Several Key Matchups Headline Week 1 (The Pick List)

Nemaha Central & Holton will battle in a key Big 7 game to open the season. (by Dari Hilbert)
By: Conor Nicholl & Matt Gilmore for
Aug 31, 2023

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Typically, Kpreps brings you a feature called The Pick List, where, each Friday 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.

Last season we dubbed the opening week of the season as the “Greatest Week 1 Ever”.  There were so many great matchups, that we decided to preview several of them. This week is no different. So here are some brief notes on several of the key game to open the 2023 season.

The Ranked Match-ups

  • 6A No. 3 Derby at 6A No. 4 Manhattan – Derby will travel to Manhattan for the third meeting between the schools in the last year. Manhattan’s Braxton Frey’s 25-yard field goal in overtime propelled the Indians to a 26-23 win in the season-opener. The Indians went on to an undefeated season, besting Derby again 28-23 in the state semifinals before stopping a Gardner-Edgerton two-point attempt in overtime to win the Class 6A state championship, 21-20. The Indians will miss graduated quarterback Keenan Schartz, but should be able to lean on their defense early in the season. Derby’s Derek Hubbard may be the next feature Panther back after the graduation of the dynamic Dylan Edwards.
  • 5A No. 2 Bishop Carroll at 6A No. 2 Wichita Northwest – This marks the six straight time the City League rivals have met in Week 1 with both being ranked in the top-5 of a classification. Northwest led last year’s season-opener 31-9 and 39-22 in the second half before Carroll rallied to win 53-41.  Both teams have key players back. Carroll features Jackson King at quarterback and Thomas Gorges in the backfield. Northwest may be the most talented team in the state on paper. The Grizzlies bring back Jayce Glasper at quarterback, Cencere Thompson in the backfield and standout wideout Michael Lopez, Jr.
  • 4A No. 4 Wamego at 3A No. 5 Clay Center – Wamego has won five straight in the North Central Kansas League rivalry. Wamego is defending 4A state runner-up, Clay Center was a surprising 3A semifinalist. The Red Raiders return linebacker Gannon Couture off 4A’s top scoring defense. Clay Center notably has backs Carter Long and Brody Hayes, who combined for 1,673 rushing yards.
  • 3A No. 2 Cheney at 2A No. 3 Kingman – Since 2006, Kingman was 0-4 in this series before last year’s 28-14 win. Kingman led 2A in scoring defense and finished as the state runner-up. Carter Helm (10 INT) is a top returner. Cheney has Class 3A’s top quarterback/wide receiver combination with Josh Burdick and Jackson Voth, as well as an experienced offensive line from an 8-3 team.
  • 3A No. 3 Topeka Hayden at 1A No. 5 Olpe – The is the second year for this unique matchup between two tradition-rich programs. Last season, Hayden won a defensive battle, 21-7, to snap Olpe’s 24-game win streak. The Wildcats return plenty of firepower this season with quarterback Jett Wahlmeier, back Finn Dunshee, and receiver Jenson Schrickel, but must replace standout linemen Joe Otting and Ben Evans. Olpe returns standout athlete Blake Skalsky, while Dexton Hoelting and Ethan Redeker will fill the backfield spots vacated by the graduation of Truman Bailey and Blake Redeker.
  • 8M-II No. 2 Osborne at 8M-I No. 3 Hill City -- Hill City has won three straight in the series, including 58-12 in 2022. Hill City has four-year starting quarterback Aiden Amrein, the school record holder in multiple passing categories. Osborne returns dual threat QB Doak Guttery from 9-2 squad. Hill City is 10-2 last two seasons.
  • 6M No. 2 Ashland at No. 1 Cunningham -- This is the third time in the last 13 games Cunningham and Ashland have faced as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, respectively. Cunningham came back to win 38-30 in ’22 season opener and won the state championship game 38-16 over Ashland. Cunningham notably has QB Luke McGuire and DL Jack Ruckle returning. Ashland has all but one player back, led by QB Britt Grigsby. Ashland led six-man in scoring offense, Cunningham in scoring defense.

