By CONOR NICHOLL
Canton-Galva has been ranked No. 2 all year in Eight-Man, Division II, a spot behind defending state champion Axtell. Coach Shelby Hoppes has delivered a 53-5 mark in the last five falls, including an undefeated 2019 Division I state title, at his alma mater. This season, the Eagles have nine seniors, a high number for a school their size.
That group includes well-known stars such as quarterback Garrett Maltbie, athlete/safety Jett Vincent, end TJ Koehn, linemen Nick Evans and Preston Minson, and running back Ryder Norstrom. Maltbie, Vincent, Koehn, Mastre and Norstrom are the team captains. Jaden Ediger, Wyatt Collins and Lane McMannis are key juniors, while sophomore Noah Collins has started on the line.
“Our o-line is really good this year, and we can move people,” Hoppes said.
Vincent was the Division II Defensive Player of the Year as a junior at Wheatland-Grinnell before his well-publicized move to Canton-Galva. Vincent is the state’s all-time leader in career interceptions at 36 and has a Colorado State offer, among other schools. Maltbie and Koehn have junior college offers.
Hoppes is most pleased with his team’s ability to battle through adversity and a litany of injuries for his 11-0 team. Notably, Norstrom has played the entire year with a torn ACL, a remarkable feat. He missed the first three weeks, then the doctors gave him an option.
“He loves football,” Hoppes said. “So they told him we can do surgery at the time, or we can wait until the end of football, and you can do whatever you can do.”
Norstrom has played in six games with 16 carries for 212 yards and four touchdowns. Plus, he has 14 tackles, 1.5 for loss.
“It’s a unique situation,” Hoppes said. “It’s a really cool situation – not that he got hurt by any means, but just because of a kid that’s willing to go work and play through something like that, and give it all he has, because it’s his senior year basically. I am proud of him for that.”
All four of his touchdowns have come in the last month. He has defended three passes in the last two weeks. Norstrom wears a big brace, and C-G tapes it a certain way. In multiple games, Norstrom has tweaked his knee just right.
“He knows right away,” Hoppes said. “As soon as it happens, he comes over, and he knows that it’s not right, but then the following week, it will heal up a little bit, and he will able to go again. So he’s basically play-by-play right now. It’s kind of a crazy situation, but the kid loves football, and he will give anything to play it. He’s been cleared by doctors as long as nothing else happens to the knee that he can try to give it a go.”
Before the year started, senior Braison Alcala tore a tendon in his ankle and was out for the season. Maltbie and Norstrom both hurt their knees at the jamboree, a week before games started. Maltbie missed a couple of games, which moved Vincent, an all-state wide receiver, to quarterback for the first time since his freshman year.
Norstrom can, by far, move better north and south.
“If this happens 15-20 years ago, he’s done, there’s nothing you can do,” Hoppes said of Norstrom’s knee injury. “..But they actually made braces that are specifically made for torn ACLs, and they have a special latch in them to where that knee is not capable of bending past a certain point and certain positions, and they are really expensive.”
Noah Collins became sick on the field just before Week 6 game against Hutchinson Central Christian.
“It’s just been a roller-coaster of injuries this year,” Hoppes said. “But every time, somebody new has stepped up and filled those positions, and that’s one thing that I have been most proud of this year. But I also think we are the most battle-tested, and we have really faced that adversity, and we have faced it well.”
Ediger also suffered a season-ending broken leg. Vincent hurt his back and missed two games. In the last two, Vincent has played just defense. He is expected to play both ways in Friday’s marquee matchup at No. 1 Axtell (11-0).
Axtell returned every starter from last year’s Division II state title, including quarterback Isaac Detweiler, lineman Owen Strathman and skill players Brandon Schmelzle, Eli Broxterman and Grady Buessing. Detweiler has accounted for more touchdowns (passing, rushing, receiving) in Kansas history and is the reigning Division II Offensive Player of the Year.
Hoppes likened the Axtell matchup to the 2021 state semifinal. C-G lost, 60-52, at Little River. The teams were expected to meet in the state semifinals. LR won a remarkable game, 76-68, in a contest that received significant pregame hype.
