The Greatest Week 1 Ever? (The Pick List)

Grant Stubblefield & Blue Valley Northwest look for another title. (by Keith Kreeger, BVNWSports)
By: Conor Nicholl & Matt Gilmore for
Sep 1, 2022

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Each summer, Kpreps Managing Partner Matt Gilmore spends hours compiling schedules for each Kansas high school football program in order to build the database that ultimately allows for the presentation of schedules, scores, and league and district standings. During that process, it’s typical to highlight marquee games as they are entered into the schedule. Over the summer, one theme began to take shape, Week 1 of the 2022 season is going to be incredible!

Typically, Kpreps brings you a feature called The Pick List, where, each Thursday throughout the regular season, we preview a few of the best matchups across the state, make our prediction, and make our picks for a list of other notable games. We post a poll at the beginning of each week with the game receiving the most votes designated as our Fan’s Choice for Game of the Week. This year, the number of notable games for Week 1 was so great, we decided to go a different route.

From 2013-22, this marks the most ranked-versus-ranked matchups in Week 1. This season has 10 matchups involving ranked teams, per research from Kpreps’ Conor Nicholl. Five No. 1 teams are involved in a ranked matchup - tied for the second-most from 2013-22.

In 2013, there were three ranked-versus-ranked matchups. From 2014-21, the number of ranked matchups totaled seven, five, five, five, six, four, five and seven. In addition, this marks the first season of KSHSAA sanctioned 6-man football. The top-four 6-man teams play each other in Week 1.

Outside of the ranked/ranked games, more than 30-plus contests have significant ramifications and/or rivalry matchups. Multiple games feature teams that have never played each other before. Several contests have long-time rivals playing in Week 1 for the first time.

Plus, eight-man’s Axtell and Cair Paravel face off with both coming off undefeated seasons, a remarkable rarity.

So, to open the 2022 football season, what we have tabbed internally as the greatest week 1 in history, let’s take a quick look at several of the state’s best games.