Games Featuring Ranked Teams

  • 4A No. 3 St. James Academy at Blue Valley Northwest – These two EKL teams kicked off the season last fall with both coming off of state championship seasons. After winning 4A titles in 2020 and 2021, St. James dealt with several injuries last season and finished 6-5 while reaching the 4A quarterfinals. Blue Valley Northwest finished 6-4 a season ago, reaching the second round of the 6A playoffs. The Huskies must find a replacement for standout back Grant Stubblefield, but have a lot of talent throughout their roster.
  • 4A No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas at Blue Valley West – Aquinas has won seven of the last eight in series, including 31-7 last year. Gianni Rizzi had 841 rushing yards in ’22 behind an offensive line without any seniors. Sophomore Stephen Carroll is elite on the OL, while Kian Payne and Juju Marks are Division I recruits on the defensive line. Blue Valley West counters with senior Sage Huffman, who tallied 237 rushes for 1,432 yards and 11 touchdowns.
  • 5A No. 5 Blue Valley Southwest at Blue Valley – Blue Valley Southwest rallied from an 0-3 start last season to finish 6-6 and reach the 5A state semifinals. The Timberwolves will have one of the top passing attacks in the state with quarterback Dylan Dunn who threw for 2,784 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Four of Southwest’s top five receivers also return. Blue Valley handed the Timberwolves a 28-21 loss in the opener last year. The Tigers will rely on running back JB Price who has committed to Kansas State.
  • Blue Valley North at 4A No. 1 Bishop Miege – Bishop Miege returned to the top of Class 4A last season winning their seventh state title in the past nine season. The Stags return a loaded offensive line along with running back David Garcia and talented wideouts. Blue Valley North is now under the direction of Drew Hudgins, the former Mill Valley defensive coordinator.
  • Olathe Northwest at 5A No. 1 Mill Valley – Mill Valley has won four straight 5A titles. Longtime defensive coordinator Drew Hudgins now new head coach at Blue Valley North. Mill Valley with stars on both lines with Mason Kemp, Gus Hawkins on offense, Truman Griffith and Jayden Woods on defense. Olathe Northwest went 8-4 and went to 6A semifinals, best finish in school history. Merek Greinert back at quarterback.
  • Holton at 2A No. 1 Nemaha Central – A key Big 7 Conference showdown between two teams that reached state title games in their respective classifications last year. Nemaha Central won the 2A state title thanks to a monster season from the graduated Cooper Hajek. Hajek rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns in this meeting last year. The Thunder will have some key pieces back on the offensive line. Holton returns the bulk of its line from last season, but must essentially replace their entire backfield production. The Wildcats graduated their top seven ball carriers which accounted for more than 93 percent of their 4,700 rushing yards.
  • Hesston at 2A No. 4 Hoisington -- Hesston is 3-0 in the series dating back to ’06, including a 21-14 season-opening win last fall. Hesston quarterback Hudson Ferralez transferred to Wichita Collegiate over the summer. Hoisington returns QB Tony Moore, more than 95 percent of its rushing yards and six of its top-seven tacklers. The Cardinals led 2A in yards per play and will play its first game on its new turf.
  • Riley County at 2A No. 5 Silver Lake – These two Mid-East League rivals met twice last season with each visiting team coming away victorious. Silver Lake won the season-opener 28-21, while Riley County upset the Eagles 23-21 in the playoffs. Silver Lake returns standout daul-threat quarterback Tanner Martin.
  • 1A No. 1 St. Marys at Rossville – St. Marys is the defending 1A state champion and rival Rossville a 2A Kpreps Potential Breakout Team. St. Marys set a bevy of school marks last season, especially quarterback Keller Hurla, a Top 11 All-Class selection. Two seniors, lineman Atticus Martin and all-purpose threat Nate Hutley, return. Rossville went 5-5 and brings back Camden Horak, who accounted for 24 touchdowns.
  • Lebo at 8M-I No. 2 Lyndon – Lyndon has significant returners, especially senior lineman Kaedin Massey, a Kansas State commit. Quarterback Tanner Heckel transferred after first team all-state in three sports at Inman. Lebo’s Corey Reese and Drew Konrade are top skill players for the Wolves. Lyndon won 20-14 last season.
  • 8M-II No. 5 Hanover at Clifton-Clyde – These two Twin Valley League rivals have coaches who have combined for 316 wins at their alma maters in Hanover’s Matt Heuer and Clifton-Clyde’s Russ Steinbrock. Clifton-Clyde’s Trent Long and Payton Fahey combined for more than 1,300 rushing yards a year ago. Junior Rieken Stallbaumer passed for 1,288 yards, and Hanover returns 93 percent of its rushing attack. Hanover won six straight before Clifton-Clyde had a 52-6 victory last year.
  • 1A No. 2 Inman at Marion -- Inman has won three straight in this Heart of America League matchup dating back to 2017. Teutons are two-time defending 1A state runner-up. Dawson McConnell, Kellen Schrag and Talon Welch anchors in the backfield and on defense. Marion averaged 34.2 points a game and brings back Jack Lanning.
  • Cair Paravel at 8M-II No. 1 Axtell – When these two met to open the 2022 season, they were both coming off of a state championship. Cair Parvel led 26-22 at halftime before Axtell pulled away for an 82-38 win. Axtell rolled to a second straight state title, but must replace one of the all-time great eight-man players in Isaac Detweiler. The Eagles have plenty of experienced and explosive athletes returning.
  • 8M-II No. 3 Victoria at Kinsley -- A highlighted 2022 game drastically changed when Kinsley had a player move just before the season and two key starters miss Week 1 with injury. Kinsley returns all but one player, headlined by QB Peyton Schmidt and all-purpose Conner Chamberlain. Victoria known for its line play with sophomores Kyle Huser and Ethan VonLintel, and seniors Seth Schwien and Will Scherrer.

