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The Pivot Players for the four largest classes in Kansas

Frontenac has had a solid cast of players step up in 2019. Photo: Derek Livingston
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Nov 14, 2019

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By CONOR NICHOLL w/ Chet Kuplen 

For the quarterfinals, we are looking at one to two “pivot” players/position groups, in some cases more. These players are generally not the stars or get the headlines of their respective teams, and in many cases, are not the QB/RB/WR, nor have a significant amount of collegiate offers.

The story below does not feature Topeka’s Ky Thomas, Prairie View’s Hunter Boone, Tonganoxie’s Cooper Cunningham, Bishop Miege's Brison Cobbins or Blue Valley’s Jake Wolff.

However, these players listed below are key to their teams advancing to the quarterfinals – and if their teams are to advance Friday, they will likely need to play well.

The Pivot Players for the four largest classes:

Class 3A

Frontenac (10-0) – Frontenacwas outside of the top-5 in Class 3A for most of the season. The Raiders are up to third ranked in Class 3A. The Raiders have permitted just 71 total points and are one of just three undefeated 3A squads along with Andale and Prairie View. The Raiders don't really have a star, while quarterback Jake Beckmann, also an SIK all-state pitcher in baseball, could get that nod as he gets most of the deserved headlines, Senior running back/strong safety Ryan Raio and senior running back/safety Alex Johnson have enjoyed big years that could be your so called pivot players of this years team. However, Frontenac really deserves more than just those two as pivot players as Senior offensive lineman Caleb Hemby and Kaleb Kroenke, a ranked lengthy wrestler at 6-foot-3, in 4A going into this season, have also had breakout seasons as well as Cale Bridwell at reciever. Kolby Bevins and Buddy Sexton round out the offensive line starters along with sophomore Cruz Blair, likely the top offensive lineman in the CNC this season. Defensively, the Raiders start four defensive lineman that are sophomores, one being Blair, another an FBS rising prospect in Landon Dean (6'4" 220) another in Collin McCartney (2nd on the team in tackles) who is enjoying one of the better years in 3A at DE and fellow classmate Lane Franklin. The Raiders are led in tackles this season by senior Drew Bollinger who is one of the best linebackers in the CNC. Brant Chance, Ty Gates and Trey Strahan have also had a solid year in the secondary. It's hard to key on any Raider as they've all had some solid seasons.

Topeka Hayden (9-1) – Desmond Purnell is a key player on both sides of the ball, while senior lineman Andrew Schmidtlein, a Washburn baseball commit, has helped anchor both lines as a returning starter. Hayden has allowed just 7.3 points per contest, fifth-best in 3A. Last season, Hayden was 7-3 with 10.5 points allowed a contest.

Prairie View (10-0) – While players like Scott, Boone and Schweer get much of the deserved headlines, its much more than that trio. Prairie View has enjoyed its best season in 49 years. Senior Chase Bloodgood and sophomore Colton McCammon has led the defense behind Boone. They have combined for more than 115 tackles. Last year Bloodgood had 22 tackles and McCammon had 10. PV has only allowed seven points per game after 15 points allowed a contest last year. Fullback Otis Jacobs is also one of the more underrated Buffaloes this season. 

Perry-Lecompton (7-3) – Perry-Lecompton has capably replaced Dalton Kellum, along with its top-six pass catchers from 2018. The Kaws have posted back-to-back 7-3 years. P-L has enjoyed excellent backfield play from quarterback William Welch (1,835 passing yards) and Thad Metcalfe (1,146 rushing), a well-known duo. But the Kaws’ receiving corps has also made significant strides. In ’18, P-L averaged 127 passing yards, 13.3 yards per catch and 16 receiving scores. This fall, the Kaws are at 189 passing yards a game, 14 yards a reception and 22 receiving TDs. Five juniors and one senior have between 12 and 31 catches, 184 and 513 receiving yards and two and five receiving touchdowns. Junior Dawson Williams paces the group with 31 catches for 513 yards and 21 yards per catch. He is tied for first with five receiving scores. P-L averaged 6.56 yards per play last year and is at 6.53 this fall.

Cheney (8-2) – While running back Riley Petz has received much of the attention, quarterback Zac Block has posted a strong year for the Cardinals, a 2-7 team in 2018. In districts, Cheney lost to No. 1 Andale, 29-22, easily the Indians’ closest game of the fall. In the contest, Cheney passed for 200 yards, including 11 of 17 for 112 yards with three scores against two interceptions from Block. Cheney outgained Andale, 200-62, through the air and led 7-0 after the first quarter.