The Ranked Match-ups

  • 6A No. 2 Blue Valley Northwest at 4A No. 1 St. James Academy – The EKL gets started with a showdown of defending state champions in Blue Valley Northwest (6A) and St. James Academy (4A). Northwest ran away from Derby, 41-21, in the title game last fall, but the Huskies must replace all-state quarterback Mikey Pauley. Grant Stubblefield returns in the backfield after rushing for 1,584 yards and 24 scores and he has three experienced linemen in front of him in Easton Wasinger, Aidan Behymer, and Joel Deppe. St. James Academy must replace Jackson House at quarterback after he transferred to a school in Louisiana. Ben Wheeler is likely the new Thunder quarterback, and he’ll benefit from all-state receiver John Niesen who had 64 receptions for 1,275 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Thunder also return standout Wade Spencer along the defensive line and linebacker Spencer Dohm.
  • 6A No. 4 Blue Valley West at 4A No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas – Blue Valley West made a surprise run to the state semifinals a season ago, and the experienced Jaguars look to take it a step farther this season. While West must replace quarterback Gage Roach, the Jaguars return Sage Huffman in the backfield after his 1,400-yard sophomore season. Jack Schneider returns as a key skill athlete, and the defense will return Zach Darche and Lake Ryan in the secondary. St. Thomas Aquinas makes the move down to Class 4A this season and will have to replace some key contributors. Quarterback Maxxwell Ford and defensive linemen Sa’o Siavi’I transferred to Lee’s Summit North (Mo.) for their senior seasons. The Saints return 1,600-yard rusher Sean Carroll and Jeremiah Penney in the backfield. Aquinas’ defensive line should be a strength with Kian Payne (603, 230), JuJu Marks (6-7, 255), and Dylan Elmore.
  • 6A No. 3 Wichita Northwest at 5A No. 4 Bishop Carroll – This marks the fifth straight time the City League rivals have met in Week 1 and both ranked in the top-5 of a classification. Carroll won this game, 37-27, last season. Northwest had nearly 600 yards of total offense that night, though turned the ball over four times. The Grizzlies have more than 3,000 rushing yards back with LJ Phillips and Cencere Thompson. Northwest paced 5A in scoring and now moves to 6A this fall. The Grizzlies have key linemen with senior Jacob Lamb (6-3, 220), Caden Ross (6-2, 245), Tre Birch (6-2, 285) and Dalton Schraeder (6-5, 285). Carroll is stacked, too, with wide receiver Tate Blasi, quarterback Zach Steven, and senior OL Matthew Robben, among others.
  • 3A No. 3 Rock Creek at 2A No. 1 Southeast of Saline -- This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Rock Creek returns quarterback Dalton Whitworth, the state’s leading passer in 2021. Each squad has a top-5 secondary. Yanci Spiller and Maddox Ibarra are first team all-league defensive backs. Southeast of Saline features Michael Murray (NW Missouri State offer) and twins Luke and Jake Gebhardt in the defensive secondary. The Trojans were 11-1 and had the No. 2 scoring defense in 3A last fall with 7.5 points a game. Rock Creek allowed 24 points per game. Southeast of Saline has three home losses in the last four years.
  • 2A No. 2 Nemaha Central at 3A No. 2 Holton – A huge Big 7 Conference showdown between two teams ranked second in their respective classifications. Nemaha Central returns several starters from a 7-3 season under first-year head coach Michael Glatczak. The strength of the Thunder may be up front with Holden Bass (6-4, 275) and Connor Deters (6-6, 280). Cooper Hajek also returns after rushing for nearly 650 yards and 10 scores a year ago. Holton returns a loaded backfield that helped the Wildcats reach the state semifinals. Holton returns multi-year quarterback Matt Lierz, Garyson Booth, Jace Bosewell, and Jayden Fletcher. Those four players combined for more than 3,200 rushing yards and more than 40 touchdowns last season. With several players with starting experience returning across the line, the Wildcats should be a legit challenger this season.
