This week sends us over a third of the way through the regular season in Kansas and here's few games we're watching.
Emporia looks to avenge last year's three-point loss to Legend, Colo.
The drive from Parker, Colo., to Scott City, Kan., is roughly four hours and 15 minutes long. From Emporia to Scott City it's about 15 minutes longer. For the second year in a row, Emporia will face Legend High School in a neutral site game in Scott City. This time on Friday. Last season, Legend defeated Emporia, 16-13 on a Saturday.
Emporia had an up-and-down season last year, finishing 5-5. Last season, the Spartans spent the first seven games alternating a loss with a win before winning back-to-back games against Junction City and Wichita Heights. A rollercoaster season ended in the second round of the playoffs against Wichita Northwest.
This season, Emporia is off to a 2-0 start with double-digit wins over Washburn Rural and Topeka West. Senior quarterback John Miller hasn’t been asked to do much with his arm in Corby Milleson's Flexbone offense, but Miller has conducted the offense effectively and been efficient when throwing the ball. Miller is 13-of-18 for 141 yards and a touchdown.
The Spartans love to run the ball behind their physical offensive line which includes Iowa State offensive line commit and Kansas Pregame coverboy Hayden Pauls. Senior running backs Skyler Douglas and Beau Baumgardner have combined for 289 yards on 53 carries and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Emporia held Washburn Rural and Topeka West to six points apiece. Baumgardner leads the way for the back end of the defense with 16 tackles, four for loss and an interception through two games. Senior defensive lineman Riley Wagner is built like a compact car at 5-10, 225 pounds, but Wagner hits like a full-size truck and already has nine tackles for loss on the season. The Spartan defense has already recorded eight sacks on the season with Charles Snyder and Andrew Wendling recording one each and Whitney Hall and Wagner adding three apiece.
Legend High School is located in Parker, just 25 miles outside of Denver. Legend has an enrollment of 2,119 and is the 17th largest high school in Colorado in terms of enrollment. The Titans compete in 5A, which is the largest classification in Colorado. Legend is 3-0 this season and has scored at least 28 points in all three wins; the Legend defense is allowing 18 points a game.
Last season, Legend led 9-0 over Emporia at halftime, and took a 16-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Emporia answered back with six in the fourth, but the Titans escaped Scott City with a three-point win.
Both teams looked to be improved from last year, which could result in another close game.
Pratt/Hesston at key point in the season
Hesston is 2-0 for the second straight season. The Swathers have been efficient on offense and solid on defense in wins over Hillsboro and Larned.
On offense, Hesston is averaging 34.5 points per game and is doing it with a near-balanced attack. Senior quarterback Jacob Eilert has thrown for 360 yards and four touchdowns while completing 54 percent of his passes, but perhaps most importantly Eilert is yet to throw an interception this season. Eilert also leads the team with four rushing touchdowns, while senior Max Arnold has a team-high 152 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In total, Hesston has four ball carriers with at least 65 rushing yards so far.
Hesston coach Tyson Bauerle says Eilert makes good decisions in his offense.
"Jacob reads our system well in regards to run/pull reads and RPO reads," Bauerle said. "He started a couple games last season to begin the year when senior quarterback Cameron Cox was out with a knee injury. He would have started across the state in many programs if he wasn't behind an all state QB. He put in the time this summer in the weight room and on the field throwing to prime himself for a great season."
Defensively, Hesston held Hillsboro to 14 points and Larned to 18 points. Senior Garrett Slater has 16 tackles, while junior Jadyn Medina already has two interceptions.
"Garrett is another story in and of himself," Bauerle said. "He moved in as a sophomore and was undersized and new to the weight room. After last season, he dedicated himself completely to becoming stronger and more athletic for football. His weight room and athletic improvement in just 12 months is pretty remarkable. The kid went out for wrestling to make himself better for football. He went out for track to make himself better for football. It paid off. He is now one of our pound-for-pound strongest kids and one of our most athletic. He's the type of story you love as a coach."
Pratt fans were spoiled during the Travis Theis era, but the Greenbacks seem to have fallen back to earth without their superstar quarterback/running back, who is now at the University of South Dakota.
Pratt has played for a state championship two of the last three years, winning it all in 2016 and falling one point shy in overtime last season. This year, Pratt is 0-2 for the first time in over a decade.
The schedule has been brutal so far with challenging losses to Hoisington and Halstead, who are both 2-0. The Pratt offense hasn’t been able to generate much on the ground, nor has the offensive line been able to keep sophomore quarterback Blake Coss clean in the pocket. Coss is completing 50 percent of his passes and thrown for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Coss has -74 rushing yards, according to MaxPreps. The team’s leading rusher is Bryce Winsor, who has 36 yards. Hunter Huber is the lone Greenback with a rushing touchdown.
