By CONOR NICHOLL
Send us stats and updates after game night to both Cnicholl1@gmail.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @sportsinkansas.
This is presented by Mammoth Sports Construction, Nex-Tech Wireless, American Implement, Seatbelts Are For Everyone, Sign Brothers, Rainbow Communications and Craw-Kan Telephone.
Thirty-two teams played in state semifinals on Friday, and 16 have advanced to state championship games played either next Friday or Saturday at neutral sites. Below is a look at what impressed the most in the state semifinals – and an initial look at the state championship games.
Note: All 11-man state games start at 1 p.m. Eight-Man state game starts noted below. Historical notes from the Kansas Football History database, Prep Power Index archive or the KSHSAA historical archive.
Blue Valley North defeated Olathe North, 30-20. Blue Valley North is into its third final, all under coach Andy Sims. BVN won the title in ’17 over Derby and lost to Derby in the ’18 final. North had Graham Mertz, now the Wisconsin quarterback in both of those games, and Henry Martin has taken over and continued the great success. Martin completed 19 of 35 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns. Martin has cleared 5,000 career passing yards.
Derby rolled over Junction City, 62-27. Derby is into his sixth straight championship game. The Panthers have made seven finals since ’13 and are 5-1 in those championship games, all with coach Brandon Clark.
Derby has captured the last two 6A titles. Derby defeated Lawrence and Junction City, the West No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, in the last two weeks. The Derby Informer noted that Derby was the first school to clear 60 points against Junction City since ’01.
Derby scored nine touchdowns on 10 drives behind its offensive line of Alex Key, Dylan Conn and Jonas Vickers. Key is high on the short list for the state’s best lineman, and Vickers first started as a freshman. Lem Wash and Dylan Edwards both rushed for four touchdowns.
Blue Valley North (7-2) versus Derby (8-2) at Olathe School District next Saturday. This is the third meeting between the two schools in the 6A state title game, all since 2017.
Mill Valley defeated St. Thomas Aquinas, 42-7. Mill Valley, all under coach Joel Applebee, is 3-0 in state title games. MV won titles in ’15, ’16 and last year with a win against Wichita Northwest. MV’s defensive line, led by Ethan Kremer, limited Aquinas to 85 total yards. The game was scoreless after the first quarter before Mill Valley opened up with 21 second quarter points.
Mill Valley outgained Aquinas, 373-85, and held the Saints to 0 of 7 on passing attempts. Quin Wittenauer delivered 23 carries for 150 yards and a score. Cooper Marsh completed 7 of 13 passes for 161 yards and three TDs. Aquinas held Tank Young to seven carries for 15 yards. Young finished his great career with 200 carries for 1,338 yards and 16 TDs.
Wichita Northwest came back to beat rival Bishop Carroll, 41-21. Northwest is 0-3 all-time in state games, in ’96, ’18 and ’19. The last three years have come with coach Steve Martin. Northwest trailed 14-0 against its longtime rival. The teams are located on the same road in Wichita and separated by less than a mile.
Northwest’s players of the game were Geremiah Moore (overall), Caleb Nott (offensive), Todric McGee (defensive) and Nathan Hale (special teams). Moore rushed 23 times for 207 yards and two scores. Julius Bolden delivered 23 carries for 175 yards and four TDs. McGee, with double-digit collegiate offers, finished with 12 tackles, two for loss.
Mill Valley (9-2) versus Wichita Northwest (10-0) at Pittsburg State University next Saturday. These two teams also played for the state title in 2019.
St. James Academy delivered an historic 36-35 overtime victory against rival Bishop Miege. SJA halted Miege’s run of six straight state championships. Miege was looking for a state record seven consecutive titles. This marks St. James’ first ever season to at least the semifinals.
La’James White scored on a five-yard run in overtime, and Josh Kirby kicked the game-winning extra point. Miege missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. In OT, Miege scored first, but White blocked the extra point. White, a first-year transfer from K.C. Piper, is part of a much improved St. James offense.
SJA quarterback Dakota Burritt, featured earlier in the playoffs on SIK, has easily broken the single season school record for passing yards. He passed for 254 yards, and Tyler Claiborne enjoyed another huge game with eight catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns. SJA named White the overall player of the game, Claiborne offensive, Daniel Walsh defensive and Kirby on special teams.
