By CONOR NICHOLL
Ashland brothers Ben and Giles Fox and Bird City-Cheylin’s Chris Walden have had mirrored paths for more than a decade.
Walden graduated from Cheylin in 2011. As a senior, he was part of a 10-win year for the Cougars, still Cheylin’s single season school record for victories. Walden finished his career with 154 tackles, 41 receptions and 13 receiving scores.
Ben Fox graduated from Ashland in 2011. His senior year, Ashland also finished 10-1, which tied the most wins for the Bluejays in a single season in 31 years, per Kansas Football History database.
Fox enjoyed a fantastic career with 3,015 all-purpose yards and 189 tackles. Giles graduated the next season after 369 career tackles. Giles went onto an impressive college baseball and academic career at Dodge City Community College and Fort Hays State University.
Both Cheylin and Ashland had nice playoff runs, but never faced each other.
Walden and the Fox brothers returned home to farming families and took various coaching and teaching positions at their alma maters. They helped Ashland and Cheylin transition from eight-man to six-man football. Walden is in his sixth year as head coach, Ben his fifth. Giles has served as an assistant. All three have served as a head coach for varsity basketball, either boys or girls.
The coaches are among those who have served as great ambassadors for six-man as the classification has grown in popularity. Last week, KSHSAA voted to sanction the sport, starting in 2022.
Ashland posted 8-1, 6-3, and 4-1 records in the last three years in Six-Man South. Cheylin has earned statewide attention with its 9-1 state runner-up team to Moscow in 2019.
Last year, the Cougars went 9-0, captured Six-Man North and won the state crown. Out of the 14 six-man teams in 2020, Ashland and Cheylin were by far the top-two offenses with 60.6 and 57.9 points per game, respectively.
This fall, Ashland and Cheylin were excited about a large group of sophomores. Overall, 12 of 14 Cheylin players are freshmen or sophomores.
“I could talk all day about this team,” Ben Fox told SIK this summer. “We are excited to get going.”
Cheylin entered the year No. 1 in the KPreps rankings, Ashland second. Cheylin features sophomores Logan McCarty, Pablo Bermudez, and Brady Ketzner at the skill positions, along with senior receiver Dylan Ketzner.
Ashland has sophomores Landen McPhail, Britt Grigsby and Kale Harris all in highly key roles. Fox expected the trio to be leaders from ’21-23. Harris, a sophomore running back/linebacker, returned from an ACL injury suffered in Week 4 in 2020.
Last Friday, Walden and the Foxes finally met for the first time in their playing or coaching careers. It also marked the first time Ashland and Cheylin had ever played each other in football, according to the KFH database.
In a playoff-type atmosphere, Ashland earned a 42-32 victory against Cheylin in an excellent contest. Since the teams are in different divisions, they could meet again in the Wild West Bowl state championship in Dodge City in November. The expectation on both sides is that current sophomores should have several more meetings before their careers are done.
Cheylin ran 39 plays for 462 yards. Ashland finished with 71 snaps for 408 yards. Cheylin was plus-1 in turnover margin. Ashland led 18-7 after the first quarter, 30-26 at halftime and 36-26 after three quarters.
Ashland had two key special teams plays that helped in the victory. They picked off McCarty for the first time in his career. He has a 22/1 TD/INT ratio and 70 percent completion rate in his career.
Ashland ended Cheylin’s 11-game winning streak. The two flip-flopped spots in Monday’s latest KPreps rankings.
Natoma (3-0), Moscow (3-0), Cunningham (3-0) and Ashland (2-0) are the lone undefeated six-man teams.
Like many six-man games the past few falls, the teams co-operated on game time and venue. In mid-August, Fox told SIK that Ashland picked up Cheylin in its open week.
Since many six-man teams are hours apart, squads play neutral sites. Ashland and Bird City are 267 miles apart on KS-23.
Originally, the game was scheduled for Deerfield, which is essentially halfway between the schools. However, the game was moved to Rozel-Pawnee Heights on Sept. 13, four days before the game. Game time switched from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. Ashland drove 89 miles, Cheylin 218 one-way. This marked Ashland’s second straight game in Rozel after a 74-38 season-opening win versus Pawnee Heights.
For Ashland, Harris enjoyed a huge game with 34 carries for 189 yards. Landen McPhail recorded 94 offensive yards and a touchdown, and returned a huge kickoff return 66 yards late in the contest. Grigsby passed for 152 yards and two scores against three interceptions.
Hink finished with two catches for 30 yards and a TD. Grigsby delivered 13 tackles, McPhail finished with 12, Jose Amaya had nine and Harris with eight.
McPhail had two forced fumbles. Grigsby recovered one of them. Plus, Grigsby picked off a pass. McPhail recorded two sacks, and freshman Lathan McPhail also picked up a sack.
Walden was pleased with his sophomore play, too. McCarty finished 18 of 30 for 395 yards with five touchdowns against one interception. He rushed nine times for 67 yards. McCarty showed off his impressive arm strength with hitting receivers from 40-plus yards away.
Bermudez picked up six catches for 102 yards and a TD. Brady Ketzner recorded five catches for 108 yards. Dylan Ketzner hauled in two catches for 82 yards and a score, including a 75-yard reception. Six-foot-one freshman Harley McPherson finished with three catches for 65 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, McCarty delivered 23 tackles, junior John Serrano finished with 13, Dylan Ketzner had 11 and Brady Ketzner tallied 10. McCarty, Bermudez and Ketzner all picked off a pass.
In 12 career games, Bermudez has recorded 12 interceptions, 12 passes defended and two fumble recoveries.