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Football Friday #7: What we're watching for!

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  • Clockwise from top left: Olathe North's Arland Bruce IV (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Eureka's Zach Hare (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Belle Plaine's Eli Wiseman (Photo by Emma George); Sabetha's Gabe Garber (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Jackson Heights' Taylor Wamego (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Republic County's Eyann Zimmerman (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz)
    Clockwise from top left: Olathe North's Arland Bruce IV (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Eureka's Zach Hare (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Belle Plaine's Eli Wiseman (Photo by Emma George); Sabetha's Gabe Garber (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Jackson Heights' Taylor Wamego (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz); Republic County's Eyann Zimmerman (Photo by Bree McReynolds-Baetz)

Here's a look at a few of the things we're watching this seventh Football Friday of the season:

Lawrence (6-0) at Olathe North (5-1)

Lawrence joins Derby and Dodge City as the last remaining unbeaten teams in 6A, but Olathe North is 5-0 against Kansas competition this season.

Friday’s matchup between Olathe North and Lawrence pits two teams ranked in the top five of nearly every 6A poll against each other in a game that will net the winner at least a share of the Sunflower League Championship.

Lawrence is battle tested this season, and owns one of the more impressive wins in 6A with a 35-34 victory at Gardner-Edgerton on Sept. 20. The Lions entered the fourth quarter down by seven, and outscored the Trailblazers 14-6 in the final 12 minutes.

Lawrence is currently reaping the benefits of its second year under head coach Steve Rampy, the legendary former Blue Valley coach who most recently served an eight-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Pittsburg State University before coming to Lawrence. Rampy was one of the first Kansas coaches to use the Pistol offense in high school, a scheme made popular by former Nevada coach Chris Ault.

Last season, the Lions went 1-8 overall and only played one game that was decided by fewer than 10 points. Lawrence ended last season with a 41-7 loss to Derby, and now the Lions appear to be one of 6A’s best shots of dethroning the Panthers.

But before Lawrence even thinks about turning its attention to Derby or the playoffs, the Lions will be completely focused on Olathe North and the task at hand.

Olathe North junior Arland Bruce IV leads one of the most potent offensive attacks in the state. Bruce IV had a monster year at quarterback last season, but with the departure of running back Daymonn Sanchez, Bruce IV has stepped into more of a running back role this season.

Bruce IV hasn’t missed a beat, rushing for 1,234 yards and 21 touchdowns on 7.3 yards per carry. Caleb Nelson and Jackson Sarver have filled the vacancy at quarterback, combining for 974 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions. 

Olathe North is 5-0 against teams from Kansas, but dropped a 24-21 game in Week 4 to Columbine (Colorado), currently the top ranked team in Colorado’s largest classification.

Not to be outdone, Lawrence features their own junior standout at running back in Devin Neal. Neal rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Gardner-Edgerton and also caught four passes for 102 yards and two more scores. Neal is a versatile athlete who also excels at baseball and carries a 3.96 GPA. He currently holds offers from K-State and KU for football and the KU offer includes the opportunity to play baseball. But as heralded as Neal is, he is equally humble, frequently crediting his offensive line for any success.

The game could have a significant impact on the final 6A playoff seeding. Lawrence is currently second in the Class 6A West standings with a 6-0 record and 63 accumulated differential points, just behind fellow unbeaten Derby that has 78 points. Up to 13 points can be accumulated in each victory. Derby has beaten all six teams by more than 13 points, while Lawrence has four victories of 13 points or more to go along with a 10 point victory over Olathe South in Week 1 and the one-point win over Gardner-Edgerton.

North is currently in second place in the Class 6A East standings behind Gardner-Edgerton with both teams at 5-1 and G-E with 64 differential points and North with 55.

After Friday’s game with Olathe North, Lawrence hosts rival Lawrence Free State (5-1) in what could be a thrilling rivalry game. Olathe North concludes its season with Olathe Northwest (0-6).

John Baetz & Gallagher Martin

Jackson Heights (4-2) at Jefferson County North (4-2)

There are no easy wins in Class 1A, District 3. Friday night, Jackson Heights will be aiming for a 2-0 district start while Jefferson County North is hoping to even its district record at 1-1. Last week was the district opener for both teams. 

Jackson Heights defeated Troy 54-24 last Friday. The Cobras began the season with back-to-back wins over Horton and Atchison County, but followed it up with two straight losses to Olpe and Maur Hill-Mount Academy.

