Kale Steneman bucked a trend to bolt to another school for more playing time. He was stuck at Alter High School backing up since-graduated Connor Bazelak, who’s now in contention for playing time as a freshman quarterback at the University of Missouri.
“I could have gone to any other school, but I enjoy these guys and this program and the tradition we have,” said Steneman, a senior whose first career start was an impressive 21-7 shutdown of host Fairmont in a Week 1 high school football opener at Roush Stadium before a capacity crowd on Thursday night. “I stuck it out and here we are.”
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Where Alter is at is the stratosphere of Division III football. Any drop off from last season’s 13-2 run that ended with a D-III state title appearance was doused. This was a top-shelf performance against a worthy D-I – and neighboring rival – foe.
That it snapped Fairmont’s two-game win streak in this annual opener made it even more of a joyous occasion for the Knights faithful.
Steneman did his part, flawlessly running Alter’s version of the veer offense and scoring on runs of 10 and five yards.
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“He could have started at most places in Southwest Ohio last year, but he was behind a (NCAA) D-I, Southeastern Conference prospect,” Alter coach Ed Domsitz said of Steneman, a rugged 6-foot-2, 205-pounder who’s more like an extra running back.
“It was tough (for him) watching, but you saw what Kale Steneman can do. As tough as I am on him in practice, I think once he gets out on the field, it’s like, wow, I’m away from Domsitz for a while. I can relax and play my game.”
Alter junior running back Branden McDonald put 112 yards rushing and a touchdown run of 13 yards on the Firebirds, who qualified for the D-I playoffs each of the last two seasons. Steneman added 66 yards rushing, including a 32-yard dash that set up McDonald’s score late fourth-quarter score.
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As good as that was, Alter was more impressive on defense. Fairmont, featuring a new backfield of sophomores Male'k Hillon (QB) and the aptly named Tank Gant (6-3, 215), managed just three first downs, 78 yards of total offense and had nearly half the time of possession as Alter.
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Mason Henry had seven tackles and James Keighley Jr. five to lead the Knights’ defense. Jimmy Bianchi recovered a fumble on Fairmont’s first play of the second half.
“They did to us what we’re supposed to do to people,” Fairmont coach Dave Miller said. “We didn’t do anything on offense. We have to get a lot better. We’re going to look at ourselves, learn from it and move on. That’s what you do.”
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Fairmont drew even at 7-all on Colin McLaughlin’s one-yard run late in the first quarter. Linebacker Trey Baker recovered a red-zone fumble to set up the Firebirds’ only score. Baker was outstanding with a game-high 13 tackles, including 12 solos.
Alter is on a 70-10 run over the last six seasons, none of which had more than two losses. It’s not a stretch to label the latest version of the Knights as another state contender.
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“Like coach said before, the field is your notebook and you write whatever story is on it,” Steneman said. “We’ve got 14 more weeks to go and we’re just going to keep the train moving.”
If that happens, Alter would be playing at Canton for another state championship. Count Miller as a believer in that.
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“I have no doubt they’ll be there again,” he said. “They have enough talent in Division III that they’re going to do very well.”
Alter (1-0) will host Thurgood Marshall at Fairmont in Week 2. Fairmont (0-1) is at Lakota East.
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