Football in Kansas: Leoti, Pratt, Hays High and Axtell headline breakout Week 1 performances

Enoch Walton of Pratt. (courtesy of Walton)


Sports In Kansas takes a look at big performances and milestone wins for programs – especially involving players in first breakout games or coming back from injury. The list includes Leoti-Wichita County, Pratt, Axtell, Hays High, Kinsley, Bucklin, and Chapman. Historic notes from databases/archives with Kansas Football History, KPreps and Kansas Pregame.

Leoti-Wichita County: “Barely any varsity experience, and they stepped up and played extremely well” – Eight-Man’s No. 1 scoring offense since 2017

Leoti-Wichita County coach Brant Douglas has already orchestrated one of most impressive turnarounds in recent Kansas high school football history.

The Indians had very little tradition before he took over in 2018. WC posted a 6-3 year, the team’s best mark since at least the mid-90s. They followed with a 10-2 season and state semifinals, the school’s top postseason showing in 29 falls.

In 2020, the Indians finished 12-1 and earned Eight-Man, Division I state runner-up to Little River, the best season in school annals. Known for its electrifying offense, WC graduated nearly all its production, including quarterback Kayde Rietzke, end Manny Chavez, receiver Sheldon Whalen, running back Jesse Gardner, and linemen AC Hermosillo and Juan Mancillas.

Overall, the Indians lost 92 percent of its passing yards, 83 percent of its rushing yards, and 88 percent of its receptions. Plus, the top-four and five of the top-six tacklers graduated, along with 78 percent of its sacks.

Still, Wichita County returned three key pieces: three-year senior starting center Xavier Hernandez, junior defensive back Erhik Hermosillo, and senior Tristen Porter, a hybrid player and four-sport standout. The 5-foot-6, 130-pound Porter had played in 34 career games with 100 tackles, 16 for loss, 10 sacks, seven fumble recoveries and 14 total touchdowns entering ’21.

WC won state powerlifting in the spring. Porter, a standout wrestler and state runner-up pole vaulter, picked up an individual state title in powerlifting. Hermosillo was top-six in a pair of state powerlifting events.

The Indians had multiple seniors who had logged limited playing time and now were 2021 key players. Those included Cordell Brown, Isaiah Gerstberger, Christian Marchant and Romeo Terriquez. Gerstberger was a state powerlifting runner-up. Brown was top-six in two state powerlifting events. JV football had never lost a game since Douglas took over.

This summer, Douglas and his staff worked on team building. They attended a pair of one-day EPIC football camps, in Cambridge, Neb., and WaKeeney. He wanted the players confident and understanding, that despite inexperience, they are good at football. WC had a great weight room summer. Hermosillo, with natural quarterback attributes and great speed, took over under center.

Defensive coordinator Hayden Parks changed the defense from a 3-3 to a 5-1. WC has plenty of team speed, and the Indians wanted more athletes on the line of scrimmage.

Douglas, known for his offensive acumen and copious film study, spread the field even more offensively. Preseason rankings ranged all over. WC was as high as third in one major poll and out of the top-10 in at least two others.

“We had that hanging up in the weight room all summer,” Douglas said of the preseason rankings. “In case you ever need extra motivation, we graduate a lot of good guys, but we still have a ton of talent behind. And this is what people think of us outside of this town, so use that as motivation. And I think they really ran with that.”

On Friday, Wichita County played Hoxie, No. 4 in Division I, on the road. WC delivered one of Kansas’ signature wins with a 56-6 victory. Hoxie is 9-3 since the start of 2020, reached the state semifinals last season and returns senior quarterback Ashton Dowell, running back Cade Gourley and Derek Johnson (104 tackles), among others. All three of Hoxie’s losses have come against Wichita County.

“Giving them an opportunity on the field, so they knew they had the talent to compete with anyone and just continuing with that confidence and also being humble that they don’t have a ton of experience,” Douglas said. “And we will make some mistakes, but just moving onto the next play was big for them against Hoxie.”

