Topeka (10-1) at Derby (11-0) is one of the state’s highlighted matchups. This marks likely the state’s best player in Topeka running back Ky Thomas against likely Kansas’ top team in the Panthers. Derby has won 24 straight contests and is the defending state champion. Topeka has enjoyed a run of quality teams, though had trouble breaking through past the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals. This is the program’s first trip to the semifinals since 1973. Topeka likely has more Division I talent with Thomas and quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden, who have committed to Minnesota and KU, respectively, leading the way. However, Derby has won many games in recent annals with less Division I talent than its opponent. The Panthers’ strength comes in its depth, running game and defense. Derby’s first team defense has allowed just two touchdowns all year.
Kevin Washington and Alex Conn (Nebraska commit) pave the way up front, with Tre Washington at running back, and Grant Adler and Lem Wash at quarterback. Linebacker Jack Hileman and defensive lineman Tyler Dorsey lead a unit that has allowed just 94 points, easily the best in 6A. Topeka has permitted 201 points. Derby, the only undefeated team left in 6A, is No. 1 offense at 575 points, and Topeka is second at 501.
On the east side, Olathe North (9-2) will face Blue Valley (8-3) in a matchup of the Sunflower League against the Eastern Kansas League. Olathe North running back Arland Bruce IV has more than 2,000 rushing yards, while Blue Valley has a great defensive line led by Iowa commit Mason Richman.
Wichita Northwest (11-0) plays host to Maize (10-1) in the semifinals for the second straight year. Northwest won this matchup last season, 67-60, and then lost to Aquinas in the finals. Northwest has underwent a massive defensive improvement with new defensive coordinator Marc Marinelli. Maize has continued success after it graduated Top 11 all classes quarterback Caleb Grill. Camden Jurgensen has stepped in and played well, and Caden Cox has rushed for 1,363 yards. Cox has committed to KU. Jurgensen has thrown for 1,462 yards with a 21/6 TD/INT ratio.
Senior Jack Wiens leads the Northwest defense with 91 tackles, and Reagan Jones has exceeded 1,000 passing and 1,000 rushing yards. Wetu Kalomo has picked off eight passes, and Northwest has forced 36 turnovers. A key area to watch will be the Grizzlies’ pass defense versus Maize’s passing game. Northwest has outscored teams, 559-87, while Maize is at 429-117.
On the east, St. Thomas Aquinas (10-0) again faces EKL rival Mill Valley (8-3). The teams have met up in the playoffs every year since 2015. Aquinas has captured 22 straight victories. Aquinas is known for its ground attack with Tank Young, though Blake Anderson has passed the ball well with 1,135 yards and a 17/2 TD/INT ratio.
Mill Valley actually has a slightly better scoring defense than the Saints and features one of the state’s better defensive linemen in Ethan Kremer. Aquinas beat Mill Valley by a score in the regular season, but MV did slightly outgain the Saints.
Andover Central (10-1) is at McPherson (11-0) is likely a very close matchup. The Jaguars have doubled their win total from 2018. AC has enjoyed a big year from quarterback Shomari Parnell with 2,073 passing yards and a 22/11 TD/INT ratio. AC only averages 3.7 yards per carry, but has its excellent 1-2 receiver combination with Matt Macy and Xavier Bell. Macy has 832 receiving yards, Bell has 829.
They have combined for 21 receiving scores. McPherson has delivered 6.3 yards per carry, though senior Kaleb Hoppes has thrown for 1,662 yards with a 19/7 TD/INT ratio. Cody Stufflebean, a Kansas State commit, has played on both sides of the ball. He has 12 catches for 193 yards and six scores, along with seven TFLs.
On the east side, five-time defending state champion Bishop Miege (9-2) will be the heavy favorite against Paola (11-0). The Panthers have battled recent injuries at quarterback and running back.
Andale (11-0) faces Cheney (9-2) in a district rematch. This was easily Andale’s closest game of the season in a 29-22 victory. Cheney is into the state semifinals for the first time in school history and has a seven-win improvement from last fall. Running back Riley Petz paces the Cardinals. Andale has its balanced team led by quarterback Easton Hunter and running backs Mac Brand and Eli Rowland. All three are standout defensive players. Andale, like this season, was ranked No. 1 in this matchup last year, thought took a 21-19 loss to Pratt.
The east is also a district rematch with Topeka Hayden (10-1) facing Perry-Lecompton (8-3). P-L defeated Hayden, 21-20, in overtime. However, Hayden is the overall favorite because of a stronger body of work. Hayden has faced some injury at quarterback. However, the Wildcats have outscored teams, 389-79. P-L is at 362-164.
