Kansas will crown eight state champions Saturday, here's our best guess at the winners
At Kansas Pregame we're hard at work on basketball and wrestling previews for our second annual Winter Preview magazine, but that doesn't mean we can't find some time to take a closer look at the final weekend of high school football in the Sunflower State.
Eight state champions will be crowned this Saturday at sites across the state. Eight-Man, Division I will get things started at 11:00 a.m. in Newton playing the first of two games Saturday at Fischer Field. The Eight-Man, Division II game will follow at 3:00 p.m.
The six 11-Man games start at 1:00 p.m. with Class 6A played at Emporia State's Welch Stadium, 5A at Pittsburg State's Carnie Smith Stadium, 4A at Topeka's Hummer Sports Complex, 3A at Hutchinson's Gowans Stadium, 2A at Salina's USD #305 District Stadium and 1A at Fort Hays State's Lewis Field Stadium.
Here's our best guess at the outcomes of Saturday's games:
Derby vs. Olathe North: 1:05 p.m., Welch Stadium, Emporia State University
The Derby Panthers are in the midst of one of the most dominant high school football seasons in recent memory and continue to establish the program as one of the state's all-time greats under coach Brandon Clark. While the Panthers schedule included six teams that posted three wins or less - all games in which Derby scored at least 48 points - the "Mean Green" was equally dominant in their six wins over team's that posted winning records this season.
Most notably, Derby downed 8-3 Bishop Carroll 21-0 in Week 4, pounded 10-win Maize 55-7 in Week 8, blanked nine-win Manhattan 56-0 in the 6A quarterfinals and ran away from 10-win Topeka High 63-35 in last week's semi-final.
And those games were likely not even as close as the final score.
Consider these results:
While the offense wasn't sharp against Carroll, the defense handed BC their first shutout since the 2010 season. A late first quarter field goal miss inside the Derby 20 following a Golden Eagle interception return was the only real shot at points Derby allowed all night. The Panther defense allowed Carroll just 124 total yards in the win.
The match-up with then unbeaten Maize was one of the most anticipated in the state and Derby rolled up over 400 yards of total offense and 42 points, IN THE FIRST HALF.
Against Manhattan the Panthers led 42-0 at half scoring three touchdowns apiece in each of the first two quarters, adding two more in the third for the final margin.
Topeka High was playing their best ball of the season, having just gotten revenge for their lone regular season loss of the year with a 35-14 quarterfinal victory over Junction City, a team they lost to 48-41 in Week 4. Derby built a 49-14 lead in the first half of their semi-final match-up with the Trojans en route to the 63-35 win.
Now the Panthers return to the title game for the sixth time in seven years and will look to win their second consecutive undefeated championship and their fifth title in that span, a two-point loss to Blue Valley North in 2017 the only championship game loss in that stretch.
The emergence of quarterback Lem Wash has given the Panther offense a second home run threat to go along with senior running back Tre Washington. Wash is an accurate thrower and the Panthers can also bring in quarterback Grant Adler and the offense won't skip a beat. Standout receiver Cavion Walker gives the Panthers a rangy weapon in the passing game and Nebraska commit Alex Conn, a Kansas Pregame coverboy, anchors an impressive offensive line.
Lineman Tyler Dorsey spearheads a dominant group on defense that hasn't missed a beat from a year ago, in spite of graduating All-Staters Isaac Keener and Hunter Igo, among others.
Olathe North coach Chris McCartney continues to lead the program toward the dominance enjoyed under long-time coach Gene Wier in the mid-90s and early 2000s. The Eagles won in convincing fashion against a quality Blue Valley team last week in the semi-finals.
BUT, Derby is a whole different breed of cat and even if standout offensive star Arland Bruce IV is able to penetrate the Derby defense, the Eagles still have to slow down a Panther offense that scored at least 48 points in all but one game this season.
The Eagles will likely get to the end zone a few times against the Panthers, but the talented Derby offensive line should again pave the way for plenty of yardage and points in this one.
Prediction: Derby, 49 - Olathe North, 21
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Mill Valley vs. Wichita Northwest: 1:00 p.m., Carnie Smith Stadium, Pittsburg State University
Once it was a surprise.