In Week 1, Wichita County’s new group was one of the breakout players and teams from a wild first weekend. WC was one of three unranked teams to beat a top squad in the top-5 of the KPreps preseason rankings, along with Pratt and Axtell.

Douglas, who earned state runner-up as a player at Cheyenne Central (Wyo.), played at Nebraska-Kearney, and coached in Texas and Nebraska, has the No. 1 scoring offense in eight-man football since he took over the Indian program.

Since Douglas became head coach in 2018, WC has averaged 53.9 points a game, just ahead of Canton-Galva (53.0), Madison (52.9), Hanover (51.1) and Clifton-Clyde (50.8), per SIK research. After Friday’s win, the Indians have scored at least 48 points in 14 consecutive games.

“A lot of those guys have barely any varsity experience, and they stepped up and played extremely well,” Douglas said. “You never know going into their first game, just with the adrenaline and excitement, how they are going to step up and perform. But a lot of players stepped up from sophomores all the way up to seniors, and just seeing them have their time come and take the moment and run with it is really cool to see.”

Hermosillo finished with 402 yards of total offense. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 164 yards with two scores and one interception. He rushed 26 times for 238 yards and four TDs.

Last year, Hermosillo had spot time at quarterback when Rietzke was hurt in early season.

“With the ball in his hands in the open field, he is extremely hard to tackle,” Douglas said of Hermosillo. “And his passing game has come a long ways. We knew – he would show flashes last year in practice of what he could do passing-wise.”

Porter finished with 13 offensive touches for 71 yards. Gerstberger and Terriquez combined for five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Terriquez had a highly impressive touchdown catch.

Brown paced Leoti with seven tackles. He and Hernandez tied for the team-high with two tackles for loss. In 2020, Brown had three tackles all season. Neither Gerstberger nor Terriquez caught a pass in 2020.

“The way he just reads a play and diagnosis it and takes the correct angle has been extremely impressive,” Douglas said of Brown. “And just his leadership out there has been extremely impressive based on his limited playing time prior to this season.”

Gerstberger and Hernandez each delivered four tackles. The 5-foot-8, 220-pound Hernandez, who plays both ways, finished with a pair of sacks. Brown forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Porter recovered a fumble. Hernandez blocked a kick.

Douglas called Hernandez a vocal, energetic leader and one whose “motor never quits.” At times, Hernandez blocked two or three Hoxie players on the same play. Brown was impressive, too.

Hermosillo tallied a touchdown that puts Wichita County up by three scores. On the play, WC went spread formation. The left side receiver was just inside the sideline. Brown held his block well and allowed Hermosillo to score. Douglas was pleased with the line that got in position and blocked to the whistle. Brown, Hernandez and sophomore guard Christopher Michel (6-0, 190) form the offensive line.

Per Hudl stats, Wichita County limited Hoxie to five rushing yards. WC’s defense held Hoxie senior quarterback Ashton Dowell to 159 passing yards and 48 percent completion rate. Douglas called Dowell the most accurate eight-man quarterback he has seen. Dowell is a three-year starter.

“When he has time to throw, he can put it on the money and he throws a really good ball,” Douglas said. “But we had just consistent pressure and kept hitting him, making tackles, getting some sacks, just making him uncomfortable in the pocket, and that’s what’s huge for us. I knew going in that if we gave him time to throw, he would chuck it all over the field.”

“We had a lot of confidence”

Overall, ranked teams (top-5 in KPreps) from Class 6A to Eight-Man, Division II finished 21-4 against non-ranked teams, or 84 percent. That is line with recent trends. Per SIK research of KPreps preseason polls, from 2016-20, top-5 preseason teams won 85 percent of its Week 1 games when facing a non-ranked squad. That included a 25-1 record last year.

In addition to Leoti-Wichita County this season, Class 3A Pratt defeated Hoisington, 68-18, behind its new single wing offense and backs Enoch Knox Walton and Max Younie. They helped Pratt rush for 491 yards.

