Football in Kansas: “It means the world” – Natoma wins first playoff game in 47 years, Hill City gets first district title; O. Northwest with big change; plus historical notes from 6A to 6M

Natoma and Pawnee Heights after its Tuesday playoff game (Conor Nicholl)


This week, SIK looks at significant historical milestones that happened in Week 7, this Tuesday or could occur this week. We start in Natoma:

Six-Man: Natoma adds new coach, depth to two stars – celebrates first playoff win in 47 years

Natoma finished 3-2 last season, a year that yielded three shutouts and a competitive loss to Bird City-Cheylin, which rolled to an undefeated fall and state championship. The Tigers had key pieces returning for ‘21. Seniors Kayden Martinez and Derek George were first team all-state selections. Junior end Javon Letsch was an honorable mention all-state pick.

The trio has plenty of size. Martinez is 5-foot-9, 217 pounds, and George stands 6-1, 205. Letsch is 6-2, 210. Natoma finished sixth in six-man scoring offense at 36.4 points a game and was fourth in defense at 24.4 points allowed a contest.

The Tigers added new coach Robert Cox, a former college football player who came from Deerfield. Those were the well-known components for the 2021 Tigers, a preseason KPreps Potential Breakout Team. However, two other key changes helped shift Natoma.

Senior Tracen Frye, the starting quarterback and another team captain, switched from signal caller to receiver. Freshman Roy Bright took over as the primary thrower. Natoma has built key depth with a 13-player roster, including senior lineman Nicholas Racette, along with juniors Jared Griffin and Ian and Ricky Mayberry.

On Tuesday, all those pieces came together in a 58-7 home victory versus Rozel-Pawnee Heights in the Six-Man state quarterfinals. Natoma, ranked second in the KPreps poll, improved to 7-0. The Tigers will play host to Ashland in the state semifinals Saturday.

“Wanting to be the best,” Frye said. “We want to do something different. We want to go to state.”

Natoma has always had excellent fan support in a 1A town with fewer than 350 people. Cars line the football field that sits on an idyllic hillcrest next to K-18 Highway. Townspeople had constructed the red bleachers and press box to help revive the program in the 2000s. Natoma has no track, so only a few yards separate the field from the fans. It’s one of the best places to watch a football game.

Jay Casey, a fixture in the community whose three daughters were standout athletes, is a public address announcer known for his wit and play calling. Natoma came together in the spring after a devastating flood went through main street and destroyed several families’ homes and other property.

They saw the first playoff win for Natoma since a runner-up showing in 1974. In pre-Six Man, the Tigers made the playoffs in ’86 and ’07. The ’07 squad finished 7-3, the program’s most single season victories until this fall.

“Special for the community,” Cox said. “They have waited for a long time. … Just thankful. It means the world.”

Natoma is one of several teams that has accomplished school history/milestone win in the last five days – or could accomplish rare program success this Friday. The Tigers have not enjoyed success like this in any sport since boys’ cross country won back-to-back state titles in ’14-15.

“It’s been exciting, just seeing how much we have grown and how well we work together,” George said. “And we’ve just been able to turn it on this year. It’s real special because everybody came out to support. Everybody cheered real loud and are excited for us and the season, how it’s been going, and excited for the rest of it.”

Frye is the youngest of three brothers, all three who have played Natoma football. After a 5-4 season in ’12, Natoma finished a collective 9-27 from ’13-18.

“It feels pretty good,” Frye said. “It’s been awhile since any team in our school has been able to go pretty good like this, undefeated, 7-0. I really like seeing how it’s grown in the way it’s changing, how our players play and how our coaches coach.”

Two years ago, then-coach Cody Dunlap, an alum, paced the Tigers to a 5-3 record. Last year, Brian Patterson took over in the 3-2 season before Cox came aboard. Natoma has an average score of 61-19.

“We have got a really big heavy group of seniors and juniors, and because of that, they have had some playing experience before, and they have been in big games,” Cox said. “And last year had a chance to really see how they we were going to develop, but this year, they have bought in.”

Martinez has rushed for more than 1,400 yards this fall and scored two rushing TDs on Tuesday. George entered the playoffs with 118 tackles, 13 for loss, 11 sacks and four fumble recoveries. Cox called Martinez and George two of the best athletes he’s been around.

Natoma built a 22-0 lead after the first quarter. George rushed for the first score, Martinez the second and George the third. On the third TD, George continued to surge forward with multiple efforts to score on 4th-and-3 from the 3-yard line.