Joel Applebee's Mill Valley teams would arrive at mid-season with three or four losses on the schedule thanks to the quality of opponents the Jaguars play each week in the vaunted Eastern Kansas League, but then MV would find a way to make a deep playoff run.
It happened in 2016 when the Jags started the season 3-0 before suffering through a four-game losing streak and then finishing on a six-game win streak that included a 35-34 double overtime victory over Goddard in the 5A championship game. It was the team's second straight 5A title.
It happened in 2017 when the Jags started 2-4 prior to rolling off five straight victories that ended with a loss to Aquinas in the state semi-finals.
It happened last year as Applebee's squad started 2-3 before winning five straight and losing in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Aquinas, 30-7.
So it's not a surprise that it's happening again this year as the Jaguars are on an eight-game win streak after starting the season 1-3.
While some saw last week's 34-31 Mill Valley win over Aquinas in overtime as a major upset, those who have watched Applebee's team's develop knew his squad had what it took to knock the Saints from their third straight title game appearance and a possible second consecutive 5A championship.
After rushing for more than 100 yards just once in the first seven weeks Mill Valley senior running back Tyler Green has been an absolute beast over the past five games rushing for at least 120 yards in each win and scoring 12 of his 14 total touchdowns on the season in that span. Running behind a talented offensive line Green has rolled up 767 of his 1,246 rushing yards in that span and is in the conversation for best back in the state over the last five weeks.
While Mill Valley is certainly battle tested by their brutal EKL schedule, Wichita Northwest has dominated their opponents since narrowly escaping Bishop Carroll in Week 1. This year Northwest's typically explosive offense is accentuated by a drastically improved defense. After allowing an average of almost 30 points per game last season the Grizzlies added former Eisenhower and Hesston head coach Marc Marinelli to the defensive staff and are holding teams to under 11 points per game, including five games where the defense didn't allow a score.
Prior to last week's 80-42 semi-final win over Maize the defense was allowing an average of just under eight points per contest, and all this after the graduation of Oklahoma signee Marcus Hicks and All-State linebacker Josh Carter.
In spite of the loss of so much offensive production off last year's squad Northwest coach Steve Martin continues to find replacements and now veteran quarterback Reagan Jones continues to distribute the ball to his playmakers.
In a battle of two of the state's most tactical coaching staffs the tested Jaguars may have a slight edge thanks to championship game experience and wins, but the Grizzlies have the look of a team on a mission after losing to Aquinas in the title game a year ago.
Prediction: Northwest, 35 - Mill Valley, 28
Bishop Miege vs. Andover Central: 1:00 p.m., Hummer Sports Complex, Topeka
Andover Central is one of the feel-good stories of the 2019 football season. First-year head coach Derek Tuttle, only the second coach in Central football history following the resignation of Tom Audley this offseason, leads the Jaguars into the 4A title game after spending years as Audley's assistant.
By all accounts Tuttle is well-like by athletes and faculty alike and the new head coach has molded a group of solid players into an excellent team.
The Jaguars have just one loss on the season, a 24-17 defeat at the hands of eventual 5A quarterfinalist Maize South. Identified by neither a consistently explosive offense or an iron curtain defense, rather the Jaguars did weekly what was required of them.
After scoring at least 33 points in each of the first three games the offense sputtered against a Valley Center team that would go 2-7. The Hornets outgained the Jaguars 367-296 and ran 80 plays to Central's 54. But the Jaguar defense made plays when it counted recording an interception, a fumble recovery and six tackles for loss. The Jaguars scored all 17 of their points in the second quarter, including a 37-yard Blake Robison field goal that would be the difference in the game.
After the loss to Maize South the Jaguars responded with a total team effort downing Great Bend 41-7. Quarterback Shomari Parnell threw four touchdown passes as the offense exploded for 27 second quarter points. Linebacker Trey DeGarmo recorded one of his nine double digit tackle games this season and even though the Jaguar defense allowed standout Great Bend receiver Alex Schremmer 98 yards they kept him out of the end zone and recorded two interceptions.