Hoisington, the defending 2A runner-up, was ranked fifth in 2A preseason. It marked the first regular season loss by Hoisington since the 2018 season opener. Pratt finished 3-6 last year, including a 34-13 loss to the Cardinals in Week 1. On Monday night, in a weather-delayed game, Winfield beat Arkansas City, 10-7, to win the Cowley Cup rivalry game. Ark City was No. 4 in 4A preseason.

Walton, the 198-pound state powerlifting champion in the spring, is originally from Tahiti (read more about Walton later this week at SIK). Known for his work ethic and polite demeanor, he picked up a Bethel College offer this offseason. Walton finished with 18 carries for 159 yards and two scores. Sophomore Max Younie delivered eight carries for 110 yards and three TDs. Pratt didn’t have a designated throwing quarterback and began to implement the single wing after Spring Break.

“Hoisington has been a great team over the years,” Walton told SIK on Sunday. “And we just knew that we had some big guys that had been lifting a lot in the weight room. The single wing offense is just a down and dirty, whoever is the bigger man wins the drive. So we knew we kind of had the upper hand on that with size and strength and with that offense. We had a lot of confidence in the beginning, because we know we have been working really hard. We just worked too dang hard to lose this first game, so this feels great to come out on top.”

In Eight-Man, Division II, Axtell beat No. 5 Wheatland-Grinnell in the season opener for the second consecutive year. Axtell, just outside of the top-five in Division II, won 62-16. Junior quarterback Isaac Detweiler, one of Kansas’ most well-known players, completed 12 of 17 passes for 147 yards and two scores. He rushed 20 times for 154 yards and five scores.

However, Axtell graduated 93 percent of its receptions and five of its top-six tacklers. Overall, the Eagles graduated 65 percent of its tackles.

Offensively, Grady Buessing, Eli Broxterman, Brandon Schmelzle and Evan Buessing all finished with three catches. Buessing and Broxterman had a receiving touchdown. Buessing led with seven tackles, and Schmelzle picked off a pass. Grady is a sophomore and Evan is a junior.

Broxterman and Schmelzle are breakout freshmen candidates. Broxterman, listed as an Athlete on Axtell’s roster, is 5-11, 180. Schmelzle is 6-1, 166.

“He’s pretty darn good”

At Fort Hays’ Lewis Field Stadium, Hays High beat Wichita East, 35-6. HHS and East are in the top-10 of Class 5A and 6A, respectively. East paced 6A in scoring defense in 2020, and Hays High was fourth in 5A defense. HHS faced significant defensive questions after the graduation of defensive ends Gaven Haselhorst and Trey Adams and defensive back Tucker Veach. Haselhorst, a Shrine Bowler, led Kansas in tackles for loss.

Those three and linebacker Gavin Meyers were the Indians’ four first team all-WAC defensive selections. Meyers, linebacker Dalton Dale and defensive lineman Carson Spray all returned. Those three had nice games Friday, though the breakout player was 6-foot-2, 222-pound senior defensive lineman Iden Baalman. He recorded 3.5 tackles for loss.

Baalman came from Hoxie and came to Hays High the first day of his junior year.

“Iden is a real quiet kid, and we are just like, ‘Hey, you play football?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I will play,’” head coach Tony Crough said. “But he wasn’t real committed. He wasn’t used to what we were asking kids to do, so it took him awhile to get used to it. And finally once he got used to it, he was awesome on the JV last year.”

“He was one of those kids that you could watch progress,” he added. “And we kept thinking, ‘If this kid actually starts buying into the weight room and if he starts showing up and living up to our expectations, he’s going to be good. And sure enough, he’s pretty darn good.”

“My coaches do a great job, too”

A lot of Leoti’s success comes from the continuous film study. The Indians film every practice, which Douglas watches nightly. The players and the coaching staff watch multiple times a week.

In his own film study, Douglas will look how the opposing teams are aligning in certain formations.

“I draw all of our plays against those formations,” Douglas said. “And then decide what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. And then the kids really soak it up through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practice.”

