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Anaylsis: KSHSAA football bracket breakdown

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6A West, 3A East, 8-Man I West brackets loaded with talented teams

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After eight weeks the Kansas high school football regular season is complete and the opening round of the postseason starts Thursday, October 31st and Friday, November 1st. The Kansas State High School Activities Association playoff brackets are prepped and ready to go. Let's take a closer look at the most exciting time of the year for Kansas high school football fans.

Class 6A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

Gardner-Edgerton and Olathe North appear to be the clear favorites of the East bracket with Blue Valley, Blue Valley West and Olathe East among those teams in good position to challenge. But the story of 6A is the West bracket.

Assuming that Manhattan (7-1), Free State (7-1), Dodge City (8-0), Junction City (6-2), Topeka (7-1)  and Lawrence (7-1) take care of business as clear favorites in the first round it will set up a slate of potentially amazing second round match-ups featuring Manhattan/Free State, Dodge City/Junction City and Topeka/Lawrence.

The most intriguing of those potential second round match-ups? Dodge/Junction City! Why? In spite of the Red Demons unblemished record, it's unclear if Dodge City's Western Athletic Conference schedule has prepared them in the way that Junction City's tough Centennial League schedule has tested the Blue Jays this season.

Dodge City's David Foster and Junction City's Randall Zimmerman are two of the state's most consistent and veteran coaches and it's sure to be a battle should these two squads meet in round two.

BUT - and this is a HUGE but - can anyone even slow down Derby? Their dominance over a previously unbeaten Maize team Friday was otherworldly. The kind of performance that has me wanting to see the Panthers match-up with the likes of Nevada's Bishop Gorman or California's Mater Dei or even Texas superpower Southlake Carroll, just to see where the Panthers stand on the national high school football scene.

As it stands right now, if anyone in 6A can challenge Derby for the title this season it will be shocking.

Class 5A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

After the first couple weeks of the season Aquinas was the prohibitive favorite to repeat as 5A champions, and while they're still the clear number one, it does appear that several other teams in the classification may have closed the gap.

Mill Valley and St. James appear poised to challenge Aquinas for 5A East supremacy but it will take a special effort to slow down Tank Young and the Saints' bruising offensive line. And don't forget, a physical defense is the cornerstone of any Randy Dreiling coached team.

The question mark on the East side of the bracket is De Soto's ability to stand up to the battle tested teams of the EKL. They should pass the test of their first two match-ups in which they will be heavy favorites and assuming they advance to the quarterfinals they will likely see either Mill Valley or Olathe West, two teams whose 5-3 records don't tell the story of just how good they are.

De Soto is talented, experienced and deep, but the UKC is just not on par with the Eastern Kansas or Sunflower Leagues.

Wichita Northwest appears to be the elite team on the West and is the favorite to make a return trip to state for a potential rematch with Aquinas. While the Grizzlies offense continues to pour on the points behind standout quarterback Reagan Jones and offensive innovator Steve Martin, the addition of former Eisenhower coach Marc Marinelli to the staff has Northwest fielding one of the best defenses in the state, in spite of the graduation of defensive end Marcus Hicks and linebacker Josh Carter.

After Friday's Derby dismantling of Maize, Bishop Carroll's Week 4 loss to the Panthers, 21-0, may be the most impressive game on the Golden Eagles' résumé. Easily the closest match-up for Derby all season, the only other loss for BC was Week 1 to Northwest, 21-17. Should Northwest and Carroll advance to a quarterfinal match-up against one another it could be another dandy between these two teams whose games regularly make for must-see football.

Undefeated Maize South and one-loss Maize could be headed for a quality quarterfinal match-up of their own, but both teams have question marks. For Maize South, one of the state's most dominant defenses, the question comes in the form of the offense's ability to score points. For Maize, one has to wonder if the Eagles will limp into the playoffs after that devastating loss to Derby.

Emporia enters the playoffs as a darkhorse from the West after their 14-13 win over Junction City Friday. The Spartans three losses are to quality opponents from larger classifications - Legend, Colo., Manhattan, Topeka High.

Christmas is just around the corner, a copy of KSHSAA's playoff history book will make a great gift for that Kansas sports fan in your life:

Class 4A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

The question on everyone's mind: Can anyone compete with Bishop Miege? The answer: An emphatic maybe...but...probably not.