  • 1A No. 3 Olpe at 3A No. 5 Topeka Hayden – A unique matchup has 1A power Olpe visiting 3A power Hayden. The shrinking of the Centennial League has made for a different schedule for Hayden, which will open with consecutive games against small school powers Olpe, Silver Lake, and Rossville. Olpe enters this contest having won 24 straight games and two consecutive 1A state titles. The Eagles have allowed a total of 59 points over the past two seasons. Graduation hit hard, but Chris Schmidt returns several key players including Garrett Cole, Truman Bailey, Blake Skalsky, and Blake Redeker. Hayden features one of the state’s top linemen in Notre Dame commit Joe Otting. The Wildcats also have Ben Evans and Carter Charvat up front, which should allow for plenty of holes for JC Cummings in the backfield.
  • 2A No. 3 Rossville at 1A No. 1 St. Marys – A key game in the Mid-East League features defending 2A champion Rossville visiting 1A favorite St. Marys. Rossville enters having won 26 consecutive games and back-to-back 2A titles. The Bulldawgs were hit heavy by graduation, including quarterback Torrey Horak and running back Corey Catron. Still, standout linemen Jacob Carver and Barrett Lietz return along with athlete Kade Perine. The St. Marys Bears move down to 1A from 2A this fall after posting a 5-4 record a season ago. The Bears feature three-year starting quarterback Keller Hurla along with key seniors Cason Gomez and James Rezac. St. Marys has made substantial improvements on the defensive side of the ball since coach Kyle Schenk took over. Rossville has won four straight in this series.
  • 8M-I No. 1 Little River at 8M-II No. 2 Canton-Galva -- This is the third matchup in the last 10 games and second straight for the rivals. The two Division I and Wheat State League powers wanted to play each other this year. Canton-Galva moved to Division II. Little River won the matchups 60-52 and 76-68 last season, the second in the state semifinals. Little River finished first and second the last two years at state. The Redskins return all skill players, including QB Rylan Konen, ATH Braxton Lafferty and WR Braden Young. Coach Kevin Ayers is high on Toby Jessup and Carter Stansbury for the rebuilt OL that graduated three all-state players. Canton-Galva graduated Shrine Bowl WR Tyson Struber. However, they brought in first team all-state WR/S Jett Vincent to go with QB Garrett Maltbie. Vincent transferred from Wheatland-Grinnell, runner-up in Division II to Axtell last fall. Canton-Galva is highly senior-laden, including end T.J. Koehn.
  • 6M No. 1 Cunningham at 6M No. 2 Ashland -- KSHSAA starts six-man sanctioned football with two incredible games. Cunningham returns all but one player from its 2021 state runner-up team. Trey DeWeese and Luke McGuire are expected to again split time at quarterback. Sophomore Dagim Reed is expected to contribute in all three phases. Cunningham beat Ashland, 72-24, last year. Ashland finished third in six-man. Highly athletic RB Kale Harris is key for Ashland after consecutive seasons cut short due to knee injuries. Britt Grigsby and Landen McPhail are standout offensive players. Cunningham should have size advantage with sophomore Trenton Schnittker up front, as Ashland is thin on the line. Both squads averaged at least 53 points a game last year.
  • 6M No. 4 Natoma at 6M No. 3 Northern Valley -- Natoma won this game, 53-50, on basically the game’s final play in Week 2 last season. The Tigers eventually went 9-0 and won its first-ever state title behind RB Kayden Martinez and LB Derek George, the classification’s offensive and defensive players of the year. Northern Valley finished fourth in six-man. However, plenty of size is back for Natoma with QB Roy Bright, and receivers Javon Letsch and Jared Griffin. Northern Valley is known for depth, including OL Kai Cox and QB/S Kenton Thalheim. 

