Varsity Football

Taylor Eldridge’s 10 takeaways from high school football Week 3

Heights quarterback K'Vonte Baker makes a long touchdown run last season. Baker scored eight TDs Friday night.
Heights quarterback K'Vonte Baker makes a long touchdown run last season. Baker scored eight TDs Friday night. The Wichita Eagle

1. The K’Vonte Baker show opens with rave reviews

How was Heights’ K’Vonte Baker going to out-do himself after a breakout campaign as a sophomore? Well, he started his junior season off Friday in record-setting fashion in Heights’ 65-0 victory over Dodge City.

Baker set the school records for rushing yards (454) and touchdowns (eight) in a jaw-dropping performance. And he did it on a total of 13 rushes. Yes, 13 rushes. That’s nearly 35 yards per carry with eight of 13 attempts going for touchdowns.

“K’Vonte just made a lot of special, special plays,” Heights coach Terry Harrison said. “Our offensive line did a great job blocking for him, but what (Baker) did beyond the 10 and 15 yards is what was so special. He just made a lot of really great runs.”

Harrison said it was surreal as an offensive play-caller.

“I would be looking down after making the play call, trying to figure out what I was going to set up next and then I would look up and it would be a touchdown,” Harrison said. “I know that sounds crazy, but that’s really how it was. He only ran the ball 13 times and eight of them went for touchdowns. It was a crazy experience, but not unlike what we see from him every day in practice. That’s just who he is.”

Baker, along with three other starters, were held out of Heights’ first two games, both losses. Harrison has not said why the players missed the games. They returned against Dodge City.

Heights plays Southeast at home on Thursday.

“When you start the season 0-2, it’s a real humbling thing,” Harrison said. “We’ve still got a long ways to go from where we need to be. We’re going to get to work and try to be as good as we can be late in the season.”

2. Buhler’s line gets back on track

Buhler had expectations of owning one of the strongest offensive lines in Class 4A, a lofty goal it fell well short of in its season-opening loss to McPherson when the Crusaders rushed 38 times for 51 yards.

The performance left the offensive line wanting to make a statement like the one on Friday night when the Crusaders rushed for nearly 500 yards in a 47-21 victory at Collegiate to knock off the previously-unbeaten No. 1-ranked team in 4A II.

“I’m blessed to have the line that I have,” Buhler tailback Dalton Brown said after rushing for 305 yards and four touchdowns. “They did a phenomenal job, so I give 100 percent of the credit to them. My success reflects all of their hard work.”

Buhler returned four all-state linemen from last season’s state championship run in Lawson Schultz (6 foot, 235 pounds), Braden Rose (6-0, 225), Brendan Webb (6-4, 210), and Brayden Lock (6-0, 205) with the size and experience advantage over their Collegiate counterparts. The Spartans are a fast team, but their weakness is their lack of size outside of Kansas-bound senior tackle Mac Copeland.

The mismatch was evident from the start, as Buhler lined up in its I-Formation and consistently cleared gaping holes for Brown to glide through. He was able to build enough speed running free that Collegiate’s second level struggled to bring him down.

“It’s a lot of fun to call the plays when everything you do is working like that,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “That’s a credit to our offensive line doing their job.”

Meanwhile, Buhler’s defensive line — consisting of Webb, Rose, Schultz, and Cade McLean — was dominant.

Collegiate quarterback Cody McNerney is one of the most dynamic athletes in Kansas and thrives when he is able to escape the pocket and improvise. There was rarely enough time for improvisation on Friday with Buhler’s front four bottling up McNerney.

The pressure from Buhler’s front four was so significant that Collegiate had to shift from four- and five-receiver sets to leaving two running backs in the backfield to serve as extra blockers.

“I thought our d-line did an outstanding job and they did a great job of keeping pressure on (McNerney) the whole time,” Warner said. “We knew he was going to hit his plays and he did. He had some great ones, but I thought our kids did a great job up front with the pressure. We didn’t have to blitz and that’s a credit to the guys up front.”

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Derby QB Grant Adler (13) heads downfield for a large gain against Maize during the second quarter Friday. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

3. Grant Adler leads Derby’s record-setting performance

For the first two weeks of the season, Derby switched between Hunter Igo and Grant Adler at quarterback with mixed results.

