kean (449 yards), Laughery (377 yards) and rising junior Isaiah Chatman (283 yards) expect themselves to pick up the slack.

“Our backfield is definitely going to be pretty strong,” said Kean, with Laughery adding a descriptor of “electric.”

Those beliefs don’t just come from what the running backs can do on their own.

“Our line is still pretty big,” said rising senior Keegan Kutemeier, who will be joined by Lee and others in creating rushing room. “We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in, but they’re just as big and we’re ready to dominate on both sides of the ball.”

Meanwhile, the defense must follow up on a 2018 campaign in which it allowed just 72 points in 14 games, following up a 2017 team that only allowed 113 points in 14 games.

That was done through a hard-hitting presence, and Allen doesn’t expect that to change, especially with defensive coordinator Chad Augspurger back on the sidelines.

“That’s Coach Augspurger’s mentality,” Allen said. “He’s very aggressive with his kids. ... As long as they are willing to listen and follow what Augspurger tells them, they’re going to be in great shape.”

Perhaps the only thing that isn’t instantly clear is who will replace the 79 extra points and five field goals that Freehill, now set to begin his freshman season at Oklahoma State, produced last season.

That, in a nutshell, characterizes the battle GCMS faces beyond simply winning football games.

“The 2019 class was definitely a class to remember,” Kean said. “But everybody on our team saw that and saw how much success they had. So they realized what it kind of took to get where we wanted to be ... and they want to show that we’ve got it, too.”

Monday morning quarterback

Nathan Garard called plays for consecutive Class 2A state champions, piling up 1,208 passing yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. Cade Elliott, who served as Garard’s backup, now will take control under center. He has the confidence of coach Mike Allen. “He has a very good arm,” Allen said. “Very smart back there. ... He’s had experience, and now it’s his time to run the show on offense, and he’s excited about that opportunity.”

Coach speak

In his 19th season at the Falcons’ helm, Allen recognizes duplicating success is hard — especially when success means a pair of state titles. That’s not hindering his current athletes, though. “We went to a 7-on-7 and someone said something about state champions — that’s not the state champions,” Allen said. “And I said, ‘They’re right. We’re not.’ ... We have to focus on this group and look forward to what they’re going to achieve.”

We’re talking playoffs

➜ Their first playoff win happened ... in 1998, when Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley defeated Rushville 28-24 in a Class 2A first-round game.

➜ Their most recent playoff win was ... in 2018, when the Falcons defeated Maroa-Forsyth 35-16 in the Class 2A state championship game.

➜ Their best-ever finish was ... back-to-back Class 2A state championships in 2017 and 2018.

When you can see Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley

DATE     OPPONENT    TIME

Aug. 30   vs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda    7 p.m.

Sept. 6    vs. Eureka    7 p.m.

Sept. 13    at Heyworth    7 p.m.

Sept. 20    at Fieldcrest    7 p.m.

Sept. 27    vs. Fisher    7 p.m.

Oct. 4    at Tri-Valley    7 p.m.

Oct. 11    vs. LeRoy    7 p.m.

Oct. 18    vs. El Paso-Gridley    7 p.m.

Oct. 25    at Deer Creek-Mackinaw    7 p.m.

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).