Imperials excited to go on deep playoff run in 2022
The Imperials are facing the team that ended their 2021 season, Hettinger County, in week one.
NAPOLEON — After a couple down years, the Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter Imperials bounced back in 2021 with a 6-3 record. The Imperials will try to build on that and return the program back to the prominence they previously held.
“We graduated nine seniors, which for a nine-man school is a lot,” head coach Kelly McCleary said. “We’re going to look a lot different. A lot of kids got playing experience last year with a bunch of injuries we had. I think we’re more of a run-style team this year than we were the last couple years and we work every day at getting better. That's the biggest thing, improving.”
The Imperials are trying to make the championship game for the first time since 2011, which McCleary said makes the expectations sky high. McCleary’s expectations are shared by his players including senior offensive lineman and linebacker Trenton Erbele.
“You always want to get as far as you can, get to the big game in the Fargodome,” Erbele said. “I’d say have a winning record and make it to the playoffs for sure, preferably get past the first round because it’s been a couple years since we did that. So, if we can get past the first round that would be a big step for us.”
The team has 10 upperclassmen on the roster, and one of those is Erbele, who McCleary is looking for to lead the team.
“Trenton Erbele was a second-team all-state player for me last year,” McCleary said. “He’s probably the leader of our team, he’s been playing varsity for me since he’s been a freshman. He’s got a lot of experience, more than anybody else on the team. So, he’ll probably be our leader on the team.”
During his junior season, Erbele had 42 rushes for 252 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 42 yards and one touchdown. Due to injuries to the Imperials' first and second-string quarterbacks, Erbele was forced under center for the team’s first-round playoff game against Hettinger County. While the Imperials did lose, Erbele played well, completing 23 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Erbele has said he is striving to make the Class B All-State team and rack up at least one sack per game.
“We can’t have a whatever mentality or a losing mentality,” Erbele said. “We have to have a mentality of just go. Nobody is expecting anything big from us, we are the underdogs this year. So, in order to become the top-of-the-line team, it starts with mentality and so if we don’t change that you’re not going to perform on the field physically. So, by having that winning mentality and having a mentality that nobody can stop us, that would change our performance. By doing that, we’ll be able to win some games and get things going and hopefully have a successful season.”
The Imperials open their season at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, when they host Hettinger County.
“They run the ball really well every year and that’s one thing we’ve struggled with a little bit in the last couple years is stopping the run,” McCleary said. “Yeah, they’re just going to be physical for four quarters, you can’t let one big play get to you and try to stop the run like I said.”
Ahead of the season, Erbele’s excitement is palpable, as he and his teammates are ready to leave it all out on the field to get the win.
“We just want to give it all and never stop because this is it for all of us,” Erbele said. “We’ll put our bodies on the line, we’ll carry the team on our back, whatever it takes to bring the team home for the win, we’ll do it because this is our ‘Last Dance’ so we want to do whatever we can for the win.”