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Sports in Kansas: Under the Radar Football Teams/Players

Jefferson West is one of the best defenses in Kansas.
By: Sports in Kansas - Chet Kuplen
Oct 17, 2019

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This week’s statewide story looks at one team, several players/position groups that have flown under the radar in 2019. By and large, the teams mentioned below are not ranked in their respective classifications, though are still having impactful individual seasons. Note: This is not a story on under-recruited players as we will have that at a later date as their are way too many of those to list. Conor Nicholl and Chet Kuplen take a look at whats going on statewide below

Moscow undefeated in six-man with defense, running game

In 2018, Moscow finished 4-5 in its first season of six-man football. The Wildcats lost three games by 14 points or fewer, including a 46-43 loss to Ashland, an 8-1 squad. Brett Harp, currently in his 18th year at Moscow, had never coached six-man before. He served as Moscow’s head football coach for the ’08 team that went to the sub-state title game and also coached basketball and track.

“There were a lot of times we were writing stuff down on the sideline,” Harp said.

A season later, Moscow put in a great summer in the weight room and gained size, speed and strength. The Wildcats’ six-man knowledge has improved, and Moscow features excellent team speed. Multiple six-man teams, notably Weskan, have used the pass, Moscow is a run-heavy squad.

While quarterback Colton McCarty and undefeated Bird City-Cheylin have garnered a lot of attention, Moscow has also opened 6-0. Cheylin plays in the North Division, and Moscow in the South, so the two don’t play each other.

Moscow and its stable of playmakers are part of a group of standouts who have received limited attention through the first half of the 2019 season. Moscow is 3-0 in the South and plays host to Pawnee Heights (4-2, 3-0) for the South championship this week.

“Everybody pulls for everybody,” Harp said. “So we don’t even worry about what anybody else is doing. We know we have a job to do.”

In addition to Moscow and Cheylin’s 6-0 records, Ashland, Natoma, Pawnee Heights and Weskan are all 4-2 and Golden Plains is 3-3. Moscow averages 42.5 points per game and permits 21. It’s the second-best scoring defense behind Cheylin (15.5).

“That speed and flying to the ball, somebody gets somebody held up a little bit, got that speed to go help him out,” Harp said. “It’s all a team thing.”

However, Cheylin (58.8), Ashland (53.3), Weskan (51) and Golden Plains (49.3) all average more per game than Moscow. Natoma stands at 40.8, and Pawnee Heights is at 37 points a contest.

“Control the clock,” Harp said. “We are a little different than the other (six)-man teams. That’s one of the reasons why we are not scoring 60 or 70 points a game. We are not allowing the other teams to score either.”

Moscow quarterback Gerardo Garcia suffered a broken hand. He missed three games and has since come back to play fullback. Adan Granillo has been bothered by a knee problem and has shifted to quarterback. Austin Snyder has moved to tailback and has done some passing. Overall, Snyder has 1,004 rushing yards, while Granillo has around 700.

“We are still pretty old school on just liking lead plays and sweeps,” Harp said. “We have got a lot of speed, so if we can get our guys out and get them going, we are pretty good with that. We don’t do a whole lot of passing unless we just feel like we have to. We tried a little bit last week, and we are just not real comfortable with it right now.”

Moscow is 2-0 in games within 12 points with a 45-33 victory against Golden Plains in Week 2. The Wildcats held 1,000-yard rusher Harley Weese to 4 of 16 passing for 101 yards, and 20 carries for a season-low 90 yards.

“Our team speed is amazing,” Harp said. “We don’t have a slow guy on the team all the way from freshmen up, and we are pretty good hitters. We like to hit, and we just put ourselves in position, try to be disciplined, and as long as we can do that, we seem like we can corral those fast guys and use our speed to take care of them.”

In Week 3, Moscow earned a 30-27 win versus Weskan. It marked the fewest points for Weskan, the defending state champion, since Oct. 6, 2017.

Snyder has picked off four passes, including one at the 3-yard line on a tipped pass with just over a minute to go to secure the Weskan victory. It ended the Coyotes’ eight-game winning streak. Weskan features standout quarterback Jace Mackley, the state’s all-classes leader with 1,701 passing yards.