The Contenders

  • 4A No. 2 Bishop Miege at Blue Valley North – Another EKL showdown features Miege and Blue Valley North. Bishop Miege finished 5-7 a season ago, but reached the state semifinals. The Stags return quarterback Mac Armstrong who passed for 2,650 yards and 21 scores a season ago. Tommy Wright returns as a top receiving target and the offensive line has three key pieces back. The defensive secondary will be a strength with DeAndre Beasely, Aidan Wing, and Isaiah Coppage. Blue Valley North enters the 2022 season having lost six straight games and having to replace one of the state’s best quarterbacks in the graduated Henry Martin. The Mustangs return several starters including Jaxon Goldberg, who caught 58 passes for 874 yards and 11 scores.
  • Blue Valley at 5A No. 5 Blue Valley Southwest – Blue Valley Southwest opens the rankings despite another sub .500 record and strong 5A playoff showing. The Timberwolves were 4-7 a season ago, but reached the 5A quarterfinals. Southwest returns standout quarterback Dylan Dunn who passed for 2,587 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Blue Valley graduated do-it-all quarterback Greyson Holbert who accounted for 2,600 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns. The Tigers must also replace the bulk of their offensive line from as season ago. However, the arrival of JB Price from Lincoln College Prep (Mo.) should help out the offense. As a sophomore last season, Price helped Lincoln Prep to an 11-1 record by rushing for 1,410 yards and 22 touchdowns, while also registering 76 tackles, including 18.5 TFL, and 6.5 sacks.
  • Junction City at Hays -- These teams played in the ’12, ’13 and ’18 and ’19 season openers. Junction City went 3-1 in those games. The Blue Jays went 8-2 last season, while Hays High posted an 8-3 mark, the school’s best season since 1995. Hays has dealt with several key injuries after it graduated Top 11 all-classes selections with QB Jaren Kanak and LB Gavin Meyers. Hays High has DB Remy Stull with a New Mexico State offer. RB Malik Bah is expected to be a breakout player. Junction City returns dual threat QB Xavion Felton with nearly 1,400 yards of total offense.
  •  Manhattan at 6A No. 1 Derby – After meeting in the playoffs in 2017-2019, Manhattan and Derby will square off in the regular season. The Panthers and Indians last met in the quarterfinals of the 2019 playoffs with Derby prevailing 56-0. Derby opens the season at No. 1 in 6A for the seventh consecutive season. The Panthers want to end the season atop the polls after falling to Blue Valley Northwest in last year’s title game. Dylan Edwards gives Derby the most explosive player in the state. Edwards rushed for 2,603 yards and 38 scores as season ago. Manhattan will feature an experienced defense that will be challenged will slowing Edwards. The Indians must replace 1,000-yard rushing Vinny Smith, but dual threat quarterback Keenan Schartz returns.
  • 5A No. 1 Mill Valley at Olathe Northwest – Mill Valley will be the favorite after winning three consecutive 5A state titles. Both teams feature exceptional secondary play. Mill Valley, the No. 2 5A scoring defense last season, is stacked on defense, including safeties Mikey Bergeron and Holden Zigmant. Olathe Northwest has DB Micah Geary, a top-10 secondary player in Kansas. Northwest finished 6-4 and was No. 13 in 6A in scoring defense a season ago.
  • 6A No. 5 Olathe West at Lawrence Free State – Olathe West returns several starters from last season’s 7-3 finish. Headlining the returners is dual-threat quarterback Mason McGavran. McGavran passed for 1,326 yards and rushed for 1,232 yards a season ago and combined for 25 TDs. The Owls also return four starters up front. Free State finished 8-3 a season but gradated do-everything standout Jett Dineen who has moved on to Kansas State. The Firebirds will be inexperienced on defense, but offensively will benefit from a big and talented offensive line. Baylor commit Calvin Clements (6-7, 290) leads the group along with Kaden Lonard (6-6, 295), Hank Fuchs (6-3, 265), Spencer Doan (6-5, 240), and Will Young (5-11, 220).
  • Washburn Rural at Wichita East – This intriguing matchup will help determine a lot about these two experienced teams that sit just outside of the 6A rankings. Washburn Rural finished 8-2 a season ago and reached the 6A second round. The Junior Blues return several starters from that team including quarterback Brandon DeWeese, tight end Lukas Hanks, wideout Amr Sabbarini, and Ma’Kenttis Adams in the backfield. The defense will be experienced with linebacker Ty Weber and twins Jaren and JC Heim. Wichita East finished 6-4 a season ago with a young roster. Now the more experienced Blue Aces are looking to again make some noise in 6A. DaeOnte’ Mitchell is one of the most electric players in the state, producing more than 2,500 yards of total offense and 35 touchdowns last season.