The Contenders

  • Hays at Junction City -- Hays High had a comeback 33-21 home victory in 2022 that propelled a school record 10-2 season. Hays replaces all 11 defensive starters, and Slade Salmans a potential breakout player. Hays running back Malik Bah rushed for 1,633 yards and missed a couple games with injury. Junction City’s Michael Boganowski is state’s top 2024 prospect and posted 123 tackles.
  • Lawrence Free State 47, Olathe West 29 – Free State outscored Olathe West 47-29 on Thursday night. Free State quarterback Wesley Edison picked up where he left off last season in throwing five touchdown passes and rushing for another score on Thursday night.
  • Wichita East at Washburn Rural – Washburn Rural won 49-42 in a wild matchup last season. East quarterback DaeOnte Mitchell enters with more than 4,000 career passing yards. Washburn Rural quarterback Branton DeWeese threw for 1,884 yards last season. Both finished top-5 in 6A scoring offense.
  • Buhler at Andover Central – Andover Central has won four straight in the series, including 35-13 last season. The Andover Central quartet of Kyle Newsom, Dawson Rodd, Jayden Joy, and Gaige Hurley return on defense from a 7-4 team. Buhler is a 4A Kpreps Potential Breakout Team and headlined by quarterback Jeffrey Neill.
  • Basehor-Linwood at Tonganoxie – These two rivals are separated by less than 10 miles, but are not in the same league. The Bobcats return quarterback Brady Vandonge who passed for more than 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Tonganoxie will be led by Colton Brusven returns after rushing for more than 1,200 and 11 scores. Basehor-Linwood won this game 47-42 to open the season last year.
  • Southeast of Saline at Rock Creek – SE Saline won 38-26 en route to second straight state semifinal showing. Rock Creek went 9-2 and led 3A in passing. Southeast RB Nathan Friesen rushed for 1,002 yards, and Trojans have big junior and sophomore class. Daegen Vinduska picked off six passes for a Rock Creek team with limited returners.
  • Ellsworth at Beloit – Ellsworth intercepted three passes, including a pick-six, in big 14-6 season-opening win last year. Victory propelled Ellsworth to 8-2 mark and best start since the ‘80s. Ellsworth returns everyone, paced by QB Will Cravens and WR Cole Webber. Beloit lineman Brody Widrig top returner for team with limited returners.
  • Canton-Galva at Little River - Little River has finished first, second, and second in Division I last three years. Canton-Galva is 55-6 in last five years. Both teams took massive graduation losses. Little River returns athlete Andrew Smith, along with Carter Stansbury and Ruxton Birdsong. Next to Andale, Little River has state’s longest current home winning streak.
  • Ell-Saline at Moundridge – Both teams are Kpreps Potential Breakout Teams. Moundridge has new coach Tyler O’Connor after its most wins since 2008. QB Henry Hecox returns. Ryder Dent delivered more than 100 tackles for Ell-Saline.
  • Quinter at Sharon Springs-Wallace Co. – Both teams won an eight-man playoff game in 2022 and are just outside the rankings this fall. Sharon Springs won 14-6 last season, one of Quinter’s four, one-score losses. Sharon Springs returns running back Tyler Korbe, Quinter counters with RB Trace Kinderknecht and lineman Camden Polifka (10 sacks).