Even though Hesston is 2-0 and Pratt is 0-2, it’s hard to gauge where each team is at after the first two weeks. Hesston owns a blowout win over 1A Hillsboro and an eight-point win over a Larned team that is clearly much improved after an 0-9 season in 2018. Meanwhile, Pratt struggled against Hoisington and Halstead, but both of those teams should compete for the Central Kansas League title and could be in line for deep playoff runs.
A win for Hesston would give the Swathers a 3-0 record in the CKL and solidify them as a conference contender. A win for Pratt would turn the season in the right direction as the Greenbacks face a rebuilding year under new head coach Brent Hoelting.
Smoky Valley/Nickerson at early season turning point
Smoky Valley's progression under fourth year head coach Tim Lambert culminated with a 10-1 season last year that ended with a shutout loss to eventual 3A runner-up Pratt. The Vikings went 2-7, 8-3 and 9-2 in Lambert's first three seasons, but entering 2019 Lambert knew continued improvement in the win column would be difficult following the graduation of a talented senior class.
SV's lack of experience was evident in Week 1 as the Vikings - who returned just three players with starting experience - lost to Larned 32-16. The Vikings rebounded last week with an 8-0 win over Haven in a game that was scoreless through three quarters before the Vikings scored the only points of the game in the final minutes.
The Smoky Valley offense hasn’t scored outside of the fourth quarter this season. Through two games, Raleigh Wilson leads the team with 135 rushing yards.
Nickerson’s 0-2 record came against two of the better teams in the Central Kansas League. Both Halstead and Hoisington are 2-0 and expected to compete for a CKL title with defending champions Pratt rebuilding. Nickerson is coming off a 2-7 season, but returned nine starters on offense and seven on defense heading into the season. However, the Panthers are having a hard time replacing standout quarterback Tanner Schrag and All-CKL linebacker/tight end Hunter Jones.
Last season, Smoky Valley travelled to Nickerson and won a low-scoring 8-6 game. Schrag found Jones from 25 yards out in the first quarter to give Nickerson a 6-0 lead, but that was all the offense the Panthers mustered. Smoky Valley scored in the third quarter on a one-yard run from Cort Elliott to tie the game at six, and Tim Lambert, Jr. - now on the K-State track team - added the go-ahead two-point conversion.
All of the offense from last year’s game is gone this year, meaning new faces will have to step up.
John Baetz/Gallagher Martin
Colby continues winning in life after Schippers, Holcomb will provide stiff test
Colby appears to be putting the Jordan Schippers era behind them just fine with wins over Ulysses and Hugoton to open the season. Their stat line continues to include strong performances from backs Calvin Stapp and Hagan Booi and excellent defensive play with just one score allowed through two contests.
The Eagles will face their stiffest test yet in the form of a 1-1 Holcomb Longhorns team that dropped a tough game to Scott City last week 14-3. The Longhorns slipped to 4-5 last season after winning at least 10 games in each of the first four years of the Kent Teeter era which also included state titles in 2015 and 2017.
This is an improved Longhorn team from a year ago and while they are not as effective throwing the ball out of Teeter's wide open Spread offense as in the past, they are getting a number of players involved in the offense with nine different players carrying the ball and four different players catching the ball in just two games.
The Longhorns generated less than 150 yards of offense against Scott City, but don't be deceived, this offense will challenge Colby's defense. The Longhorn offense is led by sophomore running back Kolby Johnson, the son of former Longhorn head coach and current athletic director Jerry Johnson, who has 177 yards rushing and two TDs on 26 carries. The Longhorns are not going to shock you with their size in the backfield as senior quarterback Kobe Hinds stands 5-8 and weighs 155 pounds and Johnson is 5-6, 175.
The Longhorn defensive line is led by junior defensive end Kai Johnson, no relation to Kolby. The 6-3, 240 pounder has 18 total tackles, three for loss and a sack through two games.
Rees McKinney, a Scott City native, has done an excellent job with the Colby program. There appears to be a confidence and an expectation of excellence developing that could carry this team to another successful season. The next two games – at Holcomb, and a home game with Beloit – will tell the Eagles a lot about just how far they can go this year.
Triplains-Brewster gets two-point win, could be on track for above .500 finish
Triplains-Brewster got a solid 22-20 win over Northern Valley last week. Sure, this is not your father's Northern Valley team, due in large part to the retirement of one of the state's all-time great coaches in Chuck Fessenden, and the loss of several talented players who delivered tremendous success in basketball and track the last two seasons.
Triplains-Brewster has gotten a great start out of senior running back Weston Schmidt who has rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, caught 11 passes for 189 yards and two more scores and has 108 yards in the return game. He has also posted 23 tackles on defense and grabbed an interception.
The Titans have what will be a tough game with Trego in Brewster this week but the rest of the schedule features games in which they should be very competitive with the opportunity to rack up a few more wins.