And last week against season long western side 4A favorite McPherson the Jaguars pitched a shutout in a defensive slugfest that saw the Bullpups outgain the Jags more than two-to-one with AC again making key plays when it counted. Kaden Wilson recorded an interception in the end zone in the second quarter and Kyren Parrott grabbed a fumble recovery caused by teammate Ashton Barkdull and returned it 28 yards for the games only points.
All that said, this feel-good story likely doesn't have a storybook ending as the Jaguars face Bishop Miege in the title game. Winners of five consecutive state championships and featuring a roster highlighted by some of the KC Metro's top players, Miege enters this game as a heavy favorite.
Receivers Daniel Jackson and Phillippe Wesley and running back Brison Cobbins are a triple threat for the Miege offense. Jackson broke the state record for receiving touchdowns in a season in last week's win with four in the game to push his season total to 25. Cobbins is a finalist for the Fontana Award, given annually to the top all-around player from small schools in the KC Metro.
The Stags can also play defense. Mason Weber and Max VanMeter are the pillars of the defensive line. Linebacker Mikey Welsh – a ferocious hitter – has helped fill the shoes of graduated defensive leader Dylan Downing. Safety Tyquez Agnew-Whitten keeps the top on the defense and is among the most underrated defensive backs in Kansas.
For Central, Parnell will look to rangy wide receivers Xavier Bell and Matt Macy and DeGarmo and company will try to challenge the potent Miege offense, but a sixth straight title is likely in Miege's future.
Prediction: Bishop Miege, 42 - Andover Central, 21
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Perry-Lecompton vs. Andale: 1:00 p.m., Gowans Stadium, Hutchinson Community College
Few predicted Perry-Lecompton as the East representative in the 3A title game prior to the season and likely even fewer predicted a six-game win streak after the Kaws opened the season 3-3.
P-L ran the gauntlet in the playoffs delivering a 38-21 win over Wamego, avenging a Week 2 loss to Holton with a 35-21 win over the Wildcats, handing Prairie View their first loss of the season 30-6 and beating Topeka Hayden for the second time this season 35-27 in last week's semi-finals.
It's the first trip back to a title game for P-L since the Kaws finished runner-up to Hayden in 2008.
But much like 6A and 4A this match-up appears headed for a lopsided Andale Indian victory.
The Indians pummeled Cheney 55-20 in last week's West semi-final after surviving the Cardinals 29-22 to close out the regular season. Andale led 42-0 at the half and 55-7 late in the third quarter.
While the Indians are still known for their ground and pound style of offensive football coach Dylan Schmidt has opened things up a bit this year behind the arm of quarterback Easton Hunter and a cast of talented skill players. Couple that with a physical defense and a winning tradition and it could spell disaster for the Kaws.
In three seasons under Schmidt the Indians have lost just two games, the 2017 4A-I final to Miege and last year's 3A semi-final to Pratt. At some point in his coaching career Schmidt will very likely lose his third game as a head coach, but it's doubtful it will be in Saturday's championship game.
Prediction: Andale, 49 - Perry-Lecompton, 20
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Nemaha Central vs. Norton: 1:00 p.m., Salina Stadium, Salina Central High School
The Mid-Continent League and championship football go hand-in-hand. The league has a history of having multiple teams in title games that dates back to the early eighties and Saturday will be no different. Norton and Smith Center will play for 2A and 1A titles respectively on Saturday, and former long-time Mid-Continent League school Osborne will play for the 8-Man II title.
Of those three, Norton is certainly the biggest surprise championship participant.
After starting the season 0-2, the Blue Jays won five straight games before losing to Hoisington in the district championship 38-7. The Blue Jays were heavy underdogs in last week's rematch with the Cardinals, but veteran Norton coach Lucas Melvin led his kids - including his son, starting quarterback Kade Melvin - to an inspired effort as the Blue Jays delivered a thrilling 10-8 victory when Luke Wahlmeier kicked a field goal with six seconds left to send his team to the first title game since 1989.