“…It’s the entirety,” he added. “It’s not just me. My coaches do a great job, too. We study film quite a bit. I think that plays a big role in why our guys – even if a team comes out and does something we don’t expect, they understand how the play is supposed to work in general.”

Douglas said his film session is “kind of the whole weekend.”

When Douglas gets home Friday night, he is normally pumped up and excited. He watches the game that just happened and wants to have good critiques for Saturday. Sometimes he has a chance to watch the Open Spaces Sports broadcast, which often carries Northwest Kansas games.

“See what we can make improvements on,” he said.

 Then, the team comes in early Saturday morning. The staff and players watch the Friday’s game together. Douglas has the usual film exchange with the other team. Douglas wants the coaches to have family time. The staff does not meet together on the weekends.

Douglas is married with one son. Douglas and his wife, Haylie, have a child due in a matter of days; likely the Week 3 game week versus Hill City. Douglas is open-ended on whether he will coach the game. They are delivering in Garden City. Douglas has full confidence in his staff and players if he misses.

Around the time when his family goes to bed Saturday night, Douglas will watch film and work on his offensive game plan. He uses pencil and paper so he “can erase quite a bit.” He likes to do scout team offense in pen and paper, too, so the Indians know exactly how the plays need to run. This allows Douglas to put some notes underneath the drawings.

“Draw up how they are going to align to our formations and draw up plays against those formations,” Douglas said. “And how to block and what that scheme should look like. And then on Sundays, I usually do the defenses.”

Defensively, Douglas said the Indians “have a lot of speed” and wanted to get their playmakers on the line of scrimmage and “let them run.” Douglas said the defense played “extremely well” in the new defense Friday.

“He knows how we should align certain plays,” Douglas said of Parks. “And where we can attack. It’s really a team effort. And all of my coaches do a great job of studying the film and understanding how to attack their weaknesses and what we need to focus on throughout the week.”

Douglas is involved in the well-known eight-man coaches group chat that includes veteran Caldwell coach Sean Blosser.

In the new rankings this week, Hill City is still fifth in Division I, and Leoti has vaulted to fourth. Friday’s win moved Leoti to 4-0 in season openers under Douglas. Before Douglas took over, the Indians had lost six straight Week 1 contests.

Since Douglas took over, Wichita County is seventh in eight-man winning percentage at 82.3 percent. That trails only Hanover (94.6), Canton-Galva (91.9), Madison (91.4), St. Francis (89.5) Clifton-Clyde (86.7) and Little River (84.9). That’s ahead of such elite programs like Axtell, Victoria, Osborne and Central Plains, all teams that have won or played for a state title in the last six years.

“I get a lot of good stuff from them,” Douglas said. “There is a lot of great coaches in that group chat and just learning from what they do and trying to apply it to how we run our offense or defense has been a great free resource.”

Milestone wins for programs; Kinsley, Bucklin, Royal Valley among those with new freshmen and sophomores emerging

Eight programs – Kinsley, Alma-Wabaunsee, Oberlin, Bucklin, Inman, Plainville, Royal Valley and Flinthills – all earned milestone wins for their programs:

In eight-man Central Prairie League, Kinsley beat Central Plains, 38-6. Kinsley had been 0-6 all-time against Central Plains. Coach Corey Dunlap continues to make impressive strides with the Coyotes. Last year, Kinsley averaged 42.9 points a game, at least the program’s best in the last 15 years. SIK communicated with Dunlap on Saturday.

Sophomore utility back Dylan Haselhorst rushed for 79 yards and two TDs. Dunlap said Kinsley especially played well in the trenches with Haselhorst, sophomore Kaden Arensman, senior Tysen Schmitt and sophomore Efrain Holguin.

Led by coach Trever Powell, Eight-Man, Division II darkhorse contender Bucklin defeated Spearville, 22-6. Bucklin, prominently featured last week on SIK, ended a streak of 13 straight Week 1 losses. Spearville had won nine straight season openers. A key change was Bucklin’s defense. Bucklin had scored and allowed 40.2 points a game last year. Spearville had not scored in single digits in 17 contests.