Jackson Heights is back on a two-game winning streak with a quality win over a solid Valley Heights team to go along with last week’s district win. The Cobras will be looking for three in a row over a Jefferson County North team that will be desperate for a district win.

Jackson Heights is led by a big, experienced offensive line and senior running back Cooper Williams and they will try to run the ball right at the Chargers out of Caleb Wick's Wishbone scheme. In last week’s win against Troy, Jackson Heights rushed for 430 yards. Williams led the way with 227 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard blast.

For the season, Williams has 700 yards rushing on 99 carries with seven touchdowns. Sophomore running back Jason Bosley has five rushing touchdowns for the Cobras while quarterback Cable Wareham and running back Dylan Thompson have four rushing scores apiece. Wareham has thrown just 14 passes on the season.

The Cobras also feature a stout defensive interior and are led by senior linebacker Riley Watkins, senior defensive end Carson Williams and senior linebacker Cooper Williams with 54, 48 and 46 tackles respectively. Big junior lineman Taylor Wamego has tallied 43 total stops to round out the quartet of Cobras with more than 40 tackles on the season.

After a 4-0 start, the Chargers have lost two straight to Christ Prep Academy (6-1) and Lyndon (6-0).

The Chargers led undefeated Lyndon at halftime last week 12-7, but were shutout in the second half while Lyndon scored a touchdown in the third and four quarters.

For Jeff Co. North, a trio of seniors will lead the offense in quarterback Boyd Tweed, running back Logan Budy, and receiver Mason Noll.

Against Lyndon, Budy rushed for 192 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries. Tweed was efficient throwing the ball, completing 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers out-gained Lyndon 336-280 and possessed the ball for two extra minutes, but five turnovers by Jeff Co. North were the difference.

There is still a lot to be determined within the district after this week. The top three teams in District 3 are currently a combined 14-4 overall.

Jackson Heights concludes its season at Lyndon, who tangles with Troy this week. Jefferson County North gets its shot at Troy next Friday.

John Baetz & Gallagher Martin

Maize South (6-0) at Goddard (2-4)

Heading into the season, Bishop Miege was the clear favorite in 4A and remains at the top of the rankings. However, a number of other teams were expected to be a factor, and for the most part, the preseason rankings have held true.

Winfield has been a pleasant surprise at 5-1, while teams like Tonganoxie (6-0) and Andover Central (5-1) were expected to be solid, but are perhaps exceeding expectations.

And then there are teams like McPherson (6-0), Paola (6-0), and Buhler (5-1) who are meeting their high preseason expectations.

One notable omission from that list is Goddard, who returned 43 lettermen from a 10-3 team last season that made the 4A state championship game. 

Goddard looked good heading into Week 3 with a 2-0 record, but it has been all downhill since. The Lions are currently staring a four-game losing streak in the face with undefeated Maize South on the horizon.

On Wednesday night, junior quarterback Kyler Semrad announced via Twitter that he suffered a grade three tear in his MCL and a torn meniscus during the first quarter of Goddard’s 42-0 loss to Maize on Oct. 4.

The Lions will now turn to senior wide receiver Kaeden Hoefer at Quarterback. Hoefer threw for 187 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in last week’s 31-14 loss to Valley Center. Goddard took a 14-10 lead into halftime, only to see Valley Center score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Goddard has played a tough schedule so far that features Andover Central, Goddard-Eisenhower, and Maize, but Maize South, in the top five of many Class 5A polls, appears as tough as any team the Lions have faced so far this season.

The Mavericks are off to a 6-0 start, but things have not been easy. Half of Maize South’s victories have been decided by one possession and four out of six have been decided by 10 points or less, including last week’s 10-0 win against Goddard-Eisenhower. 

The Maize South defense has been terrific once again this year, holding teams to just under 14 points a game.

The Maverick defense features a stout defensive line led by 6-1, 300 pound senior run-stopper Zach Saville (25 tackles) and senior pass rusher extraordinaire Calvin Benefiel (5 sacks) and a ball-hawking back end that has recorded 13 interceptions through six games. Harper Kennedy leads the Mavs with three interceptions followed by Tysaac Noland, Trevion Mitchell and Drew Wolf with two apiece.

Goddard entered the season with 13 total returning starters and a top three ranking in nearly every poll in Kansas. A win over Maize South could be a catalyst to a turnaround of a season that started with the highest of expectations.

The Mavericks are one of five teams in 5A that are unbeaten. The Mavericks join Maize – which beat Salina Central 26-8 Thursday night to improve to 7-0 – and Wichita Northwest as the three teams undefeated in 5A West.