“That was just a spectacular game team-wise,” Harp said. “We had good pressure on the quarterback all day, and we knew we had to, because that kid is one stud, and then we had to have people covering their ends or their receivers. And as a team, we just did it that day.”

Sophomore Angel Granados is the starting center/nose guard and has shown significant improvement. Junior Ryan Penrod is an end/defensive back. Junior Edwin Rojo is an all-purpose offensive player and is at linebacker/end.

Simon Gogniat is a foreign exchange student from Argentina. He has rugby experience and plays some end. Gogniat is an excellent kicker and has delivered many touchbacks – his main Instagram photo is him about to kickoff for Moscow. Penrod and Gogniat have played defensive back. Trenton Kennedy and Garcia are the defensive ends. Garcia leads the team by a wide margin in tackles.

“That’s helped us a bunch, too,” Harp said. “Putting the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. Everybody likes to kick the short ball and let them have the ball up on the 40-yard line or 35, and we try to kick it in the end zone, so we can make them have a longer field.”

Braden Rucker/Hayden Mead, Eureka

Eureka had to play all their games on the road last season because of a tornado causing massive damage to the football complex. This year, Eureka finally returned home in Week 4 and has already enjoyed a win improvement from ‘18. The Tornadoes are 4-2, 3-0 in District 5. On Friday, Eureka will face Belle Plaine (6-0, 3-0) for the District 5 championship.

Eureka is well-known for three players. The Tornadoes feature senior wide receiver Zach Hare, a first team all-state pick in 2018, along with junior running back/linebackers Brennan Lowe and Brent Escareno. Lowe and Escareno were key wrestlers on Eureka’s 3-2-1A state championship team last winter, the first athletic title in school history.

However, junior lineman Braden Rucker (6-foot-3, 225) is a possible college prospect. He starts at left tackle and defensive end. Coach Jason Nichols believes Rucker is a NCAA Division II, “D1 possibly” caliber player and hopefully will start to get looks.

“He is that good,” Nichols said.

Junior Hayden Mead has returned to the game, been a huge surprise, and delivered a big season with eight catches for 292 yards and five scores. Hare has collected 26 receptions for 379 yards and five TDs. Last week, Mead had three catches for three touchdowns in a 45-0 win versus Neodesha. Mead is expected to play quarterback in ’20.

“He has been a huge, huge playmaker for us,” Nichols said. “He is great on defense.”

Kash Travnichek, Ellsworth – 3 defensive touchdowns

Ellsworth has emerged as a big surprise with a 5-1 season after a 2-7 year in ’18. The Bearcats lost two games by a combined three points and another by 11 in ’18. This fall, Ellsworth has a 27-20 victory at Republic County, a 21-12 win at Minneapolis and, most notably, a 14-13 road win versus Phillipsburg last week under third-year coach Josh Homolka.

Entering this year, Ellsworth senior slot back/outside linebacker Kash Travnichek had seen time more as a kick returner and part-time running back. However, in the first five contests, he recorded 32 tackles (24 solo). In the last two years, he had just 63 total stops.

He has picked off four passes, including a pair of pick-sixes, and recovered a fumble that he raced 99 yards for a touchdown in the Republic County win. Against Minneapolis, Travnichek had a goal line interception to seal the victory.

Braxton Harrison, Cimarron

Cimarron stands at 6-0, 3-0 in Class 2A, District 7. The Bluejays are well-known for running back Tate Seabolt and fullback Hunter Renick. Senior Payton Marshall had a memorable game in last Friday’s 17-14 home win versus rival Lakin.

Sophomore quarterback Braxton Harrison has also emerged as a key player. He tossed two touchdown passes in the win, and a 16-yard pass on the final drive to set up the game-winning field goal just inside the final two minutes.

“He went out there and he showed,” Renick said.

Harrison is 18 of 48 passing for 398 yards with seven touchdowns against one interception for a 98.8 rating. He has also rushed 32 times for 174 yards and two scores. Harrison stands sixth in Kansas in passing among 11-man sophomores, according to MaxPreps. He is second in passer rating behind Rossville’s Torrey Horak. Cimarron is at Lyons (1-5) this week.

Wichita Northwest offensive line

Northwest stands at 6-0 and is ranked second in Class 5A. While the Grizzlies have a much publicized defensive turnaround and quarterback Reagan Jones has again put up big numbers, the Grizzly offensive line has put together a strong season.