For the second conescutive season the Stags - winners of five straight state championships - enter the playoffs with two losses, the first a stunning one-point 28-27 loss to St. James Academy in Week 4, the second a not-so-surprising 45-32 loss to defending 5A champ Aquinas two weeks ago. Miege also survived early season upset bids from Blue Valley North (27-20) and Mill Valley (42-35).

The Stags are the fourth seed in the East behind unbeatens Tonganoxie and Paola and 7-1 Chanute. Tongie and Paola appear to be the best option to end Miege's run to another championship game appearance in the East, but, as always, it's unclear if the Frontier League schedule will have prepared the top seeds for a Miege team that plays that's state's best competition weekly in the EKL.

Miege's trio of running back Brison Cobbins and receivers Daniel Jackson and Phillipe Wesley is likely the state's best and quarterback Tim Dorsey has done a good job of getting the ball to his playmakers. Tonganoxie will try to run the ball with 1,600 yard rusher Cooper Cunningham and a big offensive line that includes Kansas Pregame coverboy Cole Sample.

Tongie's likely second round match-up with Pittsburg or Spring Hill could serve as a possible road block on the way to a likely quarterfinal match-up with Miege.

Chanute, the afore-mentioned three seed, has experience with knocking off Miege. The Blue Comets handed the Stags a shocking loss in the Sub-State basketball championship in early March. Blue Comet quarterback Ty Bowman, who was a key piece of that upset, is one of the state's top players.

McPherson is the clear favorite on the West side of the bracket, thanks to a fantastic defense and a plethora of offensive and special teams playmakers. Andover Central, which also has weapons across the field on offense and a quality defense, may be the only team that could challenge the Bullpups for a likely trip to the title game. The Jaguars only loss on the year is to unbeatean 5A power, Maize South.

Class 3A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

The East is an absolute beast in 3A. 

Consider these first round match-ups:

Topeka Hayden (7-1) vs. Sabetha (6-2)
Marysville (7-1) vs. Jeff West (7-1)
Perry-Lecompton (5-3) vs. Wamego (6-2)

Topeka Hayden's Bill Arnold has won 171 games in 20 seasons as a head coach - 13 at Hayden, 7 at Scott City - with a consistent formula: Run the ball and play hard nosed defense. We ranked Hayden number two in the classification on our ballot for much of the season until the Wildcats were edged by one-point in overtime two weeks ago by Perry-Lecompton.

Sabetha is the two-time defending 3A state champions and entered the season with concerns thanks in large part to the graduation of defensive standouts Elliott Strahm and Cauy Rokey and 1,400 yard rusher Joseph Gruber. The return of Gabe Garber left Blue Jays' coach Garrett Michael with a veteran signal caller and instinctive playmaker who made pivotal plays in each of Sabetha's two championship wins.

Hayden and Sabetha is among the biggest first round playoff games you'll ever see and feels like a quarter- or semi-final match-up.

With loads of talent and experience, including running back Atreyau Hornbeak and quarterback Brandon Schroedl and a trio of talented defenders in safety Johnny Crome and linebackers Storm Slupianek and Garron Champoux, Marysville has spent all season in the top five of most polls. The Bulldogs were surprised in a 30-8 loss to Holton two weeks ago but with quality wins over Sabetha and Wamego, Marysville appears poised for a deep playoff run.

That playoff run will first have to go through one of the state's top defensive teams in one-loss Jeff West. The Tigers have allowed six points or less in six of their eight games including four straight shutouts to start the season. Jeff West's defensive line is big and physical and features tackles Danny and Kauli Saili and Gavin Schwinn and defensive ends Brayden Adams and Henry Frahm. Linebacker Pene Saili is a rising star and could be a major college prospect.

If Hayden vs. Sabetha is game 1A in the first round of the 3A playoffs Marysville vs. Jeff West is 1B.

Perry-Lecompton has the impressive win over Hayden and narrow losses to Jeff West and Holton and on paper the opening round match-up with Wamego could be a good one, but an injury to Red Raider standout Isiah Childs may derail Wamego's chances for a deep playoff run. Can Taybor Vetter, Brad Sackrider and the rest of the Red Raiders rally in Childs' absence?

The bracket also includes a talented, experienced, extremely well-coached Frontenac team that has rolled to an 8-0 record, a Prairie View team that is 8-0 and in the midst of one of the best two season runs in school history, a 6-2 Holton team that has rebounded nicely from last year's anomalous 3-6 finish and a Columbus team that is 7-1 under first year coach Blake Burns after a 1-8 season last year.

