Varsity Football

Taylor Eldridge’s 10 takeaways from high school football Week 4

Buhler's Dalton Smyres jumps over a Maize South defenders after a reception in the second quarter Friday at Maize South. Both teams are part of the race for 4A-I West supremacy.
Buhler's Dalton Smyres jumps over a Maize South defenders after a reception in the second quarter Friday at Maize South. Both teams are part of the race for 4A-I West supremacy. The Wichita Eagle

1. Sam Hardin leads Trinity to upset

Backed up into a fourth down on his own 5-yard line trailing by a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, Trinity senior quarterback Sam Hardin started to feel the nerves.

But after he rushed for the first down to keep the drive alive, Hardin was as poised and collected as he’s ever been as he led Trinity on a game-winning drive capped off by a touchdown pass to Caden Williams and a go-ahead, two-point conversion to Jacob Baker with 16 seconds remaining to upset previously-unbeaten Chaparral 29-28 on Friday. Trinity improved to 2-2.

“This was a huge win for us,” Hardin said. “This is definitely my favorite memory so far. It doesn’t get much better than the 2-minute drive to win the game.”

Hardin finished with 316 passing yards and four touchdowns, as well as 111 rushing yards. The senior played a role in all but 14 of Trinity’s total yards in the performance.

“Sam has been doing this for a long time for us, but this year he’s really taken his game to another level,” Trinity coach Jared McDaniel said. “He’s making good reads and really good decisions right now. He might not have that huge arm, but he puts the ball right where it needs to be. He’s a special one, for sure.”

Hardin, who has thrown for more than 1,100 yards in four games, has developed a rapport with receiver Caden Williams. On Friday, Williams caught 12 passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns, as he upped his season totals to 28 receptions for nearly 500 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Caden Williams catches balls that have no business being caught,” McDaniel said. “He is so good at timing the ball and finding ways to get open. Those two and then our tight end Hillard Cozine make up a pretty special passing game for us.”

2. Don’t get backed up into third-and-long against Andover

Andover’s defense showed what it can do when coordinator Dustin Murray is able to unleash the wrath of his team’s pass rush in the Trojans’ 39-7 demolition over their cross-town rival Andover Central. Andover (2-2) finished with eight sacks and two defensive touchdowns in another dominant performance.

“You have no idea how much fun that was,” Andover senior linebacker Casey Mayes said. “That’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done, by far. It’s blitzing every play, getting a sack, and celebrating with your teammates. It was awesome.”

Andover Central struggled to gain positive yards on first and second downs, which left it in obvious passing situations. That’s when Andover’s defense was at its best, as its trio of linebackers — Mayes, Grant Staehr, and Slade Swan — terrorized the Andover Central quarterback with an array of blitzes.

The defensive line is led by Connor Hall and Tyler Wilson, and the secondary is bolstered by Kale Rishel, Brent Alfaro, Alex Jones, and Isaiah Maikori. Hall and Rishel returned interceptions for touchdowns against Andover Central.

“It’s funny, Rishel actually called his pick-six during the week,” Andover coach Cade Armstrong said. “We had actually been preaching to our defense that we were due for one. We know we’re going to create a lot of turnovers, so it was just a matter of time with the amount of pressure we bring. The kids made it happen tonight.”

Andover’s defense has allowed an average of 14 points through its first four games.

“We just try to be as aggressive as possible and of course with Central, it was heightened a little bit tonight,” Swan said. “We really like our odds against anybody right now.”

3. Derby registers statement win

After being thumped by Goddard two weeks ago, Derby was eager to make a statement in its next big game. The Panthers did that on Friday, pounding Hutchinson 61-18 to hand the Salthawks their first loss.

Derby trailed 18-15 late in the second quarter, then scored 46 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout. The Panthers had their biggest momentum-shifting play just before halftime, as Jacob Ormsby scooped up a fumble and returned it 65 yards for a defensive touchdown.

