v Increased passing game in 2020 - Sports in Kansas
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Increased passing game in 2020

Tonganoxie is looking for a big week against Bishop Miege.
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Nov 12, 2020

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The top-50 passing teams in 11-man this season have thrown for 158 yards per game compared to 150 yards per game a season ago. Teams are also completing 56 percent this season compared to 54 percent last season.

Although known for their running back, Can Tongie's imrpoved passing offense beat Miege, other 11-man passing notes.

By CONOR NICHOLL

Tonganoxie senior quarterback Blake Poje played receiver as a freshman and sophomore. The Chieftains ran out of quarterbacks at the junior varsity level, and Poje switched positions.

Tonganoxie knew Poje could throw, and he stepped in as the starting signal caller last fall. Poje completed 110 of 196 passes for 1,743 yards with 18 scores against eight interceptions.

“He had a super year,” Chieftain coach Al Troyer said.

The Chieftains finished 10-1 as Cooper Cunningham rushed for a school record 2,124 yards. It marked the most wins for Tonganoxie in a single season. The Chieftains fell, 54-10, in a Class 4A home quarterfinal playoff contest to Bishop Miege. The game was tied at seven after the first quarter.

The Stags cruised to their sixth straight state title. Tonganoxie tied its furthest playoff advancement in school history with the ’75, ’92 and ’95 years.

This fall, Tonganoxie returned Poje and senior end Dallas Bond. The Chieftains have incorporated senior running back Tyler Bowden and senior linebacker/end Branden Martin. Bowden was a first team all-state 6A pick from nearby Lawrence Free State, and Martin has twice collected first team all-state 4A as a K.C. Piper linebacker. Both moved to Tonganoxie, part of many players that switch schools from coronavirus uncertainty in the summer.

“They were both bona fide moves,” Troyer said. “They both move and live in Tongie, and that was a blessing to us. Unless you move to Tongie, it’s not going to happen, and they both moved into the school district, and it’s been great ever since.”

Bowden, the state’s leading rusher, has broken Cunningham’s mark with 269 carries for 2,479 yards and 37 scores. Martin, known for his vision and instincts, is closing in on rare 500 career tackles. He leads the Chieftains with 133 stops and has served as a key blocker offensively. While Bowden and Martin are well-publicized for the school changes, Tonganoxie has retooled virtually its entire offensive line. A large senior class, including Cole Sample, a first team all-4A pick and Pittsburg State signing, graduated.

Senior center Jerrod Lowe started as a sophomore and junior, though suffered injury both seasons. This year, 6-foot-2, 230-pound Lowe, a captain, has remained healthy.

“The general for all 10 ballgames,” Troyer said.

Junior Connor Bruch and sophomore Conner Cole (6-1, 225) have developed as the guards. Bruch is 5-7, 200. Coach Troyer said Bruch “doesn’t weigh much, but he gets after it.”

Senior Tucker Isaacs (6-1, 215) moved from tight end to tackle. Junior 6-foot Logan Blancarte has stepped up as the other tackle. Bond has a team-high 15 pancake blocks, while Martin, Blancarte and Bruch all have five. Bond and Martin’s play at end has allowed Tonganoxie to set the edge in either direction.

OL coaches are third-year Matt Thierolf and Matt Bond. Thierolf is the son of longtime Marion football/track coach Grant Thierolf. Bond, also the defensive coordinator, is a veteran Chieftain coach.

“We didn’t expect them to develop at the rapid rate that they had,” Troyer said of the front. “And they’ve done a great job.”

Poje worked with veteran Chieftain offensive coordinator Preston Troyer, Al’s son, on learning to read defenses. Poje continued to develop during the summer when he trained with Preston a couple days per week. The two have often met before the school day starts. The retooled offense and Poje’s work has yielded another impressive season for the quarterback – and the Chieftains’ offense.

Poje has completed 90 of 150 passes for 1,322 yards with 18 scores against four interceptions. His 117.3 quarterback rating is nearly 17 points higher than last fall.

Tonganoxie, which has averaged 42.8 points per game in a 9-1 start, is one of many 8-Man and 11-Man quarterfinal squads that have showcased an improved passing attack in 2020. Multiple quarterfinal-qualifying schools, such as Inman and St. James Academy, have set a single season passing record.

Poje has 3,065 career passing yards. He became Tonganoxie’s career passing leader in a 48-28 win versus Labette County on Oct. 30. It marked the same game that Bowden broke Cunningham’s single season rushing record. Tonganoxie has broken the individual single season school rushing mark each of the last four years.

On Friday, No. 1 Tonganoxie faces No. 2 Bishop Miege (4-4) in a Class 4A quarterfinal contest. Just like last season, the Chieftains will host. Miege is looking for its state record seventh straight state championship.

Class 4A playoff excitement has been muted in recent years by Miege’s dominance, but BM/Tongie is arguably the most high-profile contest this weekend. Tonganoxie’s only loss was a 35-28 defeat to Paola in the regular season when Poje and a pair of two starting receivers were out.