In Week 3, coach Brandon Clark turned the offense over to Adler and the sophomore responded by leading Derby to a record-setting performance in its 60-28 victory over Maize. The Panthers rolled up 676 yards, the most ever in a game in program history, as Adler threw for 191 yards, ran for 196 yards, and scored five touchdowns.

Running back Brody Kooser led the team with 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns, as Derby rebounded from a 50-20 loss to Goddard the week before.

“I’m still getting used to everything,” Adler said. “It really helps having Brody (Kooser) in the backfield. He’s a senior, the No. 1 running back in the state and it’s just great.”

Adler had impressed Clark with his throwing ability, but had yet to show the ability to run the read-option in Derby’s spread offense. The sophomore took a huge step against Maize and might have earned Clark’s trust going forward as the starter.

Derby (2-1) will have an AV-CTL I showdown against Hutchinson (3-0) this Friday.

4. Maize South shutout streak continues

Maize South not only is 3-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class 4A I, but it has now registered three straight shutouts to begin the season.

After blanking Circle 47-0, McPherson 9-0 and KC Washington 58-0, Maize South’s defense will receive its stiffest challenge yet with Buhler coming into town for a showdown on Friday.

“I think it motivates the kids and gives them another goal and a little more motivation each down,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said. “They’ve learned pretty quickly that if they play unselfish and they play together, then they’ve got the potential to be really special.”

And as far as 12 straight quarters and 144 straight minutes of scoreless defense? Pfeifer will have to check Maize South’s record books on that one.

“We’ve had some pretty good defenses, but I’m not sure we’ve ever done three in a row like this before,” Pfeifer said. “I’ll have to go back and look and check that one out.”

5. El Dorado wins with game-winning fumble return

From his cornerback position, El Dorado senior Kyle Bobbitt could see the sweep play headed his way as Clearwater tried to exhaust the clock with a two-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Bobbitt saw Hunter Armijo and Braden Morgan wrap up the ball carrier before he arrived, then before he knew it, the ball was flying in the air right into his hands. Thirty-seven yards later, Bobbitt was celebrating El Dorado’s improbable go-ahead touchdown with 2:37 remaining, which would become the game-winner in a 25-21 victory.

“It was the most amazing feeling ever,” Bobbitt said. “To hear the crowd cheering me and my teammates cheering for me, that was just awesome. My teammates made some great blocks for me on the return. The whole thing was just incredible.”

It was El Dorado’s first victory under first-year coach Bill Shaw. The Wildcats (1-2) will host Kansas City Harmon this Friday.

“I really do believe this was a season-changer for us, I will tell you that,” Bobbitt said. “It definitely puts some confidence back in our game. Next week we have our homecoming and this gives us a lot of momentum heading into that one.”

6. The ascension of Medicine Lodge’s Drew Honas

Last season Drew Honas didn’t have the size to make a major impact on the Medicine Lodge offense.

After a growth spurt during his junior year, Honas, now close to 6 feet, has become the go-to receiver for Medicine Lodge and one of the top pass-catches in Class 2-1A early in the season. After three games, Honas has logged 21 catches for 462 yards and five touchdowns.

“We’ve changed our offense this season and we’re throwing the ball more, but he’s also just a heck of an athlete,” Medicine Lodge coach Josh Ybarra said. “He’s gotten a little bit faster, but a big part of it is that he has great hands and is very coordinated. He can jump. We run a lot of double moves for him and he’s able to capitalize on those.”

When teams have backed off Honas, quarterback Garrett Burden has taken advantage by throwing quick-hitting slants. Honas scored the game-winning touchdown in Medicine Lodge’s 27-20 victory over Douglass in Week 1 on a slant pattern.

While Medicine Lodge is 1-2 with losses to Chaparral and Cheney, Ybarra hopes Honas’ big-play ability will give Medicine Lodge a chance to qualify for the 2-1A playoffs in a district with Sedgwick, Inman, Moundridge, and Remington.

“We’re starting to open things up a little bit more and hopefully we’re going to start getting used to the speed and what defenses are doing to adjust,” Ybarra said. “We think we can have a pretty nice offense if we can get Garrett Randels going in the running game too.”

