It’s remarkable what Evan Henke has done in four years as the starting quarterback of the New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin Holsteins.
Let’s start with his passing. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior has his name all over the Holsteins’ record book. He has 318 career completions in 586 attempts for 6,028 yards and 80 touchdowns. He has 24 scoring passes this season after throwing 25 in 2016 and 24 in 2017. Henke threw for a career-high 2,036 yards in 2017.
Henke, an all-state selection in 2016 and 2017, has also been productive running with the football, rushing for 1,471 yards and 41 touchdowns. He has 15 rushing touchdowns this season.
Now let’s look at what the Holsteins have done as a team in those four years. New Salem-AGU is 37-7 – 31-2 in the last 33 games, and 21-1 in the last 22. The Holsteins have won three straight region championships and are 9-3 in the postseason. They advanced to the 9-man championship game in 2016, losing to Thompson, and they'll carry an 11-0 record and a No. 2 ranking into Friday’s state title contest at the Fargodome.
Remarkable? Oh yes, but Henke said one thing is missing.
“A state championship. That’s what I want most for my team and our fans,” he said. “Individual records are fine, but they don’t mean anything if wins and championships don’t come along with them. We came up short two years ago, but we have another chance this year. We have a lot of seniors on our team and it'll be our last chance. We're not going to hold anything back."
Henke said this Holsteins’ team has all the right ingredients to capture the school’s first state championship since 1986. He quarterbacks an offense that has scored 577 points and churned out more than 5,100 total yards. Henke, a defensive end, is also part of a stingy defense that has allowed 129 points – 27 in three postseason games.
“We have the experience, the talent, the size and the quickness to get it done this year,” he said. “We’re very good on both sides of the ball, and on special teams. If we play our best football on Friday, I believe we’re going to make it happen.”
Henke was thrown into the varsity fire as a freshman and led the Holsteins to a 6-4 record. He went 54-for-109 passing for 857 yards. New Salem-AGU coach Steve Kleinjan said he normally wouldn’t have started a freshman at such a key position, but he felt that Henke was ready to take that step.
“There was so much potential there,” said Kleinjan, whose team will meet No. 1 Thompson (11-0) at noon on Friday. “There was going to be a lot of learning and growing, but we knew that the rewards would be there someday. He did a nice job running our offense as a freshman. He showed lots of composure playing that position. Since then, he has grown so much as a passer, runner and leader.”
Kleinjan said Henke is a coach’s dream.
“Evan has such a love and passion for the game of football. He pours so much into it,” Kleinjan said. “He's a competitor and a kid who does all the right things. He works harder than any kid on the team and he likes to spend extra time before and after practice working on things. He also spends a lot of time watching film and breaking things down. His game preparation is second to none.
“One of his strongest qualities is his leadership,” the coach continued. “He has the ability to get kids to believe and focus on what’s important to the team. He’s a tremendous example of what a leader should be.”
Henke, who this season has completed 81 of 121 passes for 1,481 yards, is known more for his play on offense, but he’s also a standout on the defensive line. He leads the Holsteins in sacks with 10.5, and tackles for a loss with 18.5. He has 36.5 total stops.
In last Saturday’s 18-7 semifinal victory over Ray-Powers Lake, Henke had two sacks and four tackles for a loss.
“Evan does an outstanding job on defense … he’s our quarterback on that side of the ball, too,” Kleinjan said. “His size and quickness make him really hard to block, and because of the time he spends in preparation, he has a pretty good eye for what the other team is going to do.”
Henke attributes much of his success to the players around him. He’s surrounded by playmakers. Running back Braden Zuroff has 1,386 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing on 117 carries, along with 319 yards and seven six-pointers receiving. Chauncey Dittus, also a running back, has rushed for 754 yards and nine touchdowns, and caught 16 passes for 288 yards and six scores.
Wide receiver Garret Soupir has 21 receptions for 410 yards and seven touchdowns, and Tayt Wolding 16 catches for 165 yards and a score. Jake Sanders and Chase Remboldt each has eight receptions.
“It makes a quarterback’s job so much easier when he has so many talented skill people around him,” Henke said. “Braden and Chauncey are outstanding running backs, and I have a lot of reliable receivers that I can go to when I’m throwing the ball.”
Henke said he has been blessed with excellent offensive line play over the past four years. This season, the front wall consists of tight ends Sanders and Rylee Kuhn, guards Adam Morman and Logan Becker, and center Dusty Berger.
“Every year our coaching staff has put the five best guys up front,” Henke said. “They’ve done an amazing job protecting me, and opening up holes for our running backs. We don't go anywhere without the offensive line doing its job.”
Just as it did in 2016, New Salem-AGU will be facing a Thompson team that has a high-octane offense. Quarterback Cadyn Schwabe has accounted for 2,868 yards from scrimmage (1,807 passing and 1,061 rushing) and 50 touchdowns (26 passing, 24 rushing). He has completed 106 of 162 passes.
Schwabe’s favorite target is Marcus Hughes, who has 56 receptions for 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns. Chance Danner and Hayden Overby have 28 and 24 catches, respectively.
Nicholas Reck leads the Tommies in rushing with 1,532 yards on 202 carries.
Thompson is averaging 44.9 points per game.
“(The Tommies aren’t) much different than they were two years ago,” Kleinjan said. “They’re a very explosive team and for us to come out on top, our defense has to step up. We’ve been working hard preparing for this game. I know the kids will be focused and ready to go."
Josh Irwin leads the New Salem-AGU defense with 70.5 tackles. Wolding, Dittus, Trystan Hagen, Zuroff, Morman and Isaiah Huus have 52, 45, 42, 34.5, 29 and 26.5, respectively.
Wolding has a team-high four interceptions.