“It’s been great,” George said. “It’s different having a coach that’s been through college ball, and he knows more of the experience of how it should be, and we have definitely grown throughout coaches, and I think it’s helped us because we have to adapt, and it helps us overcome adversity. I think it really shows this year.”

Natoma’s supporting cast assisted. With 7 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first half, Pawnee Heights was at the Natoma 10-yard line. Then, George picked off a short pass. George was almost tackled at midfield when a defender pulled on his leg. Before he went down, George lateralled to Latsch, who went to the Pawnee 17-yard line.

“On the pick, I was just sticking back, because I figured they were going to throw something like that,” George said. “A little dump pass.”

On the next play, Bright tossed a wide-open touchdown pass to Ricky Mayberry. Then, Ian Mayberry stepped in front of a line drive pass and returned it 60 yards for a pick-six and 34-0 lead. Ian also kicked several extra points.

“It’s been great, we always need someone to help us out,” George said. “Kayden and I can’t do all of it, and Jared Griffin, Javon, Tracen, Nick have all stepped up this year and really been putting on a show to help us out.”

After the pick-six, Griffin had a tackle for loss and Frye broke up a pass on PH’s next possession. Pawnee eventually drove down to Natoma’s 7-yard line before Latsch delivered a sack. George picked up the fumble and returned it 61 yards for a score. Natoma, Cunningham and Northern Valley, three of the four semifinalists, all allow 19 or fewer points a game.

“Our ability to adapt and overcome,” Cox said. “We have that bend and don’t break mentality where we are not going to try to give up the big play, but keep everything in front of us, and it helps having good athletes.”

Pawnee Heights scored its lone touchdown with 12.5 seconds left. On the next play, Bright found Frye on a great 58-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining in the first half. This summer, Cox worked with Frye on the move to receiver. Frye didn’t “like playing quarterback very much” and was happy to move to receiver.

“That transition has been smooth for us, because we know that we have got another guy that we can throw the ball to at any time, and we have got a guy with the arm that can get it to him,” Cox said. “And Tracen has really taken that role on really well and adjusted and overcame a lot of changes in what he was doing. Having him make plays from the backfield to being able to get himself open down field.”

1A: Sedgwick looks for breakthrough win

Last spring, Sedgwick won the 2-1A state baseball championship and earned a bevy of SIK awards. Doug Mabry is the head baseball coach, and Jeff Werner serves as a veteran assistant. The two longtime coaches flip roles in the fall where Werner has won more than 100 games as Sedgwick’s football coach. The baseball title marked the first championship for the Cardinals since boys’ basketball in 1953. Sedgwick finished 3-0 at state, including two comeback victories.

“A lot of times teams kind of hope to win,” Werner said. “Or hope to be good, and that team kind of took it upon itself to go take it, and I think that was a lesson, and a lot of those guys were our senior leadership (for football), and I really think that they learned quite a bit from that. I think they are going to be ready for big games. Doesn’t always mean we are going to come out on top, but I do think we won’t shy away from the situation, or the situation won’t be too big now for us. But it was huge.”

A lot of those players are in key roles for Sedgwick football, including kicker/lineman Connor Tillman, lineman Austin Harjo and quarterback Lance Hoffsommer. Sedgwick has continued to have great regular season and district success, though has never made it past the state quarterfinals in school history.

“The toughest question then after we won the game was, ‘Well, when you are going to get over the hump in football?” Werner said. “And I said, ‘We have had a lot of good seasons, but we haven’t got out of the round of eight yet.’ So we are hoping to kind of put together a run this year to kind of do that. That’s our main goal.”

The current seniors are 8-2, 9-1 and 8-2 the last three seasons. Sedgwick is 0-4 in the state quarterfinals since ’12. Last season, the Cardinals took an upset loss, 27-24, to Oakley, a Mid-Continent League squad that played for the 1A state title.

On Friday, No. 4 Sedgwick (7-0) travels to Conway Springs (6-1) for the Class 1A, District 4 title. Conway Springs won, 41-35, at Sedgwick last year. Sedgwick is 1-7 against Conway Springs and the Mid-Continent League (Smith Center, Phillipsburg, Oakley) since ’14. All three MCL teams have played for at least one state title in that stretch.

Sedgwick has always based itself on “more offense,” and generally had smaller linemen with a quick tempo and high roster numbers. This year, Sedgwick has 42 players, excellent numbers for a 1A program.

That’s caused positives and negatives. In ’15, Sedgwick made the long drive to Phillipsburg and delivered a 34-32 comeback. Phillipsburg eventually won the 2-1A state title.