Scott City (8-2) – Scott City has again produced an excellent defense, but the Beavers’ postseason chances likely hinge on quarterback Parker Gooden and the offense. Gooden had started the previous two years, though switched to running back this fall. SC has since switched him back to quarterback. The Beavers have won three in a row after a rare two-game losing streak.

Andale (10-0) – Eli Rowland is part of a well-balanced Indian squad. Last week, he picked off four passes in a 49-0 win versus Clearwater. He also rushed for two touchdowns.

Beloit (7-3) – Beloit has maintained consistent offensive showings in the three-year Brad Gober era. The Trojans have averaged 31.8, 29.3 and 31.1 points per game. Beloit’s defense, though, has enjoyed another improvement. In ’16, Beloit allowed 33.6 points per contest. Gober led a decrease to 18.2 in ’17. Beloit went slightly up to 21.3 in ’18, though is back down to 15.3 this year. It’s the best scoring defense for the program since the 12-1 team in 2012 allowed just 13.4 points per game. Beloit’s offense has received plenty of attention with the return of quarterback Hudson Gray after injury last fall. However, the defense has forced 18 turnovers, five more than last year. Senior Carson Cox has rushed for 996 yards and leads the team by a wide margin with 88 tackles. He has recorded seven TFLs and picked off two passes. Freshman Braden Burks has stepped in with 43 tackles, four for loss.

Class 4A

Tonganoxie (10-0) – While the Chieftains have a 2,000-yard season from running back Cooper Cunningham and returned lineman Cole Sample, Connor Searcy is back from missing all of 2018 with injury. Searcy has 87 tackles, 37 more than Sample, who ranks second on the squad. Searcy has 12 tackles for loss, two behind Sample for the team high. Tonganoxie is 10-0 for the first time in school history. The Chieftains have permitted just 10.6 points per contest after 20.7 last year. Tonganoxie has a three-win improvement.

Bishop Miege (8-2) – Miege is loaded with talent, but Ty’Quez Agnew-Whitten has again stood out on defense for the five-time defending state champion Stags. Agnew-Whitten recorded a pair of interceptions, both in the first quarter, along five solo tackles and three assisted in last week’s 57-16 home win versus Bonner Springs. He recently received interest from Kentucky. Agnew-Whitten delivered a scoop-and-score earlier this season.

Paola (10-0) – Paola has improved off its 9-2 record last year. The Panther run-heavy unit returned seven starters on both sides, including senior linemen Mikey Stribling, Clay Essex, Javier Castillo and Bull Talcott. The line has helped Paola overcome injuries to quarterback Garrett Williams and running back Connor Hasz. Williams was hurt in last week’s 42-14 win versus Piper. Hasz has battled an ankle injury. Talcott recorded a key tackle for loss. They helped Paola have a 95-yard rusher, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard passer in the win.

Chanute (9-1) – Chanute is well-known for four-year starting quarterback Ty Bowman. However, Briley Peavy scored a late touchdown to beat Louisburg, 30-21. The Blue Comets are 9-1 and have tied the furthest advancement in school history. Peavy has affected the game in many ways and has scored in all three phases.

McPherson (10-0) – McPherson, who much of the talk and hype has been on Thrash, Hoppes, Labertew and Stufflbean for good reason, has never been to a state championship game and looks to tie ’87, ’08, ’17 and ’18 for the best finishes in school annals. Junior Aaron Powell has led a non-senior heavy receiving corps with 45 catches for 667 yards and six TDs. He has nearly tripled his receiving total from last fall when he had nine catches for 229 yards and three scores.

Arkansas City (4-6) – Arkansas City is in the state quarterfinals with a sub-.500 record for the second straight year. AC defeated Winfield, 13-3, last week after a 20-18 loss to Winfield in Week 1. It’s rare for a freshman quarterback to play a key role, but Ark City is doing so with Gabe Welch. He has completed 13 of 17 passes for 143 yards. Braiden Mattocks delivered 35 carries for 171 yards and two scores.

Andover Central (9-1) – Andover Central has enjoyed a four-win improvement. AC has plenty of star power, including Trey Degarmo, Xavier Bell, Matthew Macy and Shomari Parnell. AC has forced 25 turnovers, including 17 interceptions. The Jaguars have received a standout year with junior Jacob Rees with 56 tackles, seven TFLs and an interception. Last year, the Jaguars forced 18 total touchdowns (13 INTs). Rees had 46 tackles with one TFL last year.