While the East side may tear each other apart to get to the title game the question on the West is whether or not anyone can stop Andale? In three years under Dylan Schmidt the Indians have not lost a regular season game and have state final and sub-state final appearances in the last two seasons.

In their 29-22 loss Friday, Cheney showed they may be the biggest threat to derail the Indians' goal of their first state championship win since 2014. Cardinal senior Riley Petz is one of the state's best athletes and makes plays in all phases of the game. He has scored rushing, receiving, passing and on defense and special teams this season.

Halstead has rolled to 8-0 in dominating fashion. Coach Jason Grider will look to prove the Dragons' schedule has them ready for the gauntlet of a deep playoff run after playing six teams that recorded three wins or less. While the schedule may not measure up to the likes of Andale or Cheney, the Dragons were dominant in a 46-6 win over Hesston, the Swathers only loss on the year. Grider will rely heavily on his sons, running back Scott (almost 1,000 yards rushing) and linebacker Doug (over 100 tackles), to get through a 5-3 Collegiate team in Round 1 and set-up a potential marquee match-up with Cheney in Round 2.

Colby and Scott City will try to crash the party on the West side. At 8-0, Colby is enjoying one of the best season's in program history. Scott City (6-2) appeared to be back to their old selves in Friday's 31-0 win over Concordia, with the return of Parker Gooden as starting quarterback a catalyst to one of the Beavers' best offensive performances of the season.

Potential Beloit/Colby and Scott City/Concordia match-ups in Round 2 are intriguing after the four teams battled in one of the state's most balanced districts.

Class 2A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

Noticeably absent from the 2A playoff bracket is last year's state champion, Phillipsburg. While most anticipated the Panthers would take a step back after the graduation of a senior class that delivered 47 wins and two state titles between 2015 and 2018, few saw them posting just two wins this season.

Hoisington now takes over as the favorite to win a state championship thanks in large part to the production of senior Wyatt Pedigo. The North Dakota football commit, who is also one of the state's top wrestlers, has over 1,600 yards rushing with 26 rushing touchdowns and also leads the team with 220 receiving yards and four more scores.

Pedigo now has 4,431 rushing yards and 63 rushing touchdowns in his career. He's also the team's leading tackler with 77 stops this season, almost 30 more than the team's second leading tackler, junior Jonathan Ball.

The Cardinals have four other players with at least 227 yards rushing in Zach Baird's Flexbone offense, and that could bode well for the future of the Cardinal program as all four are juniors.

Who are the leading contenders to derail Hoisington's seemingly inevitable trip to the title game from the West?

Unbeaten Cimarron has survived all challenges and features a pair of the classification's best running backs in juniors Tate Seabolt and Hunter Renick. Their schedule has offered limited resistance however, and the opener could be a tough one against an improved Minneapolis team.

Lakin has enjoyed an excellent 7-1 season, but against the weakest schedule in the classification, according to Prep Power Index. A first round win over an improved and well coached Ellsworth team is not a given. Lineman Hayden Panzer and running back Kayden Christiansen are the leaders of this team and the seniors are sure to deliver an inspired effort this postseason.

Perennial power Conway Springs will try to make their usual deep run in the playoffs, but losses to Cheney and Garden Plain leave Cardinal faithful with concerns. Versatile Single Wing quarterback/spinner back Collin Koester will try to will Matt Biehler's squad to a possible semi-final match-up with the afore-mentioned Hoisington, or, the leading contender to Hoisington from the West, Garden Plain.

The Owls are 8-0 with quality wins over Cheney - 35-19 in Week 1 - and rival Conway Springs - 32-21 Friday night. GP features one of the most balanced offenses in 2A led by QB Matt Pauly's 681 yards passing with 18 touchdowns against just ONE interception. Pauly's 698 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns also leads the team but he is one of four players with at least 367 yards on the season followed by Blake Long's 604 yards and nine scores.

A potential quarter-final match-up between Garden Plain and Hoisington could shape-up to be on par with last year's Conway Springs/Phillipsburg one-point thriller, also in the quarters.

The East representative in the 2A title game, like last year, will likely be an underdog to the representative from the West, but the East bracket could play out similarly to a year ago.