  • Andover Central at Buhler -- This is the third time in the last 12 meetings the teams will play, including the second straight contest. In ’21, Buhler went 10-0 in non-Andover Central games, though lost to the Jaguars, 21-19, in Week 2, and 42-21 in the state semifinals. Both teams took major graduation losses, including Buhler RB Sam Elliott, the school’s all-time rusher. Andover Central had the No. 2 defense in 4A a season ago allowing 12.4 points a contest. The Jaguars return WR/DB/Returner Cooper Tabor and top specialist Isaac Saye. Key lineman Bronx Wood transferred to nearby Rose Hill.
  • Tonganoxie at Basehor-Linwood – Although they are not in the same league, these two rivals are separated by less than 10 miles. Preston Troyer takes over as head coach at Tonganoxie for his father, Al Troyer. The Chieftains graduated one of 4A’s top players in Sam Kleidosty, but return nine starters from a team that finished 4-5 with three close losses. Tonganoxie lost two games in overtime and another game by three points last fall. Colton Brusven returns after rushing for nearly 800 yards as a sophomore in 2021. Basehor-Linwood finished 9-1 a season ago and reached the second round of the playoffs. Rod Stallbaumer must find replacements for graduated quarterback Brady Garrison (1,678 yards, 21 TD), Shrine Bowl running back Zack Sisemore (1,325 yards, 18 TD), and leading receiver Chants Nelson (469 yards, 9 TD). The Bobcats will benefit from the return of three starters up front, including one of 4A’s best in Levi Cooley.
  • Girard at Columbus – A huge showdown in southeast Kansas as the Trojans and Titans are among the favorites in the CNC. Girard was one of Class 3A’s best stories last fall posting a 10-1 record and reaching the state quarterfinals. The Trojans return four starters up front to help protect returning quarterback Luke Niggemann and back Alex Coester. Expectations are equally high at Columbus as the Titans battled through injuries a season ago to a 4-5 mark. Standout linemen Kody Schalk has moved on to Pitt State, but quarterback Brett Hamilton returns along with ten other starters.
  • Hoisington at Hesston -- The Central Kansas League foes have not played since a 35-19 Hesston win in the frigid, 2016 state semifinals. Hoisington finished 8-2 last year, while Hesston was 4-5 with 29.9 points per game. Hesston junior quarterback Hudson Ferralez completed 193 of 274 passes for 2,436 yards and 27 scores. Plus, junior Jake Proctor returned after 721 receiving yards. Hoisington returns standout OL Cole Gilliland. The Cardinals were No. 19 in 2A with 21.1 points allowed a contest and bring back DB Chase Steinert (47 tackles, 2 INT). Hoisington defending Hesston’s pass offense is an intriguing matchup.
  • Perry-Lecompton at Sabetha – Maybe not the premiere game in the Big 7, but two consistent programs that return plenty of experience and are expected to be contenders in their respective classifications. Perry-Lecompton finished 6-4 a season ago and return quarterback Gunnar Ball who passed for 1,242 yards and 15 TDs a season ago. Also back are the receiving duo of Kael Gorski and Ty Williams who combined for nearly 1,000 yards receiving and 14 scores. Sabetha had a lot of younger players gain experience during a 4-5 campaign in 2021. Now the Bluejays return several starters led by senior back Josh Hermann (871 rushing yards), quarterback Matthew Garber, and an experienced offensive line. Perry-Lecompton won this matchup 28-21 back in Week 9 last season.
  • Hutchinson Trinity at Sedgwick -- The Heart of America rivals have not faced one another since Sedgwick beat Trinity, 27-26, in overtime in Week 4 of 2016. Sedgwick went to the state semifinals, the top showing in school annals last fall. QB Corey Crumrine takes over the Cardinal offense that paced 1A with 48.9 points per game. Jase Helstrom is a three-year starter at center. Kaden Foster is a three-year starter at nose guard. Trinity, known for defense, was the No. 24 scoring defense out of 48 2A teams. The Celtics move down to 1A and feature RB Caleb Sanger.
  • Marion at 1A No. 4 Inman -- The Heart of America foes play in Week 1 for the first time since at least 1996. Inman enjoyed the best season in school history with a 1A state runner-up finish to Olpe. Inman graduated Shrine Bowl quarterback Jace Doerksen. Dynamic athlete Tanner Heckel moves behind center this season. Cousins Harrison and Eli Brunk are great players on both sides of the ball. Dominic Nuese-Rasmussen is a key lineman. Marion moves down from 2A and is highly experienced with running back Trevor Schafers and quarterback Jack Lanning.