If Maize South can get by Goddard on Friday, the Mavs finish the season with winless Wichita North. Meanwhile, Maize will face Derby next week and Northwest faces Wichita Heights and Wichita Southeast, both 3-3.

The Mavericks are still hoping for a shot at the No. 1 seed in 5A West, but will first need to take care of a Goddard team that is more talented than its record appears.

John Baetz & Gallagher Martin

Belle Plaine (6-0) at Eureka (4-2)

Before the season started, Belle Plaine nor Eureka garnered much hype. 

Under first-year head coach Colton Koenigs, Belle Plaine has already secured its first winning season since 2011, and the Dragons are not too far removed from a 31-game losing streak which spanned from the end of 2012 to midway through 2016.

But with two games left to go in the regular season, Belle Plaine finds itself at 6-0 and 3-0 in 2A, District 5, the Dragons best start to a season since 1992.

Defense has been the name of the game so far for the Dragons. Belle Plaine won its first three games against Inman, Kingman, and Wichita Independent without allowing a point. Belle Plaine has only allowed 34 points the entire season.

Belle Plaine relied heavily on its defense last week on Homecoming against Fredonia. The final score, 13-6, was simple enough, but how the two teams got to that point was anything but normal.

According to Tracy McCue of the, Belle Plaine trailed 6-4 entering the fourth quarter as the Fredonia long snapper twice hiked the ball over the punter’s head into the end zone for safeties.

Belle Plaine kicker Caleb Steele nailed a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth to give the Dragons a 7-6 lead, and quarterback Luke Baker scored a rushing touchdown with 2:41 left in the game for the 13-6 win.

When Belle Plaine has the ball, the Dragons will look for versatile athlete Eli Wiseman, who is often one of the fastest players on the field. 

Eureka is currently on a three-game winning streak, all against district opponents, after a 1-2 start. On Sept. 27, Eureka defeated Fredonia for its first home game since an EF-3 tornado swept through the town on June 26th, 2018. The Tornadoes did not play a home game last season.

Eureka features talented wide receiver Zach Hare, who also starts at linebacker. Hare has 479 yards and four touchdowns on 21 catches.

Eureka is 4-2 overall, undefeated in the district, and also enjoying one of its best seasons in years. Friday night should determine the district championship as the other four teams in the district are 1-2 or 0-3 in district play.

Eureka coach Jason Nichols called Belle Plaine their “biggest challenge since Humboldt,” adding how much he has enjoyed this season and watching his players progress.

“This season has been great, our players have progressed tremendously, we’ve had a ton of community support, and it’s been great playing at home.”

John Baetz & Gallagher Martin

The Hatchet Game

Dodge City (6-0, 2-0) is at Garden City (2-4, 2-0) in the annual Hatchet Game, the state’s second-oldest rivalry. Dodge City has been a big surprise this season with its defensive improvement. The Red Demons have moved to a three-front and rank third in 6A in scoring defense.

Garden City has played a much harder schedule than Dodge City including losses to Derby (48-19) and Wichita Northwest (52-2). Derby is ranked No. 1 in Class 6A, and Northwest is second in 5A.

Dodge City has enjoyed a strong year from quarterback Beau Foster and Alden Knedler, among others. Dodge City leads the Western Athletic Conference with 1,072 passing yards, according to conference statistician Dustin Armbruster.

The Red Demons have outscored teams, 204-98. Knedler has rushed for 450 yards and 10 scores and paces the league with four interceptions on defense. Matt Friess has emerged as a weapon with five receiving touchdowns. Garden City has countered with Josh Janas (671 rushing yards). GC has battled through an injury to quarterback Carlos Acosta, and had some turnover issues, notably earlier in the year.

However, this game often has a closer result than the matchup looks like on paper.

Dodge City won this game, 27-7, last year. DC was a 6-4 team, and GC was 2-7. One of the great contests in the recent history of the rivalry was the 2015 game when Garden City was favored with a 7-1 record but Dodge City won 21-20. The winner tonight clinches at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference title.

Also intriguing is that Great Bend (2-4, 1-1) faces Liberal at home this week. GB is still alive in the conference race entering tonight’s action. GB’s Dalton Miller has continued his great two-way season with 792 passing yards, 657 rushing yards, 10 TDs accounted for and 63 tackles.