“The anticipation of that game and leading up to that game, we really tried to take it week by week, and we did a good job of that, but I think our older guys, our seniors, our varsity players, they have kind of been through that as recently as last year,” Hoppes said.
This season, Canton-Galva has outscored teams 612-68 in the 11-0 start.
The Eagles have averaged 11.5 yards per play and committed just two turnovers. C-G has the best win of any remaining eight-man squad with the 66-36 season-opening victory against Little River, currently No. 2 in Eight-Man, Division I. Every other victory is by the 45-point margin.
“Injuries and backups and players just playing in positions that they have never played before,” Hoppes said.
Defensively, the Eagles have allowed 2.4 yards per rush, including 5.3 against Little River, per SIK research and Digital Scout boxscores. C-G’s pass defense has allowed 51 of 159 for 547 yards with seven touchdowns against 21 interceptions. The Eagles have a state record nine pick-sixes. CG’s defense has allowed 2.8 yards per play.
While its close, C-G does edge Axtell in yards per play, yards per play allowed, turnovers forced and turnover margin.
Since his return, Maltbie has delivered several huge games. Against Lebo, Maltbie finished with 268 total yards and six touchdowns. Versus Norwich in Week 4, he passed for 290 yards and four scores. Against St. Paul in Week 9, a game that Vincent missed, Maltbie delivered 232 yards and seven touchdowns.
Vincent has 74 offensive touches for 1,070 yards and 16 scores, along with 54 tackles and eight interceptions. He continues to push for a Top 11 all-classes selection.
“We are not scared when somebody goes down because we have been there before,” Hoppes said. “…He is as healthy now as he has been going into this Friday.”
Returning quarterbacks with huge efficiency numbers; several schools with no interceptions
A big trend with the 36 remaining teams is returning quarterbacks. As well, multiple teams have used two or three quarterbacks. Several others have a converted quarterback. Several squads, including Ashland, Cheylin, and Canton-Galva have not thrown an interception. Axtell and Maize have just one. More than half-dozen teams have set a school passing record.
Hoppes and Blue Valley Southwest coach Anthony Orrick believe the high numbers come from several reasons: quarterbacks learning the position in the younger ranks, summer camps and talented lines and skill players.
Huge QB lines and limited (or zero) interceptions from returning starters:
5A Maize – Senior Avery Johnson is the state’s well-known top prospect, returning top 11 player and Kansas State commit. Maize has averaged 51.5 points a game.
Johnson: 127 of 188 passing for 2,486 yards, 28 TDs with 1 interception; 81 carries for 732 yards and 14 scores.
6M Bird City-Cheylin – Junior Logan McCarty is again in the running for Six-Man Offensive Player of the Year. As SIK detailed earlier this week, McCarty was banged up after a huge Week 4 win against Northern Valley. He has played some running back/wide receiver. Brady Ketzner, known for his intelligence, has stepped in at quarterback. Cheylin delivers 51 points a contest.
McCarty: 65 of 102 passing for 1,238 yards with 21 scores against zero interceptions; 100 carries for 1,063 yards and 20 scores
Ketzner: 8 of 12 passing for 171 yards with six TDs against no interceptions.
Cheylin team: 31/0 TD/INT ratio
8M2 Canton-Galva – Vincent delivered more than 500 total yards in Week 1. Maltbie has since returned and is a three-year starter. C-G has 55.6 points a game.
Maltbie: 73 of 116 for 1,541 yards with 27 touchdowns against no interceptions; 45 rushes for 514 yards and 19 scores.
5A Mill Valley – Hayden Jay is in his second year as MV’s starter for the three-time defending state champion Jaguars. Mill Valley has averaged 47 points a game.
Jay: 84 of 143 passing for 1,256 yards with 13 scores against seven interceptions; 89 rushes for 440 yards and 14 scores
6M Ashland – Just like 2021, the Bluejays have again mainly used three quarterbacks: Britt Grigsby, Landen McPhail and Lathan McPhail for coach Ben Fox. For the second time in three years, Ashland leads six-man in scoring offense.