Buhler (8-2) – Buhler has historically been known for its 2,000-yard running backs and great lines behind longtime coach Steve Warner. Last year, the Crusaders had zero returning varsity starters and finished 5-5. The Crusaders have enjoyed a three-win improvement, including three straight victories: 26-10 at Winfield, 19-7 versus Wellington and 24-0 against Mulvane. Sophomore quarterback Bradley Neill has led a strong passing attack. Notably against Wellington, he completed six of 12 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in a game that the Crusaders had more passing yards than rushing. Neill has eclipsed 950 passing yards. Buhler has a pair of close losses to McPherson (21-14) and Hays High (17-7). In those games, Neill has tossed eight interceptions. However, he’s kept turnovers to a minimum in other contests, including a solid 118 yards passing with a score in the Mulvane victory. In the win, Buhler had 181 passing and 121 rushing yards.

Class 5A

De Soto (10-0) – Junior Tyson Priddy has enjoyed a breakout season in several facets for the Wildcats. He leads with 18 catches for 446 yards and nine scores and is first with 149 return yards. As well, Priddy has 43 rushes for 376 yards and eight TDs. Last season, Priddy had 65 offensive touches for eight touchdowns.

Mill Valley (7-3) – Mill Valley had a brand-new set of wide receivers this season. The Jaguars’ top-four receivers have been 14 and 21 catches. Junior Jacob Hartman leads in receptions, while junior Ty Reishus is tops in receiving yards (446) and receiving scores (six). Six players have caught a receiving TD, and just one is a senior. Overall, the Jaguars have averaged 168 passing yards a game, 17.9 yards per catch and 19 receiving scores. Last year, the 7-4 Jaguars went 178 passing yards a game, 12.6 yards per catch and 12 receiving TDs.

St. Thomas Aquinas (9-0) – Junior Danny Carroll (6-1, 245) has shined this year on a team full of Division I prospects. Carroll was not a returning starter. He has helped Aquinas extend its winning streak to 21 games. Carroll has posted a 320 bench, 445 squat, 315 hang clean and 4.9 40-yard dash. Carroll has moved to the line this season and lists his positions as inside linebacker and center. Carroll has helped the Saints continue success after the Roberts brothers – both D1 prospects on the offensive and defensive line – moved to Texas.

Blue Valley Southwest (3-7) – BVSW has defeated back-to-back KCAL teams and features arguably the state’s best specialist in senior Dominik Stadlman. He has kicked the ball 117 times this fall, a very high number. He has eight touchbacks on 37 attempts. On 49 punts, he has averaged 35.7 a kick with eight inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. He is also 21 of 24 on extra points and four of seven on field goals with a long of 49 yards. As well, he has seen time as a receiver, which is rare for a large-class kicker, with 14 catches for 133 yards. In the two playoff victories, he is a combined eight of nine on extra points and two of two on field goals.

Wichita Northwest (10-0) – There’s a lot of known names for Northwest, notably with quarterback Reagan Jones and its much improved defense. However, offensive lineman Tristin Reasoner earned the team’s offensive player of the game honor last week. A returning starter for the No. 2-ranked Grizzlies, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Reasoner helped NW defeat Great Bend, 48-14. Coach Steve Martin said the offensive line was “huge” with 534 total yards and no penalties.

Bishop Carroll (8-2) – Tight end Max Bullinger (6-3, 200) played well in Clay Cundiff’s stead last year. Cundiff was a Wisconsin signing. Bullinger has proven matchup problems for teams, including a first-half touchdown reception in last week’s 35-7 win versus Andover.

Maize South (10-0) – Maize South has plenty of known pieces en route to its first 10-0 start in school history and a four-win improvement off last fall. Maize South is 16-1 in its last 17 contests. Brandon Bowles, though, has not received the attention of some of his teammates. Bowles is the Mavericks’ leading tackler and second on interceptions and fumble recoveries. He also started as a sophomore last year. Coach Brent Pfeifer called Bowles “very gifted at reading and understanding offenses.”

Maize (9-1) – Maize, a semifinalist in 2018, had to replace Top 11 all-classes selection Caleb Grill at quarterback. The Eagles had other key pieces in place to make a big run, such as running back Caden Cox, wide receiver Prevon Christon and defensive lineman Kyle Haas. Senior Camden Jurgensen, though, moved from wide receiver to quarterback and delivered an impressive year. He has completed 106 of 163 passes (65 percent) for 1,283 yards with an 18/4 TD/INT ratio. He has also ran 84 times for 440 yards and five scores.

Class 6A

Blue Valley North (5-5) – While BVN has plenty of known names such as quarterback Henry Martin, receiver Shawn Hendershot, and FBS prospect Dasan McCullough, linebackers Nick Hafford and Tim Foster have again enjoyed standout years. Hafford leads the team with 44 solo tackles. Overall, he has 96 stops with three sacks. Foster has recorded 64 tackles with five TFLs. BVN has permitted just 21.8 points per game. In its state title winning team in ’17, Blue Valley North allowed 23.2 points a contest. On its state runner-up squad last year, BVN has permitted 25 a game.