The Stags have played its normal challenging schedule of bigger schools and has averaged 41 points a contest. Miege has quarterback Tim Dorsey (Eastern Illinois commit) and receiver Mack Moeller (FCS Valparaiso offer). Dorsey tossed six TDs in the win versus Tonganoxie last fall.

The Stags have averaged 7.9 yards per play, slightly better than the Chieftains’ 7.75. Dorsey has thrown for 1,830 yards with a 19/3 TD/INT ratio. He threw for 3,026 and 45 scores as a junior. Moeller leads with 50 catches for 941 yards and 11 scores. Nathan Smith and Hayden Thilges have led the offensive line, and Collin Williams on the defensive line.

“Miege is Miege,” Troyer said. “I mean, they are who they are. We know that they are going to be disciplined and that they are going to have great athletes on the field. I think different from last year, that maybe overall, we maybe execution-wise – a little bit more precise in what we do. Last year’s team did a great job. This group was a part of that a year ago. Just continued to develop and continued to progress in execution and the mental part of the game.”

**

MaxPreps’ statewide statistics have shown better passing numbers from the top-50 Kansas 11-man teams in passing yards per game.

In ’19, those squads combined for 150 passing yards per game and 7.67 yards per attempt. The teams had 54 percent completion, a 1.72 TD/INT ratio and an 86.1 passer rating.

This year, as of last Sunday, the top-50 had 150 passing yards and 8.3 yards per attempt for 56 completion. The teams combined for a 2.16 TD/INT ration and a 96 passer rating.

While not all teams post their statistics on MaxPreps, the top-50 list does include a significant bulk of the remaining 48 11-man quarterfinalists. That includes: Basehor-Linwood, St. James Academy, McPherson, Shawnee Mission Northwest, Arkansas City, Osage City, Perry-Lecompton, Tonganoxie, Blue Valley Southwest, Riley County, Mill Valley, Pittsburg Colgan, Lyndon, Southeast of Saline, Rossville, Wichita Northwest, Blue Valley and Derby.

St. James Academy’s Dakota Burritt has set his program’s single season passing record. SJA went from a 5-5 mark and 20.1 points per game in ’19 to a 5-4 record and 33.7 points this year. Burritt has completed 145 of 242 passes for 2,089 yards with 19 scores against six interceptions. Tyler Claiborne has 59 catches, and senior LaJames White, a K.C. Piper transfer, has accounted for 22 offensive scores and 1,665 all-purpose yards.

Last season, three St. James quarterbacks combined for 98 of 206 passing for 1,416 yards with nine scores against nine interceptions. SJA faces Basehor-Linwood, the No. 1 passing offense in Kansas. Class 4A St. James has tied the furthest advancement in school history.

As well, multiple schools that doesn’t post its statistics to MaxPreps have enjoyed excellent seasons.

Class 1A Inman is into the quarterfinals for the second straight year; before then, the Teutons had not made the quarterfinals in 25 years. Inman’s Jace Doerksen has set the school record for single season passing yards. He is 84 of 125 for 1,457 yards with 18 scores against four interceptions.

6A Junction City with Andrew Khoury, 3A Wichita Collegiate, 2A Haven and 1A Smith Center have shown improved passing games. In 6A, Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Ty Black, an Air Force commit, has arguably been the state’s best quarterback. SMNW faces Blue Valley North’s Henry Martin, a three-year starter with a 23/1 TD/INT ratio this fall.

Derby has quarterback Lem Wash, who has recently committed to Tennessee Tech. The Panthers have a loaded supporting cast with running back Dylan Edwards, offensive linemen Alex Key and Jonas Vickers and wide receiver Reid Liston.

Haven co-coach/offensive coordinator Drew Thalmann is longtime friends with Derby coach Brandon Clark. Haven is 8-2 and has averaged 32.6 points per game behind dual threat quarterback Darby Roper, running back Nathan Schmidt and a line that includes Hunter Barlow, a four-year starter. Roper has passed for 861. He threw for 697 a year ago on a 4-5 season that delivered 18.2 points a game. Haven has its first playoff victories in 44 years.

Smith Center has Griffin Kugler, the school’s all-time and single season record holder for receiving touchdowns. Collegiate has enjoyed big seasons with his depth-laden front, especially senior twins Jack and Nick Herrman.  Wesley Fair has thrown for 795 yards and rushed for 1,514.

Like Smith Center, 2A Hoisington is known for its running game. Senior quarterback Mason Haxton has played in 37 career contests. This season, he’s delivered the best numbers of his career with 29 of 59 passing for 613 yards with eight touchdowns against one interception. He has improved his passer rating 26 points from last fall.