The west side has another district rematch with Hoisington (11-0) at Norton (8-3) at Travis Field. Hoisington pulled away in district play to win 38-7 in a game that was 10-0 at halftime. Hoisington senior running back Wyatt Pedigo has again enjoyed a big season with 2,252 rushing yards, 36 rushing touchdowns and 103 tackles. Hoisington has never made a final in school history. Norton is into sub-state for the first time in 10 years and has doubled its win total from last year. The Bluejays have received several big seasons, including quarterback Kade Melvin (1,645 passing, 1,118 rushing), running back Luke Wahlmeier (1,019 rushing yards), and defensive lineman Judson Wiltfong (123 tackles, 22 for loss). While Pedigo receives the lion share of attention, Hoisington has received great play up front, including from Riley Philbern, who is playing on a torn ACL, and quarterback Mason Haxton.
Out east, Nemaha Central (9-2) plays host to Riley County (9-2). NC has a four-win improvement from last season, and RC is the defending state runner-up to Phillipsburg. For the second straight year, Riley County lost to rival Silver Lake in the regular season, and then beat the Eagles in the playoffs. Both teams have plenty of depth and similar offenses. RC is at 129 passing and 185 rushing yards a game, and NC is at 149 passing and 168 a game. Garrett Harmison has passed for 1,345 yards for Riley County, and Dylan Schultejans has thrown for 1,572.
The west is another rematch with Mid-Continent League rivals Plainville (10-1) and Smith Center (11-0) at SC’s Hubbard Stadium. This is the fourth straight year the teams have met in the regular season and then in the state semifinals. Plainville won the first two, and Smith Center has captured the last five. That included a 40-14 Smith Center home win earlier this season. However, the game was closer than the final score, and Plainville standout Jared Casey did not play in the game because of injury. Casey has since returned and has cleared 1,200 rushing yards. Plainville also has standout quarterback Jordan Finnesy, while Smith Center counters with QB Trenton Colby and RB Jaden Atwood. While there is plenty of stars on both sides, the game might ultimately come down to line play and turnovers. Smith Center is more experienced up front and turns the ball over less.
Out east, Jackson Heights (9-2) is at Centralia (10-1). JH has its best showing since 1983. Centralia has won 10 in a row and is the slight favorite. JH coach Caleb Wick is a Smith Center graduate, and runs the wishbone offense that SC has long used. Centralia has the single wing. Jackson Heights is paced by RB Cooper Williams and OL Carson Williams, and Centralia has QB Kamble Haverkamp.
Eight-Man, Division I
Canton-Galva (11-0) is at Madison (11-0) is one of the closest matchups on paper. C-G lost in the semifinals to Solomon last year. C-G has received an 1,000 passing and 1,000 rushing season from quarterback Landon Everett. Last week, C-G standout receiver Tyson Struber returned from a broken hand in a win against Coldwater-South Central. Madison is known for its balance with running back Nasun Wasson (727 rushing) and Ryan Wolgram (702 rushing, 614 passing) leading the way. C-G has an average score of 56-5, and Madison is at 60-11.
Leoti-Wichita County (10-1) will be at St. Francis (11-0) in a rematch. SF won 46-0 in district play. St. Francis has allowed just 42 total points with its physical defense. WC has 1,000/1,000 quarterback Kayde Rietzke, while SF has two backs with more than 1,000 yards in Shadyron Blanka and Brady Dinkel.
Eight-Man, Division II
Axtell (10-1) is at Hanover (10-1) in another rematch of Twin Valley League rivals. This marks the second straight year the teams will meet in the regular season and sub-state. Hanover won both matchups last year en route to its third straight undefeated state title. This year, Axtell beat Hanover, 28-26, to end the Wildcats’ KSHSAA eight-man state record 43-game winning streak. Hanover has plenty of offensive depth with QB Jacob Jueneman and all-purpose threat Colin Jueneman. Jonah Weber is one of eight-man’s top linemen. Axtell QB Quinn Buessing is a four-year starter.
Hutchinson Central Christian (10-1) at Osborne (11-0) – HCC is into the semifinals for the first time in school history. Osborne is without standout running back Darrien Holloway, who is out for the season with an injury suffered earlier in the playoffs. Osborne has quarterback Steele Wolters, while CC counters with quarterback Caleb Lambert. Osborne’s leading tackler Evan Garman did not play football last year.