Blue Valley (7-3) – Blue Valley took a rare drop to 4-5 last fall, though has a three-win improvement this year. Junior Chase Jans has led with 125 carries for 935 yards and nine rushing scores, all team-highs. Overall, BV has averaged 149 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry and 20 rushing scores. Jans is a possible Major League Baseball draft pick and had previously elected not to play high school football. In the offseason, Jans decided to come out for football and is expected to play next fall, said coach Allen Terrell. As well, Jans has lost just one fumble all season. BV has committed only 11 turnovers and averaged 12 yards per point, an efficient offense. Last year, Blue Valley struggled with injuries, notably to key players Alex Totta and Eric Olson and had no player with more than 554 rushing yards. BV recorded just 12 rushing scores and had 15.2 yards per point. Olson had 261 rushing yards before he was lost for the season after two games. BV committed 18 turnovers last fall.

Olathe North (8-2) – Arland Bruce IV had more than 1,200 rushing and passing yards in ’18 as ON’s dual threat quarterback. This year, the Eagles have used him more as a running back. He has 266 carries for 2,039 yards and 36 scores, along with 345 passing and four touchdowns. Senior Caleb Nelson did not play early and missed some time in midseason. However, he did play the last two weeks. Nelson has helped ON’s offense become even more explosive with 63 of 103 passing for 904 yards with nine scores against zero interceptions. He has been highly consistent with at least a 91 QB rating in every game. Chris McCartney is in fifth year as head coach. ON has already set highs for his era for passing attempts (192), passing yards (1,625). The Eagles have averaged 436 yards per game.

Blue Valley West (7-3) – Blue Valley West features one of the state’s better storylines in the return of Riley Cummings. He has cleared 1,000 rushing yards after he missed the better part of the last two falls with injuries. BVW junior Andrew Bradley has been a lock down defender with 24 tackles, five passes defended and an interception. BVW has permitted just 21.2 points per game against the second-hardest schedule in 6A, according to Prep Power Index. The Jaguars went 3-6 and permitted 34.4 points per contest last year. BVW held Mill Valley to seven of 11 passing for 100 yards and a score, and limited St. James to 10 of 19 passing for 166 yards with a TD and an interception. Blue Valley threw for just 83 yards versus West. Bradley has also helped out offensively with 39 carries for 297 yards and three scores.

Derby (10-0) – Derby is on a 23-game winning streak and its first team defense has allowed just two touchdowns all year. The punt team has not given up a single punt return yard. Linebacker Jack Hileman leads with 65 tackles, and defensive lineman Tyler Dorsey has 64 stops. While Dorsey and OL Alex Conn (Nebraska commit) are more well-known, coach Brandon Clark said safety Tanner Knox is a top-11 all classes type player, and Kevin Washington is the best offensive lineman. The line features Conn, sophomore Jonas Vickers, Washington, senior Phillip Icenhour and sophomore Alex Key. They have helped Derby average 41 points by halftime.

Manhattan (9-1) – Longtime former Manhattan coach Lew Lane passed away in the offseason. Lane coached the Indians from 1976-1997, never had a losing record and won a 1988 state championship, according to Kansas Football History. Current coach Joe Schartz said Lane was a “was a big supporter of the program.” One of Lane’s sayings was “Remember who you are and where you came from.”

“We are still proud of that today, and we hope to carry that tradition that he started,” Schartz said.

Manhattan has kept great success with Schartz, who stands at 92-22 in 11 seasons. The Indians are well-known with quarterback Dayne Aschenbrenner and K-State commit Sam Shields on the offensive line. As well, BJ Young switched from defensive back to running back. As the year has progressed, Young has come back to DB and played some on both sides of the ball. Manhattan, though, has averaged 45.1 points per game, its highest single season average from ’06 to current. Senior left tackle Jalen Bowles (6-1, 195) is smaller than most, but Schartz noted his speed and competitiveness. Bowles has played opposite Shields on the line.

Junction City (8-2) – Russell Wilkey has enjoyed an excellent dual threat season for the Bluejays. He has delivered 17 offensive touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards of total offense. In JC’s last-second win against Topeka High at Hummer Park, he accounted for five offensive scores – at least one passing, rushing and receiving.

Topeka High (9-1) –Since the summer, Topeka has been in the strong consideration as a Class 6A favorite. The Trojans returned its Division I backfield of Da’Vonshai Harden and Ky Thomas. However, the big difference came on defense, which coach Walt Alexander said might be the best in his 14 years. Topeka has delivered with just 18.7 points per game, down from 23.9 last year. Senior Uciph McDaniel, listed at defensive end/outside linebacker, is one of several key transfers for the Trojans. He has received five offers, including from Washburn this week.