Grigsby: 42 of 64 passing for 744 yards with 14 scores against no interceptions;
Ashland: 77 of 116 for 1,461 yards with 30 TDs against no INTs
8M2 Axtell – Isaac Detweiler played QB/WR as a freshman and has started the last three seasons under center for his dad, Eric. Isaac is highly regarded for his intelligence and is among the best eight-man players ever. Axtell has 61.3 points a contest.
Detweiler: 106 of 144 passing for 1,679 yards with 36 scores against 1 interception; 84 carries for 652 yards and 17 scores
8M1 Burlingame – Senior Colby Middleton asked coach Jeff Slater to play quarterback earlier in his career. He is a two-year starter at quarterback. Burlingame is at 50.7 points per game.
Middleton: 63 of 86 passing for 1,104 yards with 19 scores against zero interceptions; 146 carries for 1,063 yards and 30 TDs
8M1 Wichita County – Senior Erhik Hermosillo started on defense in 2020 on the Indians’ state runner-up team, the best in school history. Hermosillo is a two-year starter at QB and led the Indians to the classification’s No. 1 scoring offense each of the last two seasons. WC leads eight-man with 60 points a contest.
Erhik Hermosillo: 59 of 95 passing for 1,086 yards and 22 TDs against two interceptions: 157 rushes for 1,589 yards and 31 scores
1A St. Marys – Senior Keller Hurla, also a first team all-state basketball player, is a three-year starter. SM has 41.1 points a game. Hurla has more than 3,000 yards of total offense.
8MI Hill City – HC junior Aiden Amrein was an exceptional quarterback in junior high. After an injury his freshman year, Amrein is a two-year QB starter and rewrote the Ringnecks’ record book, including single game and career passing yards. The Ringnecks have 47 points a game.
Amrein: 97 of 151 for 1,522 yards with 24 scores against five interceptions.
2A Southeast of Saline – Senior Luke Gebhardt is a two-year starter for his dad, Mitch, SES’ longtime coach. Jake Gebhardt, Luke’s twin, is among the standout receivers.
Luke: 171 of 250 passing for 2,274 yards with 23 scores against 10 interceptions
4A Bishop Miege – Mac Armstrong has enjoyed a big season as Miege’s multi-year starting quarterback.
Armstrong: 227 of 304 passing for 3,172 yards with 32 scores against four interceptions
5A BVSW – Junior Dylan Dunn has rewritten the Southwest record book and will likely finish as Kansas’ passing leader. He exceeded 600 passing yards last week. Dunn and SW’s offense extensively covered by SIK this week. SW has the best season in school annals.
Dunn: 183 of 288 passing for 2,634 yards with 28 scores against seven interceptions.
8M2 Thunder Ridge – Dylan Bice is a four-year player and three-year starter at quarterback. Last week, he cleared 4,000 career rushing yards.
Bice: 82 of 128 passing for 1,266 yards with 10 scores against three interceptions; 196 carries for 1,605 yards and 28 TDs
5A Hays High – Senior Kyreese Groen, an all-conference receiver in 2021, has played quarterback for the first time. He has helped HHS to a 10-1 mark, the first 10-win season in school history.
Groen: 42 of 85 passing for 744 yards with 14 scores against three interceptions; 123 carries for 921 yards and 12 scores
6A Manhattan – Senior Keenan Schartz is a returning starting quarterback for his dad, longtime Manhattan coach Joe Schartz.
4A Wamego – Wamego has its well-publicized injury to Hayden Oviatt in the summer. Oviatt returned and has played a little quarterback but mainly been used as a receiver. Colin Donahue, a converted receiver, has continued to engineer the offense.
6M Cunningham – Like the 2021 state runner-up season, Trey DeWeese and Luke McGuire have continued to share snaps. DeWeese is a four-year player.
McGuire: 33 of 49 for 539 yards with 9/0 TD/INT ratio; 30 carries for 480 yards and 12 scores
DeWeese: 68 of 100 passing for 854 yards with 23 TDs against five interceptions
2A Kingman – Nolan Freund returned at quarterback and led Kingman to its second straight semifinal berth. Before last year, Kingman had not made a semifinal since 1972.
Freund: 1,826 passing yards, 800 rushing and 36 TDs accounted for
3A Andale – QB Wyatt Spexarth is a multi-year starter for Andale, on a 49-game winning streak.