  • 8M-II No. 1 Axtell at Cair Paravel – A pair of reigning state champions and two teams riding double-digit win streaks will collide in this season opener. Defending 8M-II champion Axtell enters having won 13 straight games, while Cair Paravel rolled to the KCAA state title a season ago and has won 11 consecutive games. Axtell returns every starter from last season’s run the the 8M-II title. Isaac Detweiler headlines the athletic Eagles having passed for 1,984 yards and 34 TD and rushed for 1,273 yards and 29 scores last season. Meanwhile, Cair Paravel joins the KSHSAA ranks for the first time having graduated standout QB Carter Brian and TE Noah Hastert. Brian passed for more than 2,500 yards and 51 touchdowns last season, while Hastert hauled in nearly 921 receiving yards and 22 scores. While those two stars are gone, the Lions return several starters that were significant contributors to their undefeated season. Axtell and Cair Paravel last met in 2020 with Axtell winning 70-20.
  • 8M-I No. 3 Chase County at Frankfort – Chase County is expected to be a legitimate contender in 8M-I this season. The Bulldogs return all-stater Mitch Budke who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last fall. Brock Griffin and Cal Kohlmeier also return to give Chase County plenty of offensive options. Frankfort finished 7-3 a season ago, but the Wildcats must replace several talented seniors off last year’s team. Sophomore Ty Smith gained some experience last fall at quarterback and will be helped by a couple of linemen in Xander Hull and Wyatt Keller.
  • 8M-I No. 4 Clifton-Clyde at Hanover – Twin Valley League members Clifton-Clyde and Hanover will meet to open the season for the first time. While Hanover has been the model program at the 8-Man level for several years, it’s Clifton-Clyde that carries high expectations entering this season. The Eagles return five starters including standout linemen Seth LeClair and Kansas Dammon. Trent Long, Colby Garrison, and Payton Fahey provide three capable backs to replace graduated Jett Skoncy. Hanover finished 6-4 as season ago as several young players gained experience. Chase Bruna, Josh Zarbnicky and Cole Meyer return to lead a defense that will likely be the team’s strength to start the season.
  • Hill City at Osborne -- This game was moved to Thursday because of an official shortage. Hill City went to the Division I semifinals, the second-best showing in school annals. Osborne went 6-3 and faces limited numbers for acclaimed coach Steve Tiernan. Osborne junior QB Doak Guttery returns after 14 offensive scores. Hill City won, 28-6, against Osborne in Week 1 last year. Hill City returns its three-headed backfield of QB Aiden Amrein and RBs Kaleb Atkins and Jaden Nuss. Amrein had more than 3,000 yards of total offense.
  • Hoxie at WaKeeney-Trego – WaKeeney-Trego has defeated Hoxie in each of the last two meetings, including a 60-40 win last year. Trego had a huge jump to 8-2 and a top-10 Division I offense. The Golden Eagles must replace the entire line and all-state tight end Charlie Russell. However, the Golden Eagles return three talented skill players with QB Owen Day, RB/Returner James Kriegh and WR Gunner Wilson. Day delivered more than 1,500 yards of total offense. Hoxie went 6-4, though is highly athletic and deep, including wideout Brady Jones.
  • Lyndon at 8M-II No. 4 Lebo – A consistent contender in Class 1A, Lyndon makes the move down to 8-Man this cycle and has an experienced group to contend. Jalen Massey is coming off of a breakthrough sophomore season where he rushed for nearly 800 yards. Good size returns the for the Tigers up front, but replacing multi-year starter Darian Massey at quarterback will be key. Lebo opens the season in the top five in 8M-II. The Wolves went 9-2 a season ago and reached the state quarterfinals. Gone is all-state selection Kyle Reese who amassed more than 2,600 yards of total offense, but the Wolves return six starters and several other contributors including a lot of experience on the line.
  • Kinsley at 8M-II No. 5 Victoria -- The Central Prairie League foes have never played each other. Kinsley has back-to-back 5-4 seasons and could have one of the best falls in school annals. However, junior Dylan Haselhorst, a first team all-league player, elected not to play this fall and then transferred. Plus, Kinsley is fighting key injuries. Victoria returns cousins Thaddeus Wohler (QB) and Seth Schwien (TE). Victoria has athlete Carson Werth, who will run the ball, play defense, kick, punt and return kicks. The Knights has never had a losing season since it moved to eight-man in ’00. Victoria has back-to-back final four showings.