SJA has delivered 248 yards passing and 150 rushing a contest. Burritt, a senior, has 176 of 295 passing for 2,613 yards with 26 scores against six interceptions. White has 189 carries for 1,249 yards and 21 TDs. Claiborne, a junior, has 72 catches for 1,078 yards and 11 scores. White has 1,937 all-purpose yards.
Last year, SJA finished 5-5 as a 5A school with 142 passing and 163 rushing yards per game. Burritt played in six contests with 260 passing yards. Claiborne was the team’s leading receiver with 32 catches for 537 yards.
Arkansas City beat McPherson, 28-27, and continued a remarkable turnaround. McPherson has lost in the last four semifinals by a combined 16 points. Arkansas City is into the semifinals for the first time since ’88. AC has one title, in ’79 and two runner-ups, in ’78 and ’86.
AC picked off McPherson twice late, including at the five-yard line with three seconds left. AC had huge performances from sophomore running back Wyatt Bahm and quarterback Gabe Welch. Ark City has more than 2,100 passing yards from Welch, an exceptional player.
St. James Academy (7-4) versus Arkansas City (6-6) at Hutchinson Community College next Friday. These two teams were a combined 5-9 a couple of weeks ago. Arkansas City has the most losses ever by a state championship qualifying team.
The previous mark was Bishop Miege, which went 7-5 in ’13 and qualified for state. Miege lost in the 5A finals and finished 7-6.
***The winner of the 4A state championship game will clinch the record for the lowest winning percentage by a state titlist. Three teams have won a state title with four losses – 2-1A Victoria finished 9-4 in ’85, Mill Valley was 9-4 as the 5A champion in ’16, and Blue Valley North was 9-4 as the 6A champion in ’17, from KSHSAA archives.***
Victoria came from the historic Mid-Continent League season in ’85 that produced three titlists (Norton, Plainville and Victoria). MV and BVN both came from the Eastern Kansas League – just like St. James.
Perry-Lecompton defeated Holton, 22-9. P-L defeated Holton for the second time this season and the third time in the last two falls. Perry has never won a state crown and took runner-up in ’08 and ’19. Big credit to the Kaws for qualifying after first team all-state quarterback William Welch was lost for the season with an early season injury.
Senior Thad Metcalfe, an 1,000-yard rusher last season, has taken over as quarterback. He enjoyed another big game with 16 of 22 passing for 186 yards with a touchdown against zero interceptions. He rushed 23 times for 117 yards and two TDs. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Metcalfe has thrown for 1,251 yards with 11 scores against five interceptions and has rushed for 1,213 yards with 24 TDs. Hayden Robb is also one of the best linebackers in the state.
In another rematch, Andale rolled over Wichita Collegiate, 49-0. Eli Rowland had two punt return TDs and rushed for a pair of touchdowns. Andale has the state’s longest current winning streak at 24 games and is the defending 3A champions. Andale beat Perry-Lecompton in the final last season. Andale has four titles: ’06, ’07, ’14 and ’19 and a runner-up to Bishop Miege in ’17. Rowland has nearly 1,500 yards on the ground and nearly 500 recieving this season. The Andale offensive and defensive line is led by senior Cayden Winter who is one of the best in Kansas. Andale has got it done this season with a total team effort.
Perry-Lecompton (11-1) versus Andale (11-0) in a rematch from last year at Hutchinson Community College next Saturday
Rossville beat Nemaha Central, 31-19, in its closest game since Week 2. Rossville is at state for the first time since ’16, and NC was the defending champion. Rossville is 3-1 all-time in state games with titles in ’14-16 under current coach Derick Hammes. Rossville has scored 682 points – 273 more than anyone else in the classification. Torrey Horak is a major candidate for the 2A POY from Sports in Kansas with over 1,000 rushing and 1,000 passing as a junior this fall. Speedster Woodrow Rezac, Corey Catron and Bo Reeves have also had huge years on the offense for the Dawgs. Rossville has rushed for 327 yards per game this season while averaging nearly 10 yards per carry, they've also thrown for over 100 yards per game despite playing in several blowouts.
Hoisington, featured on Sports in Kansas this week, had its long-awaited first state championship game appearance with a 26-0 road win versus Beloit. Coach Zach Baird, a Cardinal alum, moved to 71-12 in his seventh year as head coach. The Cardinals had taken three tough state semifinal losses in the last four years, including a 10-8 road upset to Norton last fall.
Hoisington had defeated Beloit, 26-20, in district play. Beloit made a great playoff run with no seniors at quarterback, tailback or along the offensive line. Hoisington controlled the game in its usual manner.