“Some of what we do that makes us pretty good if we get on a roll can also kind of be a negative at times in terms of we try to play fast, and we are trying to score fast,” Werner said. “And when the other team is just as good as you or they are able to move the ball and score the ball like you, it’s OK to kind of slow down a little bit and maybe take your time a little bit more and use up clock, especially with a lead.”

Sedgwick’s tempo helped it deliver a comeback versus Phillipsburg. Last year, Sedgwick had a 10-7 halftime lead and 17-14 advantage after three quarters. Then, Oakley outscored Sedgwick, 13-7, in the fourth quarter.

“I kind of tried to put the throttle down,” Werner said.

Sedgwick looked to put the game away in the third quarter, though then turned the ball over three times.

“We have studied some of that in terms of just our philosophy in these big games,” Werner said. “It’s a little different when you are playing in a regular season, and you are trying to score a lot of points as fast as you can.

“But if you are trying to win just to advance, ultimately the only stat that counts is the win,” he added. “So, I think we are really going to try to game manage the game a little bit differently, if we have the opportunity to have a lead in any game the rest of this season, that’s one of the major things that we are going to look at changing.”

Sedgwick has consistently enjoyed a top-5 scoring offense and features one of Kansas’ top-10 quarterbacks for all classes with Hoffsommer.

“We do feel blessed that what we do offensively especially if we do get behind, we are built to try to come back,” Werner said. “And that’s always been one of the reasons we do what we do is even if we feel like we are a couple scores down like that Phillipsburg game … that we are able to kind of chip away.”

8-Man I: Hill City wins first district title in school history

Eight-Man, Division I, especially on the West, was expected to be parity-laden all year. No. 4 Meade has rose up in the rankings with a nine-game winning streak. The Buffs are 7-0, 4-0 and have won District 7, a district where potentially four teams could finish with winning records. Meade won, 49-24, at Leoti-Wichita County two weeks ago.

In Week 2, WaKeeney-Trego beat Leoti, 76-28, in a non-district game. The following week, Leoti defeated Hill City, 62-28. Last week in district play, Hill City won a thrilling 56-50 road contest against WaKeeney to clinch the District 8 championship. HC (6-1, 4-0) won the first district championship in school history.

Afterward, Pat Haxton reminded his team that he believes the Golden Eagles are one of the best Division I teams in the western half of Kansas. Disregarding a 50-0 win versus Oberlin where the team ran just 21 plays, Trego has at least 430 yards in every game. Trego averages 48.1 points per game.

Hill City has shown improvement with the emergence of junior all-purpose threat Kaleb Atkins and the improvement of sophomore quarterback Aiden Amrein. He has 158 carries for 1,041 yards and 14 scores. He has completed 54 of 88 passes for 747 yards with 17 TDs against five interceptions. Senior Derek Keith, pressed into quarterback duty last season, has emerged as a key receiver with 22 catches for 367 yards and eight TDs.

Since the loss to Wichita County, Amrein has significantly improved as a passer. He has a QB rating of at least 119 in each of the four contests. Plus, Hill City did well in pass defense against WaKeeney. The Golden Eagles like to run slants and quick outs, and HC didn’t have a big safety and kept Trego from big plays.

Leoti coach Brant Douglas was able to watch the streaming of the last quarter of Hill City/Trego after his game concluded.

“The score differential between the Leoti game that we played, and the Leoti game that Trego played – and I said, ‘In football, the transitive property doesn’t work,’” Hill City coach Travis Desbien said. “You can’t really compare scores. I mean, coach Haxton knew it. I knew it. And I am sure Brant knows it at Leoti, that the three of us are all super tight as far as how close and good we are.”

Class 6A: Olathe West and Olathe Northwest look for history; ONW with steady defensive improvement

Olathe West is 5-2 and was featured on SIK All-Access with Bethany Bowman live at Owl practice this week. OW junior quarterback Mason McGavran has completed 65 of 97 passes for 1,030 yards for nine touchdowns against three interceptions. He has 106 carries for 832 yards and 10 scores.

Senior running back Anthony Favrow has 160 carries for 912 yards and 10 scores. Favrow is close to his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season. He has 3,431 rushing yards and 38 career rushing scores. Senior Will Krzkowski has 86 tackles, five for loss.

OW is at Shawnee Mission East (2-5). A victory ties the school record for single season wins in the four-year varsity history of the Owls. Coach T.J. O’Neill is 5-7, 6-4, 5-4 and 5-2. Olathe West is currently seeded fourth in Class 6A East.