It marked the fewest points the Red Aces had allowed in a game since Week 5 of 2019. Bucklin had its lowest point total in a win since a 20-16 victory versus Ashland 2 in Week of 2007. That season marked Bucklin’s last season-opening victory before Friday.

Senior Nathan Bowman enjoyed a solid day with 9 of 14 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown. He and Scott Price combined for 30 carries for 149 yards and a score. Senior Nathan Imel hauled in a 31-yard touchdown reception. Sophomore Andrew Bowman, whom Powell named a breakout candidate, paced the defense with 10 tackles, two for loss.

In Heart of America, Class 1A No. 3 Inman beat Hutchinson Trinity, 52-0. Inman had lost seven in a row to Trinity Catholic.

In the Mid-Continent League, Plainville beat Phillipsburg, 34-7. Plainville scored 34 points in its first three games last season. Plainville has played Phillipsburg 78 times, according to the Kansas Football History database. With limited exceptions, the teams play every year. This marked the most points the Cardinals have scored against Phillipsburg since 2015, and the most in a win versus the Panthers since 2011. Before then, it was the most points for Plainville in the series since 1987.

Class 3A Royal Valley held off Riverside, 16-13 for the first win in the inaugural game under coach David Boucher. RV finished 0-7 last season and allowed at least 28 points in every game. RV had lost nine straight contests. Junior guard/defensive end Aston Wood paced with three tackles for loss and two sacks.

In Eight-Man, Division I, Flinthills beat Cedar Vale-Dexter, 48-0. Flint Hills was 2-18 in its last 20 games. The Mustangs had lost eight straight season openers. It marked Flinthills’ biggest margin of victory since a 62-12 win versus Burlingame in Week 6 of the 2012 season. Flinthills’ Kendall Pinkerton had 326 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, per the Butler County Times-Gazette.

Class 1A Wabaunsee defeated Mission Valley, 28-0. Wabaunsee won its season opener for the first time since 2005.

In eight-man Northwest Kansas League, Oberlin beat St. Francis, 56-18. Oberlin had lost six in a row to the Indians dating back to 2014.

Chapman’s Riegel returns; Jewell picks up offer; Thompson breakout day for BSJT

For the second straight year, Chapman beat Sabetha by a score. Both teams are in the upper-third of Class 3A. Last year, Chapman won 34-29. This season, the Irish beat the Bluejays, 24-22.

Chapman rushed for 333 yards. Senior 5-foot-9, 175-pound running back Eli Riegel delivered 26 carries for 213 yards and three TDs. Senior Torin Cavanaugh (6-3, 198) delivered three tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and forced fumble. He committed to Emporia State baseball this weekend.

Riegel has already surpassed last season’s yardage total when he rushed for 32 carries for 139 yards and a TD. He was limited to just three games. As a sophomore, he rushed 150 times for 686 yards and five scores.

Beloit St. John’s/Tipton senior Ben Thompson was mainly used as a returner last season with 158 of his 185 total yards coming in special teams. On Friday, Thompson had a breakout performance with 15 carries for 92 yards and two scores in a 38-22 win versus Sylvan-Lucas. Juniors Cooper Jermark and Luke Bates, both key returners, led with 26 and 21 tackles. Oddly, BSJT had lost three straight Week 1 contests, including 38-31 to Sylvan-Lucas last season. BSJT has nine straight winning seasons.

South Barber picked up an impressive 60-14 victory against Pratt-Skyline. Both SB and Skyline are top-15 teams in Eight-Man, Division I and Division II, respectively. This contest was moved to 7 p.m. Saturday. SB lost, 48-44, to Skyline last season. SB standout quarterback Gatlin Jewell picked up a Bethany College offer on Monday.

To view our impressions (What impressed us after week one? – Click here)

Also check out our recaps via podcasts on Sports in Kansas On-Demand each week on the podcasts tab.

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