The Cardinals led 6-0 after the first quarter – they have allowed first quarter points in one game this year. Hoisington quarterback Mason Haxton, a four-year player, has quietly put together another impressive season with 5 of 9 passing for 105 yards and two scores. Hoisington has not allowed a third quarter score since Week 3, according to Cardinal broadcaster Cole Reif. Hoisington has six players (Steinert, Mason, Haxton, Morris, Hanzlick, Ball) with 280 or more yards rushing, making it nearly impossible to key on any player.
Rossville (12-0) versus Hoisington (12-0) at Salina District Stadium next Saturday
Olpe narrowly defeated Lyndon, 14-12, and advanced to the state championship for the fifth time in school annals. Olpe has two wins against Lyndon by a combined eight points. Olpe won state in ’14 and was second in ’76, ’08 and ’18, the latter one coming versus Smith Center. Chris Schmidt has been one of the best coaches in Kansas in the 1A/2-1A ranks at Olpe.
Oakley continued its incredible turnaround with a 9-0 home win versus Inman. Neither Oakley nor Inman had made a state championship game in school annals. Oakley had eight total wins in the last four years and is 10-2 this fall with coach Jeff Hennick. Oakley executed its game plan to near perfection and continually milked the clock to shorten the game. The Plainsmen had excellent blocking up front.
The contest had just 82 total plays, 49 from Oakley. The Plainsmen picked off Inman quarterback Jace Doerksen three times. Ethan Abell and Hunter Scheck combined for more than 190 rushing yards. Credit to Inman for the best finish in its 11-man school history. Oakley had lost to Smith Center and Inman in district play by 28 and 26 and then avenged both losses in the last two weeks with two straight shutouts. It marked the first time Oakley had beaten SC in school history. Abell, who has 4.4 HH speed, has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards this season once official stats come out after week 12.
Olpe (12-0) versus Oakley (10-2) at Fort Hays State University
Eight-Man, Division I
Little River defeated Madison, 48-24, and is into the first state championship game since ’01. LR had close regular season losses to Clifton-Clyde and Canton-Galva. Little River defeated C-C in the Round of 16.
Madison, led by six forced turnovers and some big special teams plays, beat Canton-Galva last week and ended the Eagles’ 23-game winning streak. Then, LR, behind another huge game from Jayden Garrison and Graham Stephens, advanced to state. Coach Kevin Ayers, one of Kansas’ eight-man legends, will coach in his fifth state title game. He has taken three schools to state finals and went 2-0 with Jetmore and 1-1 with Wallace County.
Garrison, featured on Sports in Kansas All-Acess with Bethany Bowman this week, rushed for 277 yards and six scores and passed for 72 yards and a TD.
Little River has five state titles, all from ’70-99 and four runner-ups, the last coming in ’01.
Leoti-Wichita County defeated Hoxie, 58-6, and continued statistically one of the best resumes in recent eight-man history. WC is 22-2 in the last two seasons with a semifinals appearance last year. The Indians are in its first state title game.
WC has 11 straight victories by the 45-point margin. Hoxie had given Wichita County its closest game of the year, a 54-20 victory in Week 1. Wichita County navigated through a district that collectively had one non-district regular season loss. Kayde Rietzke accounted for five touchdowns, and WC returned a pair of fumbles for TDs. Wichita County was the only team to beat Hoxie.
Little River (10-2) at Leoti-Wichita County (12-0) at Newton’s Fischer Field – 3:30 p.m. start
Eight-Man, Division II
Hanover beat Twin Valley League rival Frankfort, 74-26, and continues to deliver highly impressive offensive numbers for longtime coach Matt Heuer. Last year, Hanover lost twice to Axtell, in the regular season and state semifinals. The first game ended Hanover’s KSHSAA era eight-man record of 43 straight wins. Hanover has six championships, five with Heuer (’08, ’09, ’16, ’17, ’18) and three runner-ups, all with Heuer: (’07, ’14, ’15). Jacob Jueneman has quietly put together a much improved season at quarterback and accounted for five touchdowns.
St. Francis trailed for the first time all year, though came back to beat Victoria, 44-22, on the road. SF is back in the state title for the second straight season after it lost to Canton-Galva in the Division I contest last fall. SF has never won a state crown. The Indians are 0-2 in state finales with a close loss to Osborne in the ’16 game. SF’s Shadyron Blanka accounted for 293 yards of total offense.
Hanover (10-0) at St. Francis (11-0) at Newton’s Fischer Field – 11 a.m. start
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