The Rivalries

  • 6A No. 5 Olathe North at Olathe East – Sunflower League rivals Olathe North and Olathe East again start the season off against one another. Olathe North won last year’s meeting, 26-6 as T.J. Porter rushed for 230 yards and two scores. Porter returns with a talented offensive line trying to keep the Eagles among the elite on the eastern side of Class 6A.  
  • Salina Central at Salina South -- The Crosstown Showdown between Salina Central and Salina South takes place this week. Salina South enters this game on a 15-game losing streak and last won in this series in 2020. Salina Central is looking to improve on last year's 8-3 season with the return of standout quarterback Gunnar Gross. 
  • Arkansas City at Winfield – Rivals Ark City and Winfield will square off again in the Cowley Cup. The Bulldogs have a new coach in Chet Pobolish as Jon Wiemers moved on to take over the Olathe West program. Ark City won 43-14 last season.
  • Frontenac at 1A No. 3 St. Mary’s Colgan – Longtime rivals Colgan and Frontenac will meet for the 70th time overall and for only the sixth time to open a season. Colgan leads the overall series 44-25 after ending the Raiders streak of three straight wins in the series with a 14-12 victory last year.  Frontenac must replace standout back Mario Menghini, but has a solid group of returners around quarterback Kal Terlip. Colgan returns several experienced players and feature a standout backfield in Tucker Harrell and Cooper Simmons.
  • Garden Plain 20, 1A No. 4 Conway Springs 14 – Central Plains League rivals Garden Plain and Conway Springs met Thursday to open the season with the Owls holding on for the 20-14 win. Emrick Hays rushed for 126 yards and three scores for the Owls. Garden Plain has now won the past four meetings by a combined 20 points.
  • Phillipsburg at 1A No. 2 Smith Center – Both of these Mid-Continent League rivals are under the direction of new head coaches. Ross Coomes takes over at Philipsburg after Kendall Fiscus departed for Independence. Meanwhile, long-time coach Mike Rogers takes over for Darren Sasse at Smith Center. Smith Center won last season, 29-21, and has won four straight in the series.
  • Atwood-Rawlins Co. at St. Francis – The Yoke Bowl is one of the state’s longest running rivalries between the Northwest Kansas League teams. Rawlins County went 8-3 in Andrew Sramek’s season leading the Buffs. returns dual threat quarterback Drew Withington, who delivered more than 1,500 yards. Saint Francis was state runner-up in ’19 and ’20 and have since posted a 5-13 record over the past two seasons.



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