All signs indicate Humboldt, Rossville, Silver Lake and Riley County will again square off in the quarterfinals and the potential exists to match last year's classic playoff games that saw Riley County and Humboldt squirt through to the semi-finals.

Rossville likely has the toughest road to return to the quarters starting with a tough match-up with the Jack Caudle led Maur Hill-Mount Academy Ravens. Caudle, part of our #KSQBs feature in the Fall Football Preview, has thrown for 1,721 yards on 105 of 155 passing with 26 touchdowns against just FOUR interceptions.

The Maur Hill defense is led by BIG senior linebacker Abe Siebenmorgen. At 6-5, 230, Siebenmorgen is among the biggest middle linebackers in the state. He has 67 total tackles, including 10 for loss, through eight games.

If Rossville survives Maur Hill they'll likely face a talented Nemaha Central team which beat that same Maur Hill squad 26-20 Friday night. The Thunder have just two losses on the season: A Week 1 13-6 loss to two-time defending 3A champion Sabetha and a 28-14 Week 3 loss to perennial Big 7 power Holton.

Class 1A

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

Perhaps even more than Derby in 6A, Aquinas in 5A or Miege in 4A, Smith Center is the heavy favorite in Class 1A. After back-to-back dominant state championships the Redmen are unbeaten and untested heading into the playoffs. Quarterback Trenton Colby and running backs Jaden Atwood and Colton Shoemaker are the driving force behind Smith Center's Wishbone offense but the Redmen will miss injured junior offensive lineman Charlie Timmons, one of 1A's top players. A Redmen win in the title game will give the program the all-time record for football state championships (11) by one school.

Plainville, which has standout Jared Casey back after missing him to injury in a loss to the Redmen earlier in the year, and Sedgwick, which is playing much better defense this season, appear to be the biggest potential obstacles to the Redmen making a third straight championship appearance. Plainville also features quarterback Jordan Finnesy and a big physical offensive line while Sedgwick is led by sophomore signal-caller Lance Hoffsommer and senior running back Kale Schroeder.

The East side of the bracket appears to be much more balanced on paper. Olpe, Centralia and Jackson Heights are the favorites with Colgan and Valley Heights the darkhorses.

Olpe has quality wins over Christ Prep Academy (21-14) and Jackson Heights (28-14) and entered the season returning 10 starters from last year's state runner-up team, including quarterback Colby Hoelting.

Centralia's only loss was Week 1 to Rossville and the Panthers boast quality wins over Riley County (54-32), Colgan (30-0) and Valley Heights (38-20). Senior signal-caller Kamble Haverkamp will try to lead the Panthers one step further this year after qualifying for the semi-finals last year and quarter-finals two seasons ago. In 2016 Centralia had an extremely rare 1-8 season but has rebounded nicely.

Jackson Heights has close losses to Maur Hill (18-14) and Olpe (28-14) and quality wins over Valley Heights (26-12) and Lyndon (33-14). Caleb Wick's Cobras feature a big, experienced offensive line paving the way for talented running back Cooper Williams.

Valley Heights and Jackson Heights could be on a collision course for a must see match-up in Round 2 while the winner of that game would likely face Colgan in the semi-finals.

8-Man I

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

The preseason's top ranked team, Canton-Galva, remains the favorite to win 8-Man I in spite of the recent injury to standout sophomore receiver Tyson Struber. Quarterback Landon Everett and a physical front line lead an Eagle team that returned literally everyone from a sub-state runner-up finish a year ago.

The leading challenger to Canton-Galva in the East may be third ranked South Central which features one of the classification's top quarterbacks in Chayde Snyder and versatile weapon Gage Girk, a talented receiver, defensive back and kicker.

C-G and South Central could be headed for a quarterfinal rematch that will be hard pressed to match the 54-52 overtime thriller from a year ago.

The West bracket appears more balanced with St. Francis the favorite to make at least a return to the semi-finals after losing to Central Plains in that game a year ago. The Indians survived an upset bid from Hoxie four weeks ago 30-28 and followed with dominant wins over a pair of solid opponents in Wichita County (46-0) and Trego (60-12). Quarterback Brady Dinkel - also one of the state's top safeties - is protected by a physical, experienced offensive line. Coach Nick Fawcett is now 19-1 in his two seasons as the Indian head coach.