Conor Nicholl

6-man divisions up for grabs

6-man has two key games tonight. Cheylin (6-0) is at Natoma (4-2) in a game that will help decide the North Division title. The teams do not have many common opponents, though each had a close game versus a quality Golden Plains’ squad. Cheylin beat GP, 71-61, and Natoma lost to GP, 40-33.

In the South Division, Moscow (6-0) plays host to Pawnee Heights (4-2). Moscow has the six-man’s second-best scoring defense behind Cheylin and operates a ground-and-pound rushing attack with Austin Snyder and Adan Granillo.

Cheylin, with standout quarterback Colton McCarty, has an average margin of victory of 59-16, while Moscow is at 43-21.

Natoma averages 41 points per game, PH is at 37. Credit Natoma for a nice turnaround with coach Cody Dunlap, a Tiger alum. Pawnee Heights has continued to play well after Kade Scott, a multi-year 2,000-yard running back, graduated.

Natoma was 3-4 and 1-6 the last two years and had to forfeit its game versus Cheylin in ’17. Cheylin won this matchup, 60-14, last year. Sophomore Tracen Frye leads Natoma with 747 passing yards and a 12/1 TD/INT ratio.

Fabian Flores paces Pawnee Heights with 943 passing yards and a 15/3 TD/INT ratio.

Conor Nicholl

Republic County better than winless record indicates

Smith Center is 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in 1A and has won 16 in a row, while Republic County is 0-6 and on a 25-game losing streak. However, RC has played with multiple teams this season and it will be interesting to see how long the Buffs can test the Redmen.

The Buffs are led up front by one of the state's top small classification lineman and wrestlers, Eyann Zimmerman, who recently committed to play football at an improving Bethel program after high school.

RC has lost games 27-20 versus Ellsworth, 21-14 to La Crosse, 34-22 to Plainville and 36-30 to Ell-Saline. All those squads have five wins, and Plainville is ranked second in 1A. Second-year RC coach Faron Kraft is a journeyman coach with stops at Ness City-Dighton, Medicine Lodge, and Topeka Highland Park.

Conor Nicholl

Wamego (5-1) vs. Sabetha (5-1)

With the emergence of senior running back Isiah Childs, a Manhattan High transfer, and the return of explosive return man and utility player Taybor Vetter - himself a former Rock Creek player - Wamego had high expectations entering this season.

Minus a three-point loss to Marysville two weeks ago, the Red Raiders are meeting those expectations and could be on track for a deep playoff run if they can survive two more tough tests against Sabetha and Holton.

Sabetha, the back-to-back 3A State Champions, are 5-1 this season - their lone loss also to Marysville, 40-32, in Week 4 - and are again led by one of the best all-around athletes in Kansas in quaterback Gabe Garber. Holton, a perennial power, is 4-2 after a rare 3-6 finish a year ago.

Tonight against the Bluejays the Red Raiders can expect a heavy dose of Garber. Typically reliant on the run game under coach Garrett Michael, Sabetha has been more balanced this season. Garber has already thrown for 818 yards in just six games after accumulating just 990 yards passing through 13 games last season.

Garber has also run for 494 yards to lead the Bluejays on the ground, just ahead of fellow senior Andrew Frazee who has 479 yards. Senior Braden Arganbright is the leading receiver for the Bluejays with 16 catches for 278 yards.

For Wamego, the offense goes through Childs, an Akron-commit who has 830 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Vetter adds an x-factor with his 4.5 speed, which he has used to gain 605 yards and score eight total touchdowns. To put the cherry on top, 6-3, 200 pound senior quarterback Brad Sackrider has 540 yards and 10 TDs.

With all the weapons the Red Raiders can turn to, it’s hard to contain this offense. Second-ranked and undefeated Marysville is the only team to keep Wamego under 20 points this season.

Wamego has been stout on defense as well. No team has scored more than 20 on the Red Raiders this season.

Riley Eveland has 71 total tackles and six tackles for loss, while Adler Pierson has 58 total tackles and three forced fumbles.

Sabetha has been similarly effective on defense, allowing no more than 21 points in a game outside of the 40 point outburst by Marysville. While Garber is also one of the state’s top defensive players, the Bluejays do miss the loss of defensive lineman Elliott Strahm and linebacker Cauy Rokey, two of the state’s top defenders, both gone to graduation.

Second-year Wamego coach Weston Moody has tremendous respect for Sabetha and says tonight’s game will be a challenge.

"Sabetha is a tradition rich program with arguably the best player in the state,” Moody said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Coach Michael and his staff have done with their program. It should be a good battle and our guys are ready to show out at home."

John Baetz & Gallagher Martin