1. Winless Eisenhower knocks off undefeated Valley Center
Starting the season 0-5 has been rough on Eisenhower and coach Marc Marinelli.
“I’ll be honest, the last couple of weeks has been some of the hardest coaching I’ve ever done,” Marinelli said. “I’m not talking about Xs and Os, I’m talking about just keeping our guys going and believing. It’s tough to convince kids we are getting closer when we are losing, so it was tough.”
Eisenhower’s belief paid off Friday, as the winless Tigers were dominant over unbeaten Valley Center in a 42-14 victory. Marinelli said he thought Eisenhower’s physicality finally showed in the win.
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“Kids are going to be happy any time they win, but there was a huge sense of relief,” Marinelli said. “I told them this is just Step 1. This isn’t the end. Nobody is getting a trophy at the end of this game, so we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Five players scored touchdowns for the Tigers in Parker Wenzel, Seth Golden, Ty Trudo, Justis Moore, and Colt MacKinnon.
Eisenhower (1-5) will try to keep its momentum going against Andover (3-3) and Arkansas City (1-5) the final two weeks of the season.
“We want to get on a roll and get in a position where we can make some noise in the playoffs, so we do hope this is a game-changer,” Marinelli said. “We talked with our kids and said all it takes is one spark to start a fire and (Friday) night there were a lot of sparks happening.”
2. Heights’ big-time players come through
Danger loomed for Heights at the start of the fourth quarter, as the Falcons trailed Kapaun Mount Carmel by four points at Cessna Stadium and their star quarterback, K’Vonte Baker, was hobbled by a leg injury.
In order to extend their winning streak, the Falcons would need a spark from a player other than Baker, the typical source for big plays. On Friday night, it was Heights senior linebacker Ja’Veon Johnson, who jumped an out route on third down and nearly returned the interception for a score.
The turnover would spark a two-touchdown swing in Heights’ favor, as it would rally in the fourth quarter for a 34-24 victory over Kapaun. The Falcons (4-2) won their fourth straight game since an 0-2 start, while Kapaun (4-2) lost its second straight game.
“Big-time players make big-time plays and I’m a big-time player,” Johnson said. “I should have scored, but hey, I made a big-time play when my team needed me. I did what I had to do.”
Johnson’s interception set Baker up for an eight-yard dance into the end zone, as the junior quarterback flew the final three yards through the air over defenders for the go-ahead score with 9:11 remaining.
The following drive, Heights’ defense would once again provide the momentum. Hagen Henderson produced a crucial sack on third down to force a Kapaun punt, which Dalen Williams would smother after breaking through blockers and pouncing on the ball at the Kapaun 7-yard line.
Baker, who finished with 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns, once again delivered the score, this time darting right, then reversing field and sprinting past defenders to the left pylon for the game-clinching touchdown.
“Our best players were making plays when it mattered the most,” Heights coach Terry Harrison said. “We pride ourselves in our fourth-quarter play here at Heights and our best players showed up when it mattered tonight in the fourth.”
3. Two-way players for Conway Springs make a statement
The entire week leading up to Friday’s showdown against Mulvane, Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler stressed the importance of his team’s conditioning.
Conway Springs, with nine players who play both offense and defense, was up against a larger school with more depth and a platoon system. But that hasn’t seemed to matter to Conway Springs this season, as the Cardinals improved to 6-0 with a 44-13 victory over Mulvane, which played without quarterback Jayden Price.
“We knew Mulvane was a very good team and our kids were going to have to prepare for a four-quarter game against a good team,” Biehler said. “We had to make sure every play counted and we weren’t making mental mistakes. I’m proud of how our kids played and how serious they took their conditioning this week.”
After six games, Conway Springs, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, has outscored its opponents 372-66. Biehler could tell his team was anxious for the Mulvane game after the Wildcats handed them a loss in last year’s meeting.
“The energy all week in practice was excellent,” Biehler said. “That’s a testament to our captains and our seniors. A lot of them have played for us for three years and they showed a lot of confidence and went out there and made plays.”
4. Northwest rallies to hand Garden City first loss
After losing a 13-point halftime lead against Garden City last season, Northwest felt obligated to return the favor.
Sure enough, the Grizzlies erased a 17-point halftime deficit by scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter to surge past previously-unbeaten Garden City in a 36-23 victory.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Northwest coach Steve Martin said. “They believed in each other, and they kept swinging. That’s what it’s all about. They’re learning some life lessons.”
Northwest took the lead with 2:43 remaining when Austin Anderson connected with Jalen Smith for the 26-23 lead. The Grizzlies sealed the game when Jaxson Reynolds returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown.
Despite 19 penalties in the game, Northwest prevailed to keep pace in the race for a top seed in the Class 6A West standings.
“Jaxson Reynolds made a great play,” Martin said. “Here’s the funny thing: It happened to us last year. We threw a ‘Pick 6’ at the end of the game to extend the lead just like that.”
5. Someone offer this man a scholarship
Preston Williams doesn’t like to think too much about his kicks.
So when Kapaun Mount Carmel sent him on the field just before halftime in its game against Heights, Williams tried to ignore that he was about to attempt a 55-yard field goal.
“I feel like when I try to overthink it and try to kick it harder, then I always mess something up,” Williams said. “So I just try to act like it was a normal kick.”
Williams drilled the 55-yarder, upping his career-long from 47.