Three backs have between 417 and 643 yards. Northwest has averaged 8.5 yards per play. Last year, the Grizzlies went 12-1 with 2,127-yard rusher Breece Hall, who is currently excelling as a true freshman at Iowa State. Northwest averaged 9.2 yards per play.

Senior right guard Javon Wheeler (5-10, 240) is a three-year starter and an all-Class 5A pick in ’18. Senior Jacob Amy (5-11, 195) has been a two-year starter at center. Senior left tackle Tristin Reasoner (6-3, 260) is a two-year starter. Sophomore Kevyan Stallings stands at 6-2, 245 at left guard.

“Is really, really starting to figure out himself in the weight room,” Martin said.

Northwest has a rotation at right tackle.

“We feel like we have about seven deep on the offensive line in case something bad would happen that we can plug and play right now,” Martin said. “It’s just one of those things, it’s the next man up and our guys have embraced that.”

Gaven Haselhorst, Hays High

Hays High stands at 2-4, though 6-1, 210-pound junior Gaven Haselhorst has emerged as a terrific player at defensive end. Haselhorst has 67 tackles, second in the Western Athletic Conference to his teammate Gavin Meyers’ 82.

The Indians have the top-four players in tackles for loss with Haselhorst (16), and Meyers, Da’Vontai Robinson and Trey Adams all with 10, according to Indian broadcaster/conference statistician Dustin Armbruster. Hays High has allowed 28.5 points and 338 yards a game in the second season with coach Tony Crough. Last season, HHS permitted 32.4 points and 341 yards a game.

Meyers had the most tackles among HHS returners with 49, and Logan Schulte led the team with 10 TFLs. Hays High is at Buhler (5-1) this week.

Josh Janas, Garden City

Janas elected to play football this season and ranks second in the WAC with 671 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Garden City (2-4, 2-0 conference) plays host to rival Dodge City (6-0, 2-0) in the annual Hatchet Game. The winner will clinch at least a share of the league crown.

Jefferson West

The defense has been outstanding this year and they are very close to being undefeated. They limited a high-flying offensive attack of Hayden to just 13 points. They’ve allowed 16 points all season. This is one of the top defenses in Kansas this season. Hayden did whatever they wanted to do to some 6A/5A teams and they couldn’t do that against the 3A Tigers of Jefferson West. They’ll certainly be a factor in the 3A postseason with the solid defensive play.

Ty Lindeman of SM Northwest

Lindeman is on pace to do some serious damage this season as he has 907 yards in six games for the much-improved SM Northwest squad. Ty Black and Lindeman have had a great connection for head coach Bo Black this season. Lindeman is on his way to an all-state season in 6A with the numbers he is putting up.

Tyler Bowden of Free State

We don’t hear a lot of statewide talk on Tyler Bowden but he has been one of the best backs in 6A this season for first year head coach Kevin Stewart. He went over 1,000 yards rushing last week as he had 34 carries for 216 yards versus Olathe South. While they do have some highly regarded Division I talent this season, don’t forget about Bowden who has been a big-time playmaker for the Firebirds.

Frankfort

Frankfort isn’t into the ranking’s but they are one win from being so. They have a balanced three-headed rushing attack this season that could really be hard for teams to key on. They get Axtell this week in a battle of two 6-0 teams. Axtell, Hanover and Frankfort are all in the same district. We think Frankfort is a little bit better than people are giving them credit for this season. We shall see on Friday night.

Maize South

South (6-0) has some notable all-state talent, we've previewed a lot of it on features leading up to the season. They are still yet to get some statewide love in 5A. Their schedule has been pretty solid too, not when compared to an EKL team or maybe that of Wichita Northwest/Carroll but its been decent. They do have a solid win over Andover Central as well and their high powered offensive air attack. The defense is one of the best in 5A. Goddard has struggled it's no secret and thats whos on this weeks schedule for Maize South. It's possible the Mavericks could enter the playoffs at 8-0 and be unranked. Maize, Wichita Nortwhest, Maize South all are 6-0 and all located right by eachother, also throw in nearby Carroll at 4-2. You have some very good fotoball in one area. All mentioned will very much be contenders in the 5A West.