The Rivalries

  • Olathe East at Olathe North – Sunflower League rivals Olathe North and Olathe East start the season off against one another. Olathe East is coming off a 1-8 season a year ago, but the Hawks return several starters including four offensive linemen. Olathe North has to replace all-stater Jacob Parrish, Noah Palmer, and Aquantez Love in the backfield, but Parrish’s twin brothers Joson and Josh should help fill those vacancies. This game will feature two of the top defensive players in the Sunflower League in Olathe East’s Ray Smith and North’s Devan Lowe.  
  • Galena at Riverton – These two CNC rivals are separated by less than 4 miles on Route 66. Riverton had a resurgence under veteran coach (and former Galena coach) Johnny Mallatt. The Rams won 18 games over the past three seasons having won only 15 total games the six previous years. Danny Weaver takes over the Rams after Mallatt’s retirement. Quarterback Walker Terry returns for a third season and is joined in the backfield by Kadyn Allen and Leiam Tyree. Galena has big shoes to fill in replacing standout quarterback Brett Sarwinski, but the Bulldogs have an experienced offensive line to protect the new signal caller. The Bulldogs also feature one of the states best players in tight end Trevor Little.
  • 2A No. 5 Kingman at Cheney -- The Central Plains League rivals meet up in Week 1 for the third straight year. Cheney has won both games, including 34-14 last year in a weather-delayed contest. Then, Kingman captured 10 straight wins and allowed just 68 points in that stretch. The Eagles were a 2A semifinal team, best finish since the ’70s. Kingman is loaded with key returners, including QB Nolan Freund, DL Jake Fischer and LB Ty Birkenbaugh. Cheney took major graduation losses, including Shrine Bowl QB Harrison Voth, though WR Jack Voth is back. Cheney is 4-0 against Kingman since 2006.
  • 1A No. 5 St. Mary’s Colgan at Frontenac – Longtime rivals Colgan and Frontenac will meet for the 69th time overall and for what is believed to be only the fifth time to open a season. Colgan leads the overall series 43-25, but the Raiders have won three straight in convincing fashion. Frontenac graduated a talented senior class that helped lead them to a runner-up finish in 3A a season ago. Standout back Mario Menghini returns after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards a season ago. Colgan returns to Class 1A after a 4-5 season a year ago – the program’s first season below .500 since 1997. The Panthers return several experienced players especially on defense in  Tucker Harrell and Cooper Simmons.
  • Garden Plain at Conway Springs – Central Plains League rivals Garden Plain and Conway Springs meet to open the season for the third consecutive year. Garden Plain has won the past two meetings, 14-13 in 2020 and 14-7 last season. The Owls are under the direction of a new head coach in Todd Rice after Dan Adelhardt led Garden Plain to a 15-6 record over the past two seasons. Conway Springs returns plenty of experience to again be a contender in Class 1A. The Cardinals feature Brayden Kunz in the backfield after he produced 1,120 rushing yards last season. Four offensive linemen also return to help lead the single wing attack.
  • Phillipsburg at 1A No. 2 Smith Center -- The Mid-Continent League rivals meet up in Week 1 for the first time. Smith Center coach Darren Sasse told Kpreps this summer that even though the Redmen were in different classifications than Phillipsburg and Norton, they wanted to make sure they played the longtime rivals. Smith Center has always considered Phillipsburg and Norton measuring stick games. While Phillipsburg looks to improve, Smith Center has key experience with DB Bentley Montgomery, OL Cauy Haresnape and OL Kaid Sasse. Standout LB Jake Sasse had a huge sophomore year, missed last season with injury and was injured again this summer. He plans to return at some point in ’22. Smith Center has a new QB in Tarek Koelsch, a team captain.
  • Silver Lake at Riley County -- For 35-plus years, this meant Silver Lake’s CJ Hamilton against Riley County’s Steve Wagner. Both coaches are top-10 all-time in wins, while Hamilton retired last season as the state’s No. 1 victory leader. Wagner retired two years ago. The Mid-East League rivals have generally played very close games. The squads met six times in the last four seasons with four one-score contests. Each team has sizable holes to replace, including all-state QBs. Silver Lake returns top tackler Kaden Walker.
  • Atwood-Rawlins Co. at St. Francis -- The Yoke Bowl is one of the state’s longest running rivalries between the Northwest Kansas League teams. These teams generally play each other each fall, though have not met in Week 1 in at least 17 seasons. Atwood has new coach Andrew Sramek and returns dual threat quarterback Drew Withington, who delivered more than 1,500 yards. Saint Francis was state runner-up in ’19 and ’20, took huge graduation losses and managed just one win last season.
  • Ell-Saline at Moundridge -- The Heart of America rivals meet up for the first time since 2017 as both are now in the eight-man ranks. Former Moundridge coach Jeremiah Meeks is now leading Wellington. Ell-Saline has won six in a row in the series dating back to ’11. Cardinal quarterback Kade Wilson threw for seven TDs a season ago. Ell-Saline was eight-man for a time, and won an eight-man state title in ’89.



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