Football in Kansas: State trends, rematches, turnarounds, big performances and impressions from state semifinals

St. Marys quarterback Keller Hurla had a huge semifinal performance Friday and has propelled the Bears to the 1A state championship game.


One of the coldest football Friday nights in recent years yielded history through all nine Kansas classifications. SIK has statewide trends and at least one note on all 18 teams below. Check out significant coverage on all Sports In Kansas platforms in upcoming days. SIK’s Bethany Bowman has online interviews with Bishop Miege, and Conor Nicholl was at Hill City/Wichita County on Friday.

Here are the nine state championship matchups, set for this Saturday at multiple locations:

6A: Gardner-Edgerton (9-3) vs. Manhattan (12-0) at Emporia State

5A: Mill Valley (11-1) vs. Maize (12-0) at Pittsburg State

4A: Bishop Miege (10-2) vs. Wamego (12-0) at Hummer Park

3A: Holton (11-1) vs. Andale (12-0) at Hutchinson Community College

2A: Nemaha Central (12-0) vs. Kingman (12-0) at Salina District Stadium

1A: St. Marys (10-2) vs. Inman (11-1) at Fort Hays State University

8MI: Little River (11-1) vs. Leoti-Wichita County (12-0) at Newton’s Fischer Field

8M2: Axtell (12-0) vs. Thunder Ridge (11-1) at Newton’s Fischer Field

6M: Cunningham (12-0) vs. Ashland (10-1)

Notable Rematches

Last season, Manhattan and Gardner-Edgerton were both in 6A West. Manhattan defeated G-E, 38-35.

Mill Valley defeated Maize, 28-14, in the 2021 Class 5A state championship game, the Jags’ third straight title. It marked Maize’s first all-time state championship game trip. MV and Maize have been ranked 1-2 in some form all year in 5A.

Little River defeated Wichita County, 70-58, in the 2020 8M1 state championship game, the all-time highest scoring eight-man championship of all time. The remarkable contest featured a passing, rushing and receiving score from LR’s Jayden Garrison, a LR onside kick recovery, and WC quarterback Kayde Rietzke with more than 400 total yards.

The only current WC starter who started on the 2020 team?

Erhik Hermosillo, who started on defense as a sophomore.

Hermosillo is now the Indians’ electrifying quarterback and one of Kansas’ most well-known players. On Friday, Hermosillo accounted for 262 rushing yards and six scores, along with 163 passing and two touchdowns against Hill City.

WC has scored 738 points and 61.5 points per game. The Indians could break the eight-man all-time scoring record of 764, set by Osborne in 2016.

“It’s incredible that we came back,” Hermosillo told SIK on Friday. “It’s a brand-new team, and we just have a lot of confidence, and we are going to try and win it this time.”

Little River had four sophomores on the field in 2020: Braxton Lafferty, Braden Young, Grant Stephens and Rylan Konen. Lafferty was a receiver and caught four passes, one for a score. Young, little used on that squad, caught a pivotal eight-yard TD pass that shaped the title team.

All four were highlighted players on LR’s state runner-up squad to Meade in 2021, and again this season. Lafferty has accounted for 1,861 yards of offense, and Konen has a 16/2 TD/INT ratio, and Young leads with 22 catches. Lafferty (106 tackles, 13 for loss) and Stephens (90 tackles, state-best 33 for loss) pace the defense.

This marks the third straight season Axtell and Thunder Ridge will meet in the playoffs. TR was Eight-Man, Division II East the last two years, and then switched to the West. Since the summer, coach Joel Struckhoff had a goal for his senior-laden Longhorns to face Axtell or Canton-Galva in the championship.

Axtell held off Canton-Galva, 36-32, and TR defeated depleted Dighton, 58-12 on Friday.

In 2020, Axtell had a huge comeback and defeated TR, 42-40, in Week 9. Last year, Axtell beat Thunder Ridge, 46-0, in the state semifinals. Axtell has won 25 straight games. Many of the principals from 2020 and especially ’21 return on both sides.

Axtell has every starter back from 2021, including QB Isaac Detweiler, the state’s all-time leader in TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) per SIK research. TR notably has four-year player Dylan Bice, the starting quarterback the last three seasons.

The first year of KSHSAA sanctioned six-man football offers an extreme rarity with a rematch from the regular season. In Week 1, Cunningham defeated Ashland, 38-30. The two faced limited resistance the rest of the fall and remained atop the polls.

