Edwards, Derby enter 2022 with hopes of climbing back atop 6A

Oct 15, 2021; Derby, Kansas, USA; during an AVCTL contest between Maize and Derby ©KellyRoss
Oct 15, 2021; Derby, Kansas, USA; during an AVCTL contest between Maize and Derby ©KellyRoss(©KellyRoss)
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 1:49 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Brandon Clark has built perhaps the best football program in state history. Over the past decade, his Derby Panthers have won six Class 6A titles, reaching the championship game thrice more and making the semifinals in 2012. The only blatant blemish: an early exit from the playoffs in 2014. But 2021 might count. The Panthers were cruising along at 11-0 before a 41-21 loss to Blue Valley Northwest in the title game.

Clark returns offensive juggernaut Dylan Edwards, who averaged better than 12 yards a carry last year as a junior, finishing with 2,603 yards and 38 touchdowns. Edwards made news in the last month by announcing he was headed to Notre Dame instead of Kansas State. Edwards will be working behind a new offensive line, and he will be without quarterback Mercer Thatcher, who strung together nearly 1,800 yards of total offense. Junior Derek Hubbard returns after averaging nearly nine yards a carry in 2021.

“We have two of the best backs in Kansas, and you will see them in the game at the same time quite a bit,” said Derby coach Brandon Clark. “Dylan and Derek are both dynamic backs. Brock Zerger, our quarterback, is a good runner, too. He is one of the strongest kids on our team. He has been very driven during the offseason, and can throw the ball very well. We are very excited for our passing and run game with him.”

The Panthers do not shy from competition, but the defense held five of its opponents last year to 17 points or fewer. Seniors Miles Wash, Roman Boden, and Kade Sheldon all return as a premiere linebacker corps.

“I would hate to see Miles across from me if I was an offensive guy,” Clark said. “Leshaon Davis, Mason Hopper and Samuel Same have really had a great offseason and preseason so far on the defensive line. I’m excited to see what they can do. Our secondary, led by Demairi’e Baker, who started as a sophomore, has really caught our eye this year. We have three new players in the secondary and they have really done a nice job so far. I’m excited to see our defense play this season.”

After winning just seven games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined, Blue Valley Northwest finished at 11-1 for the 6A crown a year ago. The Huskies now enter rebuild mode with the loss of 15 seniors, including quarterback and new Cornhusker Mikey Pauley, who put up more than 3,100 yards of total offense and 45 touchdowns. Senior Grant Stubblefield returns to the backfield after leading Northwest with 1,584 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Wichita Northwest and Heights have bounced in and out of Class 6A. Both squads return the biggest classification this year.  Northwest made plenty of noise in 5A, reaching the state finals in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The Grizzlies last played 6A ball in 2017, advancing to the state semifinal game before a loss to Derby.

Sep 2, 2021; Wichita, Kansas, USA; during a City League game between Bishop Carroll and...
Sep 2, 2021; Wichita, Kansas, USA; during a City League game between Bishop Carroll and Northwest ©KellyRoss(©KellyRoss)

Steve Martin knows how to put up points – the Grizzlies scored 40 points or more nine times last year, including a string of seven-straight games with at least 55 points. The result was three players with more than 1,100 rushing yards. Quarterback Geremiah Moore graduated after stringing together more than 2,800 yards of total offense. But LJ Phillips returns for a senior reason after rushing for 1,982 yards and 26 touchdowns on just 134 carries (14.8 ypc). Junior Cencere Thompson averaged better than nine yards a carry to finish with 1,180 yards and 12 scores. Martin gets back two of his top-three receivers including Phillips and junior Michael Lopez, Jr., who caught 28 passes for a team-best 499 yards.

Heights looks to carry on some offensive momentum after scoring at least 28 points in six of nine games last year. The talent is there as senior DJ Dingle returns under center after throwing for 1,442 yards and rushing for another 450. Dingle threw for 16 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Senior John Randle returns to the backfield after averaging better than nine yards a carry for 1,095 yards and 16 touchdowns. Randle also returns with the most receiving yards from a year ago with the loss of two senior receivers.

Oct 1, 2021; Andover, Kansas, USA; during  a game between Wichita Heights and Andover ©KellyRoss
Oct 1, 2021; Andover, Kansas, USA; during a game between Wichita Heights and Andover ©KellyRoss(©KellyRoss)

Wichita East won the games it was supposed to last year, topping out at 88 points in a shutout win against North. The Blue Aces finished at 6-4 with losses to Hays, Kapaun, Northwest and Derby, and picked up a marquee win over Bishop Carroll. East was hit hard by graduation with the loss of seven key seniors, including standout Caquoy Patterson at wideout, and Tobi Osunsanmi and Travor Manuel on defense.