Olathe Northwest (5-2) has a challenging test versus Olathe North (5-2). Northwest was a collective 5-20 in its last three years. Like Natoma, NW was a preseason KPreps Potential Breakout Team. Northwest has clinched its first winning season in six years. Northwest has never won more than six games since the program was started in ’04.

Northwest is 2-17 all-time versus Olathe North and has lost 11 in a row dating back to 2011. None of the last six meetings are closer than 21 points. Olathe Northwest lineman Jayden Oquendo, who started his career at eight-man Maranatha Academy, earned FCS offers this summer. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Oquendo has recently blown up with offers from Dodge City CC, Air Force and Valparaiso.

Oquendo has helped Northwest enjoy a sizable defensive turnaround. Two years ago, NW allowed 40.7 points a contest. Last season, Northwest permitted 20.4 points a game, No. 9 in 6A. This year, the Ravens have allowed 17.7 points a game. Oquendo, who has 30-plus tackles, has delivered three TFLs and a sack. He has helped Northwest’s defense permit 137 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry.

Class 5A/4A – Spring Hill looks for best record at 31 years; Eudora looks for upset

Spring Hill (7-0) is at Class 4A Eudora (3-4) in a highly intriguing Frontier League matchup. No. 5-ranked Spring Hill is the lone undefeated team in Class 5A. Spring Hill, featured on SIK several times this fall, has already won its most games since

Eudora, with several Division I players, has lost four games in heartbreaking fashion: on a Hail Mary, by seven, by one and by one. Eudora’s Gage Hayden completed 11 of 12 passes for 251 yards and three scores last week. He is 31 of 40 for 722 yards with 10 TDs in the flexbone offense. Eudora features its Division I prospect duo of Jaden Hamm and Silas Detter. Eudora put up 467 yards of total offense in a 43-42 loss to Paola last week, including 32 carries for 168 yards and three scores from Brayden Beebower.

Spring Hill has already had its most wins since a 7-3 season in 1995. Before then, SH’s best season was an 11-1 year in 1990.

However, Eudora could pull the upset. Eudora has averaged 353 total yards and 7.8 yards per play. Spring Hill has averaged 358 total yards and 6.5 yards per play.

4A: Mulvane on pace for longest winning streak in nine years, best scoring defense in 15-plus

Mulvane has won five in a row and has permitted just 45 points a game in that stretch. The Wildcats have achieved its big turnaround from its 1-7 season last year. Mulvane plays host to Wellington. A win gives Mulvane its longest winning streak since 2012. The Wildcats have allowed just 14.4 points a game after it permitted 43.5 a contest last season. Trenton Davis paces the defense with 31 tackles and four pass breakups. Hunter Seier has 26.5 tackles with nine pass breakups. Ian Comer has 7.5 TFLs, and Mason Ellis has six pass breakups. Trent Moses has made a big impact after he joined the squad with 30 tackles, 5.5 for loss.

This is Mulvane’s best scoring defense in more than 15 years. Mulvane allowed 19.2 points in 2019, 14.5 in ’12, 19.9 in ’11 and 15.7 in ’06. The Wildcats have consistently allowed around 25 points a contest in the last 15 years.

Class 3A – Russell looks to break losing drought

Wild District 6 presents several possibilities after Goodland delivered a 16-14 upset versus Russell last week. No. 5 Southeast of Saline is 7-0, 4-0 and has won District 6. Colby is 3-4, 2-2. Russell is 4-3, 2-2. Scott City stands at 4-3, 2-2. Smoky Valley stands at 4-3, 1-3. Smoky Valley plays host to Russell this week.

Scott City plays host to Southeast of Saline. Colby is at rival Goodland. Russell senior Jesse Whitmer has played in just three games after an injury and still has 25 tackles, seven for loss. SV senior Haven Lysell has 72 tackles, six for loss.

A win gives Russell its first winning season in 18 years.

Class 2A – Colgan looks to continue winning streak

In District 1, Pittsburg Colgan is 4-3, 4-0. Riverton stands at 5-2, 3-1. Colgan is at Riverton this week. Colgan last lost a district game in a 30-14 defeat to Galena on Oct. 18, 2013.

From ’14-current, Colgan has won 26 straight district contests.

Eight-Man, Division II – big seasons, district titles on the line

In District 2, Marais des Cygnes Valley (4-2, 3-0) is at Lebo (6-1, 3-0) for the district championship.

MdCV is a win away from its first winning season in six years.

No. 1 Axtell is looking for its first perfect regular season since 1995. No. 2 Bucklin is a win away from its most victories since an 8-2 showing in 1996. Bucklin will play Dighton at home this week for the District 8 title.

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