8-Man: Lyndon, Wichita County, Axtell, South Central

L-R: Wichita County's Khris Hermosillo, Axtell's Brandon Schmelzle, & SC's JT Prusa (Everett Royer)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 24, 2023

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Photo artwork from L-R: Wichita County's Khris Hermosillo, Axtell's Brandon Schmelzle, South Central's J.T. Prusa (all photos by Everett Royer, KSportsImages.com). (No Lyndon photo available at time of this story)

The last time Axtell football or boys’ basketball lost a game came in Great Bend last March in the Class 1A, Division II state basketball tournament. In the third-place game, Coldwater-South Central, enjoying the best season in school annals, defeated Axtell in a mild upset, 59-45.

Since then, Axtell football has rolled to another undefeated season and has closed in on Hanover’s all-time state record eight-man winning streak. Axtell has won two straight state titles, is 12-0 this fall and has captured 38 straight victories. South Central football, like basketball, has enjoyed the best advancement since Coldwater and Protection consolidated.

On Saturday, South Central, the state’s biggest surprise, looks to try to pull another upset against Axtell in the Eight-Man, Division II state championship game at Newton’s Fischer Field. South Central is 9-3 and has turned the corner behind a new offense and defense. Division II start time is 2:30 p.m.

“Our guys have fought a lot of adversity this year,” second-year South Central coach Brett Westrup said. “Nobody has given us a chance all year. But it’s on my boys, the way they just kept working, and kept fighting and kept plugging.”

Axtell has its well-known stars with senior Grady Buessing, juniors Brandon Schmelzle and Eli Broxterman, along with sophomore Landon Schmitz. Schmelzle and Broxterman are back-to-back all-state players.

Schmelzle moved to dual threat quarterback this year. He has 92 rushes for 676 yards with 17 scores. Broxterman has 34 rushes for 602 yards and 13 TDs. Passing-wise, Schmelzle has delivered 85 of 102 for 1,503 yards with 29 scores against zero interceptions. Broxterman has 32 catches for 518 yards and 10 scores. Buessing has 24 catches for 469 yards and eight TDs. Schmitz has recorded 19 catches for 337 yards and eight TDs.

"I want to be the underdog, and we are going to come in (to state) the underdog," Westrup said.  "And I always tell my boys, 'When you come in as the underdog, you have got nothing to lose.'"

South Central switched to Hill City’s defense. The offense went to zone read. Westrup knew the changes would take some time.

“We changed everything,” Westrup said. “It took us awhile to get that going. The offense, it took us awhile to figure out the blocking scheme, it took us awhile to figure out that zone read. I knew when we ran it, it was going to take awhile. We might some take lumps at the very beginning, but we could get it rolling.”

Hill City and South Central run the unconventional 2-4 defense. South Central safety Jack Herd plays the “Jack linebacker” position. Junior Jase Rutherford is extremely hard to block with 88 tackles, 13 for loss.

“If he is reading run, he is coming up hard, and it’s very hard for people to block him, because they are   not accounting for him,” Westrup said.

Westrup played football at Sterling College and was great friends with Matt Fowler. The two often talked eight-man football. Fowler won a state crown at Spearville and is currently at Oswego.

The Timberwolves lost their first two games this fall, though is 9-1 since with three wins against ranked teams: Kinsley in Week 6, along with Minneola and Victoria the last two weeks.

The 44-14 win against then-No. 2 Kinsley pivoted the season. Isaiah Jellison (814 rushing yards) is the only senior skill player. Junior JT Prusa has emerged with a huge season with 561 passing yards, 11 passing scores, 1,738 rushing yards and 32 rushing scores.

“You are not going to get him down on the first tackle,” Westrup said. “He is shifty, he is going to get outside and make a cutback. He’s a tremendous athlete, and he just never gives up. He runs the ball really hard.”

He benefited from the new zone read shotgun offense, calling the new formation “easier for me” because it provided him “more time to think.”

“We got our butts beat the first two games of the season, and then we just kind of practiced, practiced, practiced,” Prusa said. “… Lots of improvement, lots of fun.”

Senior Gavin Uhl paces the defense with 103 tackles and the offense with six receiving touchdowns. His dad was on the undefeated 1995 Coldwater team, the last football team from either Coldwater or Protection to reach a state finale.

“First time for a long time,” Uhl said. “And we are the underdogs. We are going to keep being them.”

The Division I contest features the highly anticipated matchup between Wichita County (12-0) against Lyndon (12-0). Start time is 10:30 a.m. from Newton.

Wichita County is the defending champion and on a 25-game winning streak. Lyndon has its highly explosive playmakers and elite talent with quarterback Tanner Heckel, lineman Kaedin Massey and running back Jalen Massey. Gardner has passed for 974 yards and rushed for 1,477. Gardner has accounted for 45 offensive scores. Hermosillo missed most of one and two full games earlier this year because of injury, though has 1,162 rushing yards. Wichita County ranks second in the class in scoring defense, Lyndon third.

“Defensively, in general, whatever defense you run, it comes down to who is more physical and you plays with better energy and effort,” Douglas said. “And I think our guys do a great job of that week in and week out, getting all eight guys to the ball,  creating opportunities.”

Heckel has rushed for 2,062 yards, passed for 1,040 and accounted for 65 touchdowns. He starred for Inman the last three seasons, including the Teutons’ back-to-back 1A state runner-up teams. Lyndon has delivered a remarkable 10.8 yards per play. Wichita County leads the classification with 742 points, a year after it set the classification mark with 792 points. Wichita County has its balanced attack with quarterback Wyatt Gardner, running back Khris Hermosillo and superb offensive line with Brandon Price, Chris Michel and Max Whitham.

“If you are out of position one or two times, they are going to burn you pretty quickly,” Douglas said. “It’s a great challenge for us, and to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, so that’s kind of our mindset going in, is we want to play the best teams, and we want to be challenged every single week, and this is that opportunity.”


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