“That’s some big momentum. I think they knew it, too,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said. “Our sideline is jumping up and down and that defense that just scored is getting ready to take the field again and they’re even more hungry. Those momentum shifts are huge in a game between two good football teams.”

Derby’s defense was gashed by Goddard in the loss, but the Panthers have returned to form in the following two games. Against Hutchinson’s heavy-run offense, Derby held the Salthawks to 237 rushing yards on 61 attempts for 3.9-yard per carry after Joesiah Galindo took the opening carry 74 yards.

Derby’s Brody Kooser added 181 rushing yards and three scores, while Tyler Brown caught three passes for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“This is the first time that some of these (defensive) guys have started,” Clark said. “I think it hit them real quick. They adjusted, I was proud of them. (Hutchinson) didn’t get big plays like that every time. The team that we want is the team that gets a little adversity and learns from that and gets better.”

Derby (3-1, No. 3 in 6A) will have a second straight big game at home, as it will host Bishop Carroll (4-0, No. 2 in 5A) this Friday.

4. The race for 4A I West supremacy

Buhler, Maize South, and McPherson all entered this season with hopes of winning Division III of the AV-CTL and representing the western-half of the bracket in the Class 4A I championship game.

After all three played each other in the opening month of the season, not much has been settled. McPherson knocked off Buhler 33-21, then Maize South shut out McPherson 9-0, before Buhler beat Maize South 17-14 on Friday.

A rematch — maybe two — is likely later in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Andale is 4-0 and is another team that could challenge the trio of AV-CTL III teams. Andale plays Buhler on Oct. 13.

The common thread between all four teams? Great defenses. On Friday, Buhler’s defense came up with just enough stops to prevail over Maize South.

“Our defense was outstanding,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “The kids played hard, they ran to the ball hard and were just wonderful.”

5. Maize finally gets its running game going

In its first three games of the season, the Maize offense had produced 192 rushing yards on a 2.8-yard average. Dalyn Johnson, Maize’s returning all-state running back, had just 67 yards.

After relying heavily on the run in last season’s turnaround, Maize has become more of a passing team with Caleb Grill taking over at quarterback and targets like Brayden Payne, Cameron Grimes, Deriq Doty and Preven Christon. Maize is also replacing all five of its offensive lineman from last season.

But the Eagles showed they can return to their roots on Friday in their 21-0 win over Salina South, as Johnson rumbled for 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

“We knew we should have been doing better, so it was very important to me doing well playing on my home field for the first time this season,” Johnson said. “I wanted to keep up the reputation and show everybody what I am still capable of doing. I knew my offensive line could get the job done and I have to give all the credit to them and the job they’re doing.”

Maize (3-1) will have another chance this season to reel off a winning streak with upcoming games against Arkansas City (1-3), Campus (2-2), and Salina Central (0-4).

“I think this offense can be flawless,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of really good receivers this year and Caleb at quarterback is very accurate. I think if we can connect all of those aspects together and then get our running game going, then it’s going to be hard for teams to beat us with the defense that we have.”

6. Valley Center finding the right breaks

Valley Center has won three of its four games to start the season by a touchdown or less, including Friday’s 21-15 triump over Newton.

The Hornets have captured the same kind of momentum they had last season when they made a run to the Class 5A quarterfinals. On Friday, Valley Center won on an 82-yard touchdown run by Larry Wilson with 17 seconds remaining to break a 15-all tie.

“This team has a lot of toughness and grit and guys stepping up that we needed,” Valley Center coach Caleb Smith said. “It takes a little bit of luck and a little bit of talent and I think this team has both.”

Valley Center has Hays (2-2) and Eisenhower (0-4) in its upcoming games, and might be poised to repeat its 6-0 start to last season. All of this coming after Valley Center lost its star quarterback Wyatt Lange in the first half of its first game of the season.