7. Southeast registers first win in thrilling fashion

In a battle of winless City League teams, Southeast and North may have put on the most entertaining game of Week 3.

North scored two straight touchdowns in the final six minutes to take a 42-41 with 1:23 remaining, only for Southeast to score the game-winning touchdown on a 40-yard pass from Quinton Thomas to Ollie McGee 37 seconds later. North would have a final chance, as it had one pass into the end zone from the Southeast 9-yard line that fell incomplete as time expired.

“To be honest, I probably jumped the highest vertical of my life as soon as that pass went incomplete,” Southeast first-year coach Erik Dobbins said. “I probably could have done an NBA dunk. It was super high.”

It was the first victory for Dobbins as a head coach, as Southeast improved to 1-2 this season.

“The kids were ecstatic and you could tell that they’ve been wanting a win really bad, so it was great to see,” Dobbins said. “I think we’re changing the program around. We’ve had a history of getting down in a game and staying down. So for them to fight back this time and take the lead, I was really proud of them.”

But it was perhaps too nerve-racking for the Buffaloes, as Dobbins was disappointed a final touchdown in the last minute was needed after holding a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“I take my defense very personal, so I don’t feel great about what we did on the defensive side of the ball,” Dobbins siad. “But a win is a win and I told our kids to enjoy this one until midnight and then we’re going to get back to work.”

8. Andale’s defense steps up

Last season it took Andale 61 points to survive Jayden Price and Mulvane in a 61-52 shootout victory.

This time, first-year coach Dylan Schmidt was determined to hold down PRice. The Indians forced six turnovers and limited Price to under 200 yards of total offense as they defeated Mulvane 48-20 to improve to 3-0 on the season.

“Turnovers were huge,” Schmidt said. “Being able to capitalize on them was the biggest thing. I couldn’t be more proud of our defense. They were key for us.”

Neither Jeremy Jansen or Sawyer Simon, Andale’s top two rushers, finished with more than 90 yards. Instead, it was quarterback Ethan Baalmann who was the star with 173 passing yards on just five completions (two for touchdowns).

Andale will host a battle of unbeatens when Wellington (3-0) comes to town this Friday.

9. Newton wins thriller over Eisenhower

Newton hasn’t won more than two games in a season since 2013.

Second-year coach Chris Jaax is attempting to change the culture and he was nervous when his team allowed a double-digit lead to slip away on the road to Eisenhower late in the third quarter of last Friday’s game.

But the Railers would re-take the lead in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by sophomore Kolyn Sauceda, then held their collective breath as they watched an Eisenhower 22-yard field goal attempt sail wide to survive for a 31-29 victory.

“There was a lot of things that happened to us tonight where it would have been easy for us to give up, but we didn’t and the kids found a way to win the game,” Jaax said. “To me, that’s a great sign that the culture is starting to shift here and the effort they’re making to improve that is really starting to show.”

Jaax credited the team’s defense for the victory. Not only did the defense score the game-winning touchdown, but forced another turnover in the fourth quarter and then surged the middle on the potential game-winning field goal and rushed the kick.

“I was so proud of our kids on defense,” Jaax said. “They just played lights out for that entire fourth quarter to keep them out of the end zone and keep points off the board.”

10. Class 6A and 5A playoff picture update

Hosting a first-round game in the Class 6A playoffs will be an accomplishment in itself for the West bracket.

After the third week of the season, four teams are undefeated (Lawrence Free State, Topeka, Hutchinson, and Garden City) and four more (Derby, Manhattan, Northwest, and West) have 2-1 records. Those eight teams have the early leg-up to secure the top eight seeds, although a team like Junction City (1-2) and Washburn Rural (1-2) could rattle off wins to make a charge.

A 5-3 record will likely secure a first-round home game.

The 5A playoffs also have interesting storylines. Carroll (3-0) appears to be the only team capable of pushing Goddard (3-0) for the No. 1 seed. While the Lions will be the favorite in their remaining five games, Carroll still has road blocks left against Derby and Heights.

Strong starts from Kapaun Mount Carmel (3-0) and Valley Center (3-0) have given those teams a two-game advantage over much of its competition for a top-eight seed. If either can spring an upset, then it could be in line to nab a top-four seed and home-field advantage through the quarterfinals.

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