The Top 50 Leading Passers in Kansas from Sports in Kansas Stat Leaderboard

Name  School Passing Yards Games
Andrew Khoury Junction City (6A) 2673 9
Kyler Semrad Goddard (5A) 2637 10
Isaac Stanton Basehor Linwood (4A) 2413 10
Harrison Voth Cheney (3A) 2376 10
Ben Schmidt Newton (5A) 2287 8
Ethan Houk Parsons (3A) 2176 9
Dylan Rinker McPherson (4A) 2169 10
Gabe Welch Ark City (5A) 2102 10
Dakota Burritt St. James (4A) 2089 9
Cade Oliver Wabaunsee (1A) 2083 9
Isaac Detweiler Axtell (8M) 1970 9
Lance Hoffsommer Sedgwick (1A) 1915 7
Charlie Killingsworth Rock Creek (2A) 1863 7
Timothy Dorsey Miege (4A) 1830 8
Ty Black SM Northwest (6A) 1821 7
Kaden Johnson Holcomb (3A) 1715 9
Tanner Curry BV Southwest (5A) 1692 7
Dillan Smith Larned (3A) 1627 8
Chase White Andover Central (4A) 1619 9
Trey Vincent W. Grinnell (8M) 1604 10
Daigan Kruger Silver Lake (2A) 1589 8
Parker Kavanagh Salina Central (5A) 1582 8
Weston Fries Salina South (5A) 1569 8
Bryson Evans Rose Hill (4A) 1543 8
Kylan Cunningham Lakeside (8M) 1522 9
Landon Boss Osage City (2A) 1469 9
Matthew Potucek Hillsboro (1A) 1459 9
Jace Doerksen Inman (1A) 1457 10
Ashton Dowell Hoxie (8M) 1426 9
Colin Shields Maize South (5A) 1413 7
Kayde Rietzke Wichita Co. (8M) 1406 10
Dylan Bice Thunder Ridge (8M) 1394 9
Drew Caudle Maur Hill MA (2A) 1383 9
Mikey Pauley BV Northwest (6A) 1369 7
Kobe Davis Riverside (2A) 1337 8
Blake Poje Tonganoxie (4A) 1322 8
Conner Holle Riley Co. (3A) 1320 9
Reid Cowan Seaman (5A) 1299 8
Trent Moeckel Minneapolis (2A) 1292 9
Tanner Cash Clearwater (3A) 1268 9
Kaleb Harden Valley Center (5A) 1225 8
Xander Newberry A&A (8M) 1214 10
Kade Harris TMP (2A) 1212 9
Avery Johnson Maize (5A) 1177 7
Isaac Salmans Hodgeman Co. (8M) 1169 9
Nick Hogan Eisenhower (5A) 1165 5
Devan McEwen Lebo (8M) 1156 9
Cole Criss Cedar Vale/Dexter (8M) 1147 9
Jackson Miller De Soto (5A) 1145 9

***

Troyer has coached 36 years overall and first came to Kansas in ’06. He coached at Larned for four seasons before Tonganoxie. Troyer originally spent 22 years in Texas where he had a variety of roles. He served on junior high staffs, junior high athletic director and various position coaches, including the offensive line. Troyer’s teams ran the triple option wishbone, which he incorporated at Larned.

He switched to the spread/RPO offense with Tonganoxie and has ran “pretty much” the same look since he started with the Chieftains. Tonganoxie has blended several spread systems, including from well-known offensive guru Tony Franklin.

“It was a progression,” Troyer said. “We started looking at it when we first came.”

Troyer stands at 59-31, though is 35-6 in the last four. The Chieftains have easily the top-two scoring offenses of his tenure in his last two seasons.

In ’14, the Chieftains went 2-7 and passed on 42 percent of plays. That marked the highest until the last two falls when Tonganoxie was at 32 percent in ’19 and 34 percent thus far in ’20.

“Grown with the system with the type of athlete that we’ve had,” Troyer said. “We still call it triple option. If we do a RPO, I am still calling it triple option just to make me happy.”

Tonganoxie has delivered exactly 7.75 yards per play in each of the last two years. Before then the best was 6.43 on a 9-2 squad in ’13. The impact of Bowden has certainly helped, both on and off the field. In the last few days, Troyer talked with other league coaches.

“His stats stand for itself, but I want to talk about the young man,” Troyer said. “The young man is a man of character. He’s a hard worker. He comes in there. He was willing to take a backup role if that’s where he was, and he’s just humble and works hard. Excels in the classroom and in life in general. He’s just an overall good kid.”

On Friday, Tonganoxie, with its record-breaking offense, looks to defeat Miege, which would be likely the biggest win in school history – and one of the top victories in recent Kansas seasons. Troyer has delivered the same message he’s kept throughout the year as teams navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyday we have is a blessing,” Troyer said. “Nothing is guaranteed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we’ve been blessed. We are in game 11 right now and no one was ever guaranteed that or even thought that we could possibly get this far. … So to be able to play in this atmosphere, this Friday night and still be alive, we can’t be more blessed.”


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