Shomari Parnell, Matthew Macy, Xavier Bell, Trey DeGarmo

Yes they are ranked but they are still flying a little under the radar. These guys have put the Andover Central program back on the map this season and to think they lost some pretty highly regarded transfers in the past couple of seasons to be this good. AC will certainly be a contender on the 4A West despite not a lot of people statewide talking about them. Yes it is Bishop Miege and everyone else. Well, we need to start talking about everyone else and AC is on the short list of those teams.

Wamego

Wamego (3A) gets talked about a lot and they are very improved this season. The impact of Isiah Childs is immediate and that of Taybor Vetter. They aren't far off from being undefeated. We really feel like three teams in their district could be semifinal/state championship game contenders in Sabetha, Wamego and Marysville. Coming into the year you knew Sabetha and Marysville but we aren't very sure anyone really took Wamego that seriously. We'll know more tomorrow against Sabetha, but they may have what it takes to make a deep playoff run. 

Norton

Norton sometimes may be a little more highly regarded than they have finished, now we feel it’s the other way around. Yes, they are 4-2 but they’ve won their last four games and should be taken seriously this year. Kade Melvin has played great so far this season and is one of the more underrated 2A players. Judson Wiltfong is one of the most underrated recruits in Kansas at 6’5” 225 pounds and is near the state leaders in sacks this season. Their losses are to two 1A powers in competitive games (Plainville, Smith Center) in the first two weeks. They knocked off last years 2A champ Phillipsburg already. Nobody seems to be talking about them in 2A and they should be.

Deceiving Records

While this could be considered underrated most people know that some teams just have bad records because they play very good teams. 6A Blue Valley North (2-4), 5A Mill Valley (3-3) & 5A St. James Academy are all more than capable teams that are .500 or below that have an opportunity to compete for state titles. Why ? They play in the best league in the state and see championship caliber opponents just about every week. We are very repetitive of this but it has held up to what we have observed the last few seasons. See Mill Valley 2016 and BV North 2017, 2018. All finished with four losses and all played for a state title, with two being state title wins.

Andover is much better than their record may show. Well I guess we should re-word that and say their defense is good enough for them to be a really good team, however the offense hasn’t produced enough to keep them in games. They’ve only allowed 63 points all year. This is a scary team to play in 5A that doesn’t allow many points if they can ever get a big night offensively.

Records can also be deceiving the other way too. There are some 6-0 teams out there that have yet to play in big-time competition. Not to take anything away from their solid starts but for some teams seasons will get much tougher. We shall see if Southeast Cherokee in 2A (6-0) is the real deal with games against Riverton and Humboldt the next two weeks. Belle Plaine is also a surprise at 6-0 and will have their toughest test Friday against Eureka. However the real hard part of the schedule for them will be their playoffs. Did their schedule prepare them? We do know one thing they are in unfamiliar territory so a big shoutout to them for an undefeated start.

Riley County sits at 4-2 and something tells us they are much better. They have added some pieces back to their roster they didn’t have early on and have now won the last three games after two losses in week two and three. Yes, those losses are to two very good teams in Centralia and Silver Lake but since the Rossville game, the Falcons have been clicking. Garrett Harmison is a playmaker at quarterback that helped lead his team to a runner-up finish last year. Deon Barnes has emerged as a running back while Avery Brokenicky and Trey Harmison lead the receiving corps. Steve Wagner is a veteran and he will have his team ready come playoff time in 2A.

Nemaha Central (4-2) doesn’t get a lot of talk either because of their two losses. Those losses are to Sabetha, back to back champs in 3A, by seven in week one and in week three to Holton. Since then, they’ve won there in a row. Should we start looking at the Thunder in 2A? They are one of the best coached teams in Kansas by head coach Warren Seitz. The talent level may have dropped off a little from where they were two years ago but they have some competitors who bring it every Friday night.

Beloit  (3A) just knocked off Scott City. They were very highly regarded coming into the year and played their best game of the season on Friday night. We cant label a team what they do early on and maybe Beloit is a product of that. They have a very solid senior class with a lot of playmakers. Carson Cox, Vincent Palen, Hudson Gray lead the way on offense while Creighton Johnson anchors the line play. This is a much better 4-2 team than you may think and that was proven last week.