Clifton-Clyde/Hoxie and Wichita County/Victoria match-ups in the first round could be among the best games in the bracket. Hoxie ended Clifton-Clyde's season in Round 2 of last year's playoffs 22-20 while Victoria sent Wichita County home with a first round 34-28 loss last year. Hoxie enters the season on a low note following a 44-20 loss to Trego last week while Clifton-Clyde appears to be clicking on all cylinders in spite of the graduation of standout running back Drake Steinbrock. Wichita County has just one loss on the year, a 46-0 shutout by St. Francis three weeks ago, while Victoria is 6-2 with close losses to Clifton-Clyde (28-14) and Hill City (30-22).

A somewhat forgotten team in the West is Hodgeman County, thanks in large part to a 48-14 loss to South Central in Week 3. The Longhorns have rebounded nicely with five straight wins, including a 52-26 defeat of previoulsy unbeaten Ness City Friday night. The Longhorns are led by Kansas Pregame coverboy Eli Salmans, a senior running back, and his younger brother Isaac, a junior quarterback. The Longhorns almost always seem to enter the playoffs under-the-radar, but are always a tough out. HC delivered late November trips to Newton in 2013 and 2017 where they finished state runner-up both times.

Another squad to watch in the West is Little River. The Redskins, under new head coach Kevin Ayers, have been absolutely dominant since a Week 1 loss to Canton-Galva, 70-23. Since that time LR has allowed just two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in seven straight wins scoring at least 48 points in each game and ending each one early thanks to the 45-point mercy rule.

8-Man II

Check out the complete bracket at the KSHSAA site here.

If last Friday's Osborne/Thunder Ridge game in Kensington is any indicator then the 8-Man II playoffs could be fun. Thunder Ridge jumped out to a 26-6 lead after the first quarter thanks to a huge performance from Longhorn senior Reece Struckhoff. But Osborne rallied to score 26 straight points and take a 32-26 lead in the second half.

Struckhoff didn't play after the half due to dehydration but the Longhorns hung tough without their senior standout.

Thunder Ridge tied the game at 32 with under eight minutes in the fourth quarter and took a two-point lead with under six minutes left on a Colton Davis sack that led to a safety. Osborne's senior quarterback Steele Wolters would score the final touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter and Thunder Ridge's final drive would stall as time expired keeping the Bulldogs unbeaten and delivering the Longhorns their first loss.

The Bulldogs and Longhorns are the favorites on the West side of the bracket with South Barber and Hutch-Central Christian the most likely challengers to the favorites.

The Chieftains and Cougars are led by a pair of 8-Man's top quarterbacks in South Barber senior Trevor Rooks and Central Christian senior Caleb Lambert.

Rooks has over 1,400 combined passing and rushing yards with 30 total touchdowns accounted for. Lambert counters with over 1,100 combined passing and rushing yards for the Cougars with 25 total touchdowns accounted for.

If Central Christian can survive a likely second round match-up with Tuck Lang and Minneola an anticipated quarter-final match-up with Thunder Ridge could be a high scoring affair. South Barber could be on a similar collision course with Osborne.

If the higher ranked teams prevail then a potential classic Osborne/Thunder Ridge rematch is on tap in the semis.

The East side of the bracket could be even deeper with a trio of Twin Valley League squads - Hanover, Axtell and Frankfort - the likely favorites. The three teams beat up on each other in district play with Axtell ending Hanover's 8-Man record win streak at 43 games, Frankfort downing Axtell on the last play of the game a week later, and Hanover downing Frankfort last week.

Surprisingly, Axtell pulled off the win over Hanover without the services of senior quarterback Quinn Buessing, who left the game in the first half with injury. The Kansas Pregame coverboy returned last week and is good to go for the playoffs, and the cross country state championships this weekend.

Frankfort and Hanover appear headed for a rematch next week. 

Frankfort heads to Rock Hills to play a Grizzlies team that features explosive back Rylee Whelchel, but if comparative scores are an indicator, Frankfort is a heavy favorite. The Grizzlies lost to St. John's-Beloit/Tipton last week 42-20, while Frankfort beat that same SJBT team in Week 6, 54-20. Hanover has a rematch with a Pike Valley team they beat 58-14 in Week 1.

The winner will more than likely play an unbeaten St. Paul team in the quarters. The Indians are led by Kansas Pregame coverboy Adam Albertini who has enjoyed one of the all-time great 8-Man careers in state history.