CIK Season Previews: Little River remains loaded after back-to-back trips to state title game
WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Kevin Ayers did it at Wallace County and he’s doing it again in Little River. Since taking over in 2019, Ayers has led the Redskins to a 32-5 record with back-to-back trips to the Div. I championship game, and a state title in 2020. With most of his talent back from last year’s one-loss team, the Redskins will again be a team to beat in 2022.
“We really don’t talk about expectations as far as wins, losses, or playoffs in our program,” Ayers said. “We focus on getting better every day, mentally and physically, and on developing our team chemistry on and off the field. We feel if we take care of those the rest will fall into place.”
Little River used a two-quarterback system to win the title in 2020. Jayden Garrison graduated in 2021 but last year’s juniors Braxton Lafferty and Rylan Konen filled the void. Lafferty rushed for more than 1,400 yards last year and threw for another 358. Konen took over passing duties with 890 yards and another 906 on the ground.
The two-quarterback system will continue in 2022 though Lafferty may change roles. Konen returns alongside sophomore Logan Renken, who shined on the baseball field last spring as a freshman.
“We will run primarily a two-quarterback system but have the ability to throw a few other players back there for different looks and situations,” said Ayers. “I really like the versatility it gives our offense, and it allows us to move the pieces of our offensive puzzle around.”
As potent as the Redskin offense has been, the defense has been almost as good. Despite a brutal schedule last year, Little River held seven of its 13 opponents to one touchdown or fewer, and held Meade to just 22 points in the state championship game.
After going just 7-10 the previous two years, Meade used a big senior class to complete a perfect season last year. The Buffs have some massive shoes to fill in 2022 with the graduation of Torren Haynes and and Korben Clawson. Under center, Haynes piled up nearly 3,000 yards of total offense, and Clawson just missed 2,000 yards on the ground. Meade does return impact players in senior Grayden Stapleton and junior Brock Keith.
Hill City made it all the way to the state semifinals in 2021, giving Meade a run for its money in a 48-34 loss. The Ringnecks still finished at 10-2 and will again be a factor this fall. Junior Aiden Amrein was a force at quarterback as a sophomore, throwing for nearly 1,700 yards with 32 touchdowns, and rushing for another 1,558 yards and 24 scores. Senior Kaleb Atkins returns after rushing for more than 800 yards.
Madison has posted a 21-2 record over the last two seasons with both losses coming in the playoffs to Little River’s powerhouse teams. The Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Casey Helm, who graduated last spring after putting up one of the best discus throws in U.S. history.
Junior Hayden Helm will likely take over at quarterback, but Madison’s big star is in the backfield. Senior Bryson Turner is not only one of the state’s fastest runners, but also one of its best backs. Last year he piled up nearly 1,500 yards and 29 touchdowns…on just 78 carries. His 19 yards a carry make him an elite threat.
Jon Webster and LaCrosse built their reputations in the 11-man ranks. In just a second year of 8-man football last year, the Leopards strung together eight-straight wins, including two in the playoffs. The Leopards were relatively young last year so return most players, but missing in action will be Colby Stull, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards last year. Junior Caden Morgan returns at quarterback after finishing second on the squad with 424 rushing yards, and a team-best 732 yards in the air.
Staying in the Central Prairie League, Macksville finished last year at just 5-5 but returns a full roster. Six-foot-five senior Ryan Kuckelman has built a name on the basketball court and on the track, but he also returns as the leading rusher for the Mustangs with 1,464 yards in 2021. He threw for another 614 yards. Junior Jason Cleveland and sophomore Hector Gomez return as capable running backs after combining for nearly 900 yards last year.
Wakeeney’s Trego Community won just one game in 2020 before posting an 8-2 record last year with losses to Hill City and Meade. Senior Owen Day returns at quarterback after posting more than 1,500 yards of total offense. At 180 pounds, senior James Kreigh returns some size to the backfield after rushing for nearly 1,500 yards in 2021.
Hoxie is usually in the mix, peaking with a 12-1 season and state championship in 2017. Last year the Indians finished at just 6-4 despite more than 2,100 passing yards from Ashton Dowell. The Indians also lose their top rusher to graduation in Cade Gourley and his 620 yards.
Ell-Saline had built a nice 11-man tradition prior to a pair of 4-6 seasons. This year the Cardinals drop down to the 8-man game as one of the largest schools in the classification. Sublette and Wichita Independent also move down to 8-man, and Rock Hills and Quinter move up from Div. II.
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