“I know I have a pretty mean right hook, so I always try to aim for the left post,” Williams said. “It was a great feeling knowing I gave my team momentum going into halftime.”
The Kapaun senior hopes the kick will attract potential colleges, as he is interested in kicking at the next level but has not received an offer yet.
6. The health of star quarterbacks
The injury bug has bitten the quarterback position and some of the top playmakers in the area.
Valley Center’s Wyatt Lange injured his knee in the first half of the first game, but returned last week and is playing with a brace to protect his knee. Coach Caleb Smith acknowledged Lange’s mobility is limited, but his arm still makes him a threat for the Hornets.
Mulvane’s Jayden Price suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 4 and has missed the last two weeks. Coach Dave Fennewald doesn’t think Price will return for the start of district play this coming Friday against Ulysses, either.
“You’ve got to protect the safety of the kid,” Fennewald said. “Every kid is going to want to play. But in the long run, it’s just a high school football game. You’ve got to make sure he doesn’t do any more damage to it.”
Last week Derby’s Grant Adler suffered a chest injury near the end of a victory over Bishop Carroll. He is believed to have avoided any broken bones, but was held out of Derby’s 34-0 win over Salina Central this week. Adler will be examined on a week-to-week basis for Derby, which has games left against Salina South and Campus.
Goddard senior Blake Sullivan left during the Lions’ 44-21 victory in Arkansas City on Friday with a dislocated shoulder and did not return. It is not considered a long-term injury, but Sullivan’s status for this Friday’s game between No. 1-ranked Goddard (6-0) and Valley Center (5-1) is up in the air.
7. Riley Petz closing in on 1,000 yards rushing in Cheney debut
Asking a sophomore to handle the bulk of the workload in a run-first offense cames with some risk, but Riley Petz is in the midst of a breakout campaign and Cheney is thriving.
The Cardinals moved to 6-0 on Friday, defeating Independent 64-0, as Petz finished with 84 rushing yards and three touchdowns on six carries. He didn’t receive a carry in the second after Cheney led 58-0 at halftime.
“He’s got some good linemen in front of him … and we’re just getting better every week,” Cheney coach Shelby Wehrmann said. “Riley is really good at making two or three guys miss on a play. He’s got some really nice top-end speed and he does a good job of picking up big yards when he breaks one into space.”
Petz has rushed for 899 yards on a 11-yards per carry average and has a team-high 12 touchdowns. After outscoring its first six opponents 370-113, Cheney will play Chaparral (5-1), Conway Springs (6-0), and Garden Plain (6-0) in district play to close out the season.
8. Another three-way tie atop the City League?
Northwest, Bishop Carroll, and Heights finished in a three-way tie for first place in the City League last season, and there is a possibility the same scenario could play out this year.
Carroll (5-1, No. 3 in Class 5A) has the upperhand with a 4-0 league record, but Heights (4-2, No. 5 in Class 5A) could create the three-way tie with a victory this Friday when Carroll travels to Heights. Since Northwest (5-1, No. 4 in Class 6A) defeated Heights earlier in the season, there would be no head-to-head tiebreaker between the three teams. The Grizzlies would need to defeat North and Southeast.
But the most important game is this Friday, as Carroll, which still has Kapaun left, could take a leap toward an outright league title. Since an 0-2 start, Heights has won four straight since the return of star quarterback K’Vonte Baker, who missed the first two games due to unspecified reasons. Carroll won last year’s meeting 42-41 with an improbable fourth-quarter comeback.
“When we we started out slow, I still said all of our goals are still attainable and they still are,” Heights coach Terry Harrison said. “It’s always a big matchup when you get Carroll and Heights together, so we’re looking forward to playing them.”
9. Point tiebreaker could decide seeds 2-7 in Class 6A West
Northwest’s 36-23 victory over previously-unbeaten Garden City has created a logjam at the top of the Class 6A West standings with six teams with 5-1 records.
Lawrence Free State (6-0) is likely to finish an undefeated regular-season campaign to lock up the No. 1 seed and all six teams at 5-1 are favorites in their final two games, which means points could decide if a 7-1 team is seeded second or seventh in the playoffs.
Here are the current points heading into Week 7: Northwest (59), Topeka (58), Manhattan (56), Derby (48), Hutchinson (40), and Garden City (27).
In its 36-23 victory over Garden City, Northwest kicked a field goal with a 10-point lead as time expired — a decision that Northwest coach Steve Martin said was necessary.
“We had to,” Martin said. “I hate doing that. Coach (Brian) Hill is a great friend of mine. That’s the first thing I did as soon as the game was over was to apologize. He understands that. That’s just the game we’re playing now is all about points.
“We knew that we had to win that game by 12 points or more to have a shot for the (No.) 2 seed (in district). I hate the rule. I hate doing that to a friend, but I think he would have done the same thing.”
10. Class 5A West playoff update
Thanks to its cross-town rivals, Goddard is the lone unbeaten team in the Class 5A West standings.
Valley Center, Bishop Carroll, and Maize are all 5-1 teams battling for the other three top seeds, while Liberal, Kapaun, Great Bend, and Heights all loom at 4-2 if those teams falter.
Valley Center still has Goddard and Andover, while Carroll still has Heights and Kapaun, and Maize still has Hutchinson left on the schedule. Six wins will likely wrap up a top-four seed for whichever teams can reach that mark.