8MI Little River – Senior Rylan Konen, whose dad is an assistant coach, is in his second year as the starting quarterback. LR is first and second the last two years at state.
Konen: 37 of 60 passing for 754 yards with 16 TDs against two interceptions; 65 carries for 433 yards and 12 TDs
Where were these teams ranked in the preseason?
Every preseason No. 1 team except 4A St. James Academy is still alive.
Seven of the nine preseason No. 2 teams are still alive.
Twenty-one of the 36 teams were ranked preseason top-5. A couple of others, specifically 8M1 Hill City and 6M Cheylin, were just outside of the top-5.
Gardner-Edgerton (NR – non-top five)
Olathe Northwest (NR – first semifinal in school history)
Mill Valley (1)
Blue Valley Southwest (5 – first semifinal in school history)
Hays High (NR – first semifinal since ’93; ties all-time best season)
Bishop Miege (2)
St. Thomas Aquinas (3)
Wamego (NR – best season since 1975)
Topeka Hayden (5)
Clay Center (NR – first semifinal since 1983)
Nemaha Central (2)
Southeast of Saline (1)
Kingman (5 – semifinals back-to-back years, before then, no semifinals since 1972)
St. Marys (1)
Conway Springs (NR)
Little River (1)
Leoti-Wichita County (2)
Hill City (NR – at least making semifinals for third time in school history)
Thunder Ridge (3)
Bird City-Cheylin (NR – seven-win improvement from 2021 is largest among state semifinalists)
Waverly (NR – only one of the four that played 8-man last year)
Preseason Potential Breakout Teams Still Alive:
6M: Bird City-Cheylin: 3-5 to 10-1
8M1: Leoti-Wichita County: 6-3 to 11-0
1A: St. Marys: 5-4 to 9-2
2A: Sabetha: 4-5 to 9-2
All 36 teams ranked by Scoring Offense/Game (calculated by SIK through KPreps database)
8M2 Axtell 61.3
8MI Wichita County 60.2
6M Ashland 59.7
3A Andale 56.8
8M2 Canton-Galva 55.6
6M Cunningham 54.4
6A Derby 51.9
5A Maize 51.5
8M1 Little River 51.9
6M Cheylin 51.0
2A Nemaha Central 51.4
8M1 Burlingame 50.7
2A Southeast of Saline 49.1
6M Waverly 47.7
8M1 Hill City 47.2
5A Mill Valley 46.8
6A Manhattan 46.6
3A Holton 45.4
4A Wamego 43.2
4A Bishop Miege 41.9
2A Kingman 41.2
1A St. Marys 41.1
3A Topeka Hayden 40.5
5A Hays High 39.9
2A Sabetha 38.9
1A Inman 38.5
4A McPherson 37.0
4A St. Thomas Aquinas 35.2
6A Gardner-Edgerton 34.0
1A Centralia 33.9
3A Clay Center 33.0
5A Blue Valley Southwest 32.7
1A Conway Springs 29.1
6A Olathe Northwest 28.3
All 36 teams ranked by Scoring Defense/Game
2A Kingman 5.5
5A Mill Valley 5.8
4A Wamego 6.1
3A Andale 6.2
8M2 Canton-Galva 6.2
6M Cunningham 6.8
8M2 Dighton 8.2
8M2 Axtell 8.4
8M1 Leoti-Wichita County 8.5
2A Sabetha 9.6
1A Inman 9.7
1A Centralia 10.6
2A Nemaha Central 10.9
2A Southeast of Saline 11.2
1A St. Marys 13.0
6M Waverly 13.4
8M1 Little River 14.2
5A Maize 14.5
5A Hays High 14.6
6A Manhattan 14.8
6M Cheylin 15.0
3A Holton 15.4
4A St. Thomas Aquinas 15.6
8M1 Little River 15.6
3A Topeka Hayden 16.0
8M2 Thunder Ridge 16.2
1A Conway Springs 16.9
4A McPherson 15.3
4A Bishop Miege 16.3
8M1 Burlingame 18.2
3A Clay Center 18.3
6A Gardner-Edgerton 19.7
6A Olathe Northwest 20.2
6M Ashland 20.6
6A Derby 23.5
5A Blue Valley Southwest 28.5