Now the Blue Jays are tasked with capping their improbable run against a Nemaha Central team that is a consistent winner under ninth year coach Warren Seitz but has yet to make a championship game since Nemaha Valley consolidated with former 8-Man powerhouse Baileyville B&B in 2014.
For Norton, dual-threat quarterback Kade Melvin makes the offense go behind a massive offensive line. Melvin has completed almost 60 percent of his passes this season for over 1,800 yards with 12 TDs and nine interceptions. He has also rushed for 1,1193 yards and 19 touchdowns. The aforementioned Wahlmeier, the hero of the semi-final win, has also produced more than 1,000 yards rushing this season and added eight TDs. Junior Jonah Ruder is the leader of a group of six receivers that has recorded at least 121 yards receiving on the season, with Ruder going for 629 yards on 38 catches.
Nemaha Central counters with their own potent air attack led by quarterback Dylan Schultejans. The senior has thrown for 1,675 yards with 21 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Senior running back Gavin Duryea has rushed for 799 yards and 14 touchdowns through seven games after missing much of the early part of the season to injury. Four different players have caught at least 18 passes for the Thunder.
The story of this game will likely be the ability of the Nemaha Central offensive line to handle the defensive front of the Blue Jays. Norton's trio of Judson Wiltfong, Dante Smith and Christien Hawks has recorded an incredible 44 tackles for loss this season.
After narrow early season losses to Big 7 powers Sabetha and Holton and a 1-2 start the Thunder have reeled off nine straight. Seitz's squad seems to be hitting it's stride just in time scoring 44 and 39 in wins over previously unbeaten Humboldt and last season's 2A runner-up Riley County the last two weeks.
Norton's win over Hoisington last week was among the most thrilling semi-final victories in state history and this match-up appears to feature two teams with similar skill position players. We'll give Norton the edge thanks to their group up front.
Prediction: Norton, 26 - Nemaha Central, 20
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Centralia vs. Smith Center: 1:00 p.m., Lewis Field Stadium, Fort Hays State University
It looked like the Redmen wouldn't make a third straight championship game.
Up 13-7, Plainville was driving in Smith Center territory early in the fourth quarter when Jaden Atwood made a pivotal third down tackle to set up a key fourth down for the Cardinals.
But Atwood didn't get off the ground. The All-State senior held his leg in pain an apparent knee injury ending his night.
While the injury was devastating for an already depleted team it appeared to inspire Atwood's senior teammate Trenton Colby. Following the injury timeout the Cardinals ran their fourth down play and Colby, a Smith Center defensive back, rocketed off the right edge sweeping Plainville quarterback Jordan Finnesy's leg and dropping him for a loss to give the Redmen the ball back.
The remainder of the fourth quarter was a flurry of activity and when the dust settled Colby and the Redmen emerged victorious in a 20-19 semi-final for the ages. Colby picked up key yards with his legs and completed a pair of long passes to receiver Griffin Kugler on Smith Center's final two drives. The first to set-up a Nate Hendrich seven-yard run with 9:32 left in the game to put the Redmen up 14-13. The second a 33-yard touchdown pass with 1:26 to play to answer a 42-yard Finnesy score that would give the Redmen the lead 20-19.
A Sergio Lambert interception deep in their own territory would seal the victory for the Redmen and deliver the team's third straight championship berth.
The Centralia Panthers wouldn't need such dramatics to find their way back to the first title game since a dominant 13-0 season in 2013. Facing a Jackson Heights team coached by former Smith Center quarterback Caleb Wick and a similar Wishbone scheme as the Redmen the Panthers were dominant in all phases of the game scoring on the ground, through the air and on special teams and holding the Cobras to just one touchdown in a 44-6 win.
Quarterback Kamble Haverkamp continued his stellar senior season rushing for almost 200 yards and deliveirng the Panthers a reunion of sorts 10 years after Centralia ended the Redmen's 79 game winning streak in the 2009 2-1A championship.
The loss of Atwood, and an earlier injury to standout lineman Charlie Timmons, will leave Smith Center with some young faces in key positions, but the Redmen are veterans of late season playoff football and a talented group of youngsters should help the cause.
