In 2013, Beulah’s passing game was hardly noticeable.
Two seasons later, people are taking notice − especially opposing defenses.
Beulah averaged only 41.5 yards per game through the air in 2013, but these days, the Miners boast one of the top passing offenses in Class AA football. Directing the aerial attack is quarterback Casey Walcker, who has completed 61 of 102 passes for 1,216 yards and 15 touchdowns for a Beulah team that is 7-0 overall (5-0 in the West Region) and ranked No. 1 in the Class AA poll.
Walcker was under center as a sophomore in 2013 and went to the air only 73 times, completing 29 throws (39.7 percent) for 415 yards in a 6-4 season. However, after throwing for 786 yards in 2014, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior is enjoying a breakout campaign.
“It’s a big difference between my sophomore year and this year,” Walcker said. “Back then, there were games where we would pass only a couple of times, or not at all. We were more of a running team and we stuck with it because that’s what worked best for us. We were also pretty young and trying to figure things out in the passing game. Now, we’re putting the ball in the air 15 to 20 times a game and having lots of success with it. One of the reasons why we're having such a good year is because we’re a more balanced team.”
Beulah coach Jim Dooley has watched Walcker grow as a quarterback since 2013.
“Obviously we're very happy with the progress Casey has made. He's come a long way,” said Dooley, who has a 30-9 record at Beulah. “He had a lot to take in and a lot to deal with his sophomore year, but he worked very hard to improve. And it’s not just his passing that has improved. He’s reading defenses well and making good decisions, he’s taking care of the ball, and he’s become more involved in game planning. He’ll watch film and make suggestions to the coaching staff on what might work. He's also been a tremendous leader for us. Those are the kinds of things you like to see in your quarterback.”
Walcker lit up Dickinson Trinity for a personal-high 332 yards passing and four touchdowns in a 61-19 victory last Friday night. He connected with Brandon Elton three times for 133 yards, and Josh Remmick twice for 118. Five Beulah receivers have at least eight catches this season – Cory Alt 19 for 403 yards, Mikey Morris 11 for 144, Remmick 9 for 183, John William-Suter 9 for 106, and Elton 8 for 247.
Walcker said having a number of reliable receivers at his disposal makes his job easier.
“It’s great because I don’t have to focus on one guy. All of my receivers have been reliable and I trust every one of them,” he said. “The offensive line has been a big part of it, too. They’re giving me time to stand back and look for open receivers.”
It also helps to have a solid running game. Morris, a sophomore, leads the Miners with 800 yards on 116 carries, and Alt has carried 36 times for 442. Beulah averages 328.4 rushing yards per game. The Miners also averaged more than 300 yards rushing in 2013 and 2014.
Walcker contributes to the ground attack, as well. He has gained 349 yards on 42 keepers, and has 1,124 in his prep career.
“It all works together. Defenses can’t focus on just the run or the pass if you do both of them well,” said Walcker, who rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns against Dickinson Trinity. “We're a run-first team and have been for a long time. We have good backs and guys up front who do an awesome job blocking.”
The Miners have also been impressive on the defensive side of the ball, allowing only 6.6 points per game. Hayden Norton and Devin Sardelli lead the Miners in tackles with 49 and 45, respectively. Beulah has 19 quarterback sacks (Remmick 7 and Sardelli 5) and 19 interceptions (Elton 4).
The Miners entered the 2015 campaign with high expectations. They returned most of the starters from last season’s 8-3 team, which advanced to the Class AA semifinals. Beulah opened its region schedule with a key 20-13 victory over two-time defending state champion St. Mary's on Sept. 11. Walcker completed 16 of 25 passes that night for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
“St. Mary’s has a really good program and they’ve been the best team in the state the last couple of years. Any time you beat a team like that it’s a confidence booster,” Walcker said. “One of our goals is to win the region, and St. Mary’s is one of the teams that we had to beat to accomplish that goal. We played a very good game all around.”
Next up for the Miners is No. 2-ranked Valley City tonight in Valley City. The Hi-Liners, who are 5-0 in the region and 6-1 overall, have a strong running attack led by Nate Rodriguez (87 carries, 871 yards) and Eli Allen (62-661). Valley City averages 323.4 rushing yards per game.
“Valley City is a big, physical team and they run the ball very well,” Dooley said. “They’re a lot like us, but the biggest difference is their size up front – they outweigh us by 45 pounds a guy. They’re also big and quick on defense. We have to play solid defense … we can’t allow them to control the line of scrimmage and the clock. Offensively, we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing – mix it up, execute, take care of the ball, and don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Valley City has actually won all seven of its games, but had to forfeit a 42-0 win over Lisbon.