Hopes of continued success ride on junior quarterback DaeOnte’ Mitchell, who threw for 1,920 yards and rushed for 600 more as a sophomore. Mitchell completed nearly 80 percent of his passes and threw 26 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Mitchell and receivers MJ White, Ashton White, and LT Robinson still get the 2022 and 2023 seasons to make some noise together.

Hays High defeated Wichita East 35-6 at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays on September 3, 2021....
Hays High defeated Wichita East 35-6 at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays on September 3, 2021. (Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com) (Everett J. Royer)

Wichita Southeast went winless under first-year coach Marcus Bagley last year. The Buffs return seven seniors with varsity experience, including 185-pound running back Kanye Brown. Like Derby, Southeast brings back plenty of experience at linebacker, and that will be needed to slow the 459 points (51 ppg) allowed last year.

Wichita South won just two games last year and said goodbye to all-league quarterback TJ Neal. Fourth-year coach Russ Neal gets back three big offensive linemen in seniors Matthew Godsey (270 pounds), Julius Matzek (250 pounds), and sophomore Parker Hardgrave (315 pounds).

Wichita North grad Mitch Kucera returns home to try and lift the Redskins past a 1-8 showing in 2021. Even that one win is a misnomer as Southeast had to forfeit the game with an ineligible player. North otherwise carries a 31-game skid dating back to a 2-0 start to the 2018 season.

Junior DJ Fowler returns at quarterback after throwing for 541 yards, but he also threw for 12 interceptions and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Senior Michael Bailey, Jr. returns to the backfield, and senior Jacob Wassall accounted for most of the team’s receiving last year. Most important, the defense will have to staunch the bleeding after allowing at least 52 points in all eight official losses last fall.

Jamie Cruce saw plenty of success at Pratt but has posted three-straight one-win seasons at Campus. The Colts return 11 varsity starters for 2022, including junior quarterback Brody Johnson and senior Remey Buckles in the backfield.

Out west, Dodge City won three of its four Western Athletic Conference games en route to a 6-3 finish under first-year coach Glenn O’Neil, who made Scott City a powerhouse in a nine-year stretch. The Demons must replace quarterback Tucker Smith, who threw for more than 1,300 yards. Senior Austin Schulte was poised to fill those shoes but, after surgery, may not compete this season. Dodge City rushed for just 1,216 yards as a team. Senior Chance Kerr, at 210 pounds, returns after leading the team with 258 yards in 2021.

The other 6A team in the WAC, Garden City finished at 5-4 but nearly picked up a couple more wins. The Buffs do get back their two leading rushers in seniors Zack Keosengphet and Colin Kleysteuber, who combined for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Buffs threw for just 340 yards but senior Caleb Wiese returns after accounting for most of that. One of the state’s fastest sprinters, senior Jerry Arteaga returns as a threat at wideout after catching eight balls for 211 of the team’s 343 receiving yards.

Garden City High School football team hosted Dodge City High School on Friday October 15, 2021...
Garden City High School football team hosted Dodge City High School on Friday October 15, 2021 at Buffalo Stadium in Garden City, Kan. For the Hatchet Game. The Buffalos lost to the Red Demons 29 - 36.(Adam Shrimplin | Shrimplin Photography 2021)

South-central Kansas offers plenty of firepower this spring behind the likes of Derby, Northwest, and Heights, but the east will again be a factor as Lawrence, Blue Valley Northwest, Junction City, and Washburn Rural are all expected to have good seasons. Junction City’s senior quarterback Xavion Felton finished with 1,300 yards of total offense to help the Jays to an 8-2 season. Washburn also finished at 8-2, including a late overtime loss to Junction City. Junior Branton DeWeese threw for more than 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns last year as a sophomore.

Manhattan went 9-2 last year and returns dual-threat quarterback Keenan Schartz, who posted nearly 1,700 yards of total offense. Olathe West is in a similar spot after a 7-3 season, bringing back senior quarterback Mason McGavran, who put up nearly 2,600 yards of total offense. Blue Valley West can ride the coattails of junior Sage Huffman, who rushed for better than 1,400 yards as a sophomore.