7. McPherson pitches shutout

McPherson has shown its defensive prowess with a win over Buhler, but the Bulldogs registered perhaps their most dominant performance in their 40-0 victory over Augusta on Friday. The Bullpups held a previously-unbeaten Augusta team to 20 yards of offense on 47 plays, including negative-1 yards rushing on 37 attempts.

On offense, Kyler Hoppes threw for 225 yards and three touchdowns and Jace Kinnamon rushed for 108 yards in the victory.

“It was a complete win,” McPherson coach Jace Pavlovich said. “I’m really proud of our guys. We’re a fantastic defensive football team, and offensively I think our offensive line did a great job against one of the best fronts we’ve seen. We’ve seen some really good fronts this season, and this front is right up there with them on the d-line.”

After four games, McPherson’s defense is allowing an average of 11 points. The Bullpups are led by Wyatt Seidl and Michael Mendez on the line, Kollin Goering and Jayse Alexander at linebacker, and Tyson Stites, Drew Labertew, Ben Nikkel, and Gunnar Reiss in the secondary.

8. Receivers making Clearwater embrace passing game

When studying film on what opponents were doing against Clearwater, coach Dirk Ankerholz noticed a common thread.

“Nobody was really respecting the pass against us,” Ankerholz said. “We would see a loaded box almost every time and that makes it really difficult for us to run.”

Clearwater has been a predominantly running team under Ankerholz, but this season the Indians are beginning to test the air. Part of that is to open up the running game, but another part is the talent of receivers Cody Layton and Taylor Gibbs.

Layton and Gibbs have combined for 32 catches, 530 yards and five touchdowns — more than a season’s worth of work in the past — in the first four games. Both caught a touchdown on Friday in Clearwater’s 38-19 victory over Rose Hill.

“We’ve opened up our offense a little bit and defenses are beginning to open up with us now,” Ankerholz said. “We’re giving our kids a real opportunity to succeed now and that’s where Cody and Taylor have taken advantage.”

9. Nick Channel, Kapaun continue strong play

After winning just two games last season, Kapaun has experienced a sudden turnaround behind a senior-laden team.

Kapaun improved to 4-0 with a 49-0 shutout over South, as senior running back Nick Channel continued his strong start to the season. Channel rushed for 165 yards on seven carries, scoring touchdowns on three of them.

After four games, Channel has rushed for 543 yards and six touchdowns. The Crusaders will have a City League showdown with Northwest (3-1) at home on Friday.

10. Update on Class 6A and 5A playoff race

The race for a top-four seed in the 6A West bracket is still a logjam with Free State and Garden City at 4-0 and five teams at 3-1.

Free State will be the favorite in its final four games, meaning it’s likely to snag one of the top four seeds. Garden City and Northwest (3-1) will have a crucial date on Oct. 6, although the Buffaloes could lose and still snag a top seed.

Derby (3-1) appears it has rebounded from its first loss in nearly two years, but still has Bishop Carroll this Friday. Manhattan (3-1) and Topeka (3-1) both have difficult schedules remaining in a balanced Centennial League, while Hutchinson, despite being blown out at Derby, could secure a top seed as it will be favored in its remaining four games.

In the 5A West bracket, the race is beginning to narrow down. Goddard (4-0) appears to be a lock to secure a top berth with the other three up for grabs between Carroll (4-0), Valley Center (4-0), Kapaun Mt. Carmel (4-0), Liberal (3-1) and Maize (3-1).

The most difficult schedules belong to the two City Leauge teams, as Carroll has Derby this Friday, Heights on Oct. 13 and Kapaun on Oct. 20. Meanwhile, Kapaun has a difficult four-game stretch to end its season with Northwest, Heights, St. James, and Carroll.

Valley Center can significantly improve its chances for homefield through the first two rounds if it wins its next two games against Hays and Eisenhower, which would set up a critical stretch with Goddard and Andover in the final two weeks. Maize can also improve its chances by taking care of business against Arkansas City, Campus, and Salina Central the next three weeks.

Taylor Eldridge: 316-268-6270, @vkeldridge