Following the Redmen's use of the forward pass to win a game for possibly the first time in the last 40 years, the key to this match-up will likely be Smith Center's ability to throw the ball, and to a receiver other than Kugler, who regularly finds himself double covered.
This game appears destined to be closer than the blowouts the Redmen enjoyed the last two seasons and Centralia appears up to the physical component Smith Center brings to the table, but with a record 11th championship win on the line and the inspired play of Colby, the Redmen should find a way.
Prediction: Smith Center, 21 - Centralia, 18
Canton-Galva vs. St. Francis: 11:00 a.m., Fischer Field, Newton
Canton-Galva is on the verge of going wire-to-wire as the near unanimous number one team in Kansas, but the health of quarterback Landon Everett could be a factor.
The standout senior - known for his work as a volunteer firefighter off the field - sustained an injury to his throwing shoulder in last week's blowout semi-final win over Madison and while he is expected to play today it's unclear how the injury might impact his performance.
If the Eagles veteran signal-caller is limited by the injury C-G's other offensive weapons will benefit from a talented and physical offensive line.
While Everett is the offensive catalyst, sophomore receiver Tyson Struber is among the state's best players in all classes and also returned from injury a couple weeks ago after missing several games in the latter half of the regular season.
St. Francis displayed similar dominance in their semi-final match-up with Wichita County and has rolled to a 12-0 record with an early season two-point win over Hoxie their only challenge on the year.
Indian quarterback Brady Dinkel runs behind a similarly physical offensive line and is similar to Everett in his physical running style, but may not be equal in his ability to throw.
While focus is on the quarterbacks, the two teams are equally dominant on the defensive side of the ball, both recording at least seven shutout victories on the season - C-G with seven, Sainty with eight - a rarity in 8-Man football.
In a match-up of two similar teams, both who pride themselves on physical play, we'll take the one with the healthiest quarterback.
Prediction: St. Francis, 42 - Canton-Galva, 36
Axtell vs. Osborne: 3:00 p.m., Fischer Field, Newton
It was the best kept secret of the playoffs.
Thought to be done for the season following an injury in a second round playoff win against Sylvan-Lucas, Osborne's Darrien Holloway trotted onto the field last Saturday against Central Christian and rolled up nearly 200 yards rushing as Steve Tiernan sent the Bulldogs to the championship game in just his first year back as head coach.
It was a shocking site to see Holloway play after he posted on social media that his season was over and for the Bulldogs, winners of titles in 2013 under Tiernan, and 2016 under coach Cullen Riner, it could be just the thing they need to deliver another championship after finishing as state runner-up to Hanover a year ago.
For Axtell this season has been the culmination of years of hard work all focused on fielding a team that could knock Hanover off their lofty perch. In Week 6 the Eagles overcame an injury to standout quarterback Quinn Buessing to put an end to the Wildcats 8-Man record 43-game winning streak.
While Axtell lost a heartbreaker to a talented Frankfort team the next week on the game's final play the Eagles reeled off four straight victories and proved their win over Hanover was no fluke by beating the Wildcats a second time this season in last week's semi-final.
Prior to the Week 6 victory the Eagles hadn't beaten Hanover since 2005.
Buessing is one of 8-Man football's all-time great quarterbacks and junior lineman Kolby Talbot is a beast up front. Following the graduation of record-breaking receiver Hunter Koch freshman Isaac Detweiler and senior Derek Buessing have emerged as the team's top targets.
The move of senior Steele Wolters from guard to quarterback has paid great dividends for Osborne and the emergence of Lance Kaser and Evan Garman - Garman did not play football last year - has helped solidify the Bulldog defense.
Coach Eric Detweiler has done a masterful job of developing the Axtell program with limited numbers and the addition of former Tiernan player and assistant Mitch Engelken could be a factor in the game's final outcome, but the return of Holloway and the championship game experience of Tiernan gives Osborne the edge.
Prediction: Osborne, 38 - Axtell, 30
Good luck to all the teams playing in today's State Championship games. Regardless of the outcome, you are completing an exceptional season and remain as one of just 16 high school teams in Kansas still playing on this final Saturday of November.