In the state semifinals, Cunningham defeated Waverly, 60-12, and Ashland beat Bird City-Cheylin, 78-34. Cunningham has allowed 7.3 points per game – the best scoring defense since six-man football resumed in Kansas in 2016. That is currently ahead of Cheylin’s 8.6 points allowed per game mark from 2020, per SIK research and the KPreps database.

  Preseason Rankings

Of the 18 finalists, 12 were ranked preseason top-2 in the KPreps poll.

Preseason No. 1 teams: 6 are left (Mill Valley, Andale, St. Marys, LR, Axtell, Cunningham)

Preseason No. 2 teams: 6 are left (Maize, Miege, Holton, Nemaha Central, Wichita County, Ashland)

Preseason No. 3 team: Thunder Ridge

Preseason No. 4 team: Inman

Preseason No. 5: Kingman

NR Preseason: G-E, Manhattan, Wamego

Defending champions, streaks

Andale has enjoyed its well-publicized streak that reached 50 straight games Friday with a 36-0 win against Clay Center. Andale has won the last three 3A state championships. The Indians joined Smith Center, Pittsburg Colgan, Claflin and Conway Springs as the five Kansas teams that have won 50 straight games. Andale currently has the nation’s second-longest winning streak.

The Indians have a collective margin of 55.1 points scored and 5.7 points allowed a contest. Andale could break the school record for points scored and points allowed a game that was set last year. Andale’s waves of talent include QB Wyatt Spexarth, RB/ATH Riley Marx, OL/DL Jack Kraus, OL Brayden Weber, RB Cody Parthemer, DB/ATH Kelby Eck, and Jonah Meyer, among others. This is statistically one of the all-time great Kansas teams.

Since the summer, SIK has noted this could be Mill Valley’s best all-time defense – a high bar considering the Jags have won five state titles and finished first for all 11-man classes in defense the last two years. MV has proved that could be the case with a 63-0 win against Blue Valley Southwest, and the T-Wolves’ great passing offense. In the state quarterfinals, SW passed for 601 yards. Mill Valley has 48.2 points scored a game and 5.3 allowed. MV has won the last three 5A title.

Mill Valley permitted 13.8 points a game last year. The Jaguars have four straight shutouts. The only team in Kansas history to shutout every opponent in the playoffs? Andale 2020, per historian Brett Marshall.

Defending Runner-Ups

The following teams took second at state last season:

5A Maize

1A Inman

8M1 Little River

6M Cunningham

Last season marked the first trip to state ever for Maize and Inman, and the first trip for Cunningham since 1975. The Wildcats finished second that year.

LR won state in 2020 and was second in 2021. Before then, the Redskins captured five titles, most recently in ’99.

LR coach Kevin Ayers is 4-2 all-time in finals and is the only Kansas eight-man coach to win championships at three different schools: Jetmore (’01, ’03), Wallace County (’07) and LR (’20). He also took second with WC in ’13.

Successful Counties

Of Kansas’ nine remaining undefeated teams, five are in close proximity.

Wamego and Manhattan are just 15 miles apart. Wamego head coach Weston Moody was previously the Manhattan defensive coordinator for current Indian coach Joe Schartz. St. Marys is 14 miles east of Wamego. At least part of all three towns is in Pottawatomie County.

Seneca-Nemaha Central and Axtell are located 13 miles apart. Axtell, located in Marshall County, is on the border of Nemaha County, which has Seneca.

Biggest Turnarounds from 2021:

Leoti-Wichita County: 6-3 to 12-0

Nemaha Central: 7-3 to 12-0

St. Marys: 5-4 to 10-2

Gardner-Edgerton: 4-6 to 9-3

Bishop Miege: 5-7 to 10-2

First Time Since?

Many teams have ended longtime state droughts:

Gardner-Edgerton: second trip ever, first since ’09 runner-up.

Manhattan: first since runner-up in ’01; 2-5 all-time in finals with championships in ’74 and ’88.

Wamego: first trip ever to a final; previous best semifinals in 1975

Kingman: first trip since ’72 runner-up.

St. Marys: 0-3 all-time in state finals; second in ’83, ’99 and ’06.

Ashland: Championships in ’76 and ’80; second in ‘95

Big Semifinal Performances

St. Marys quarterback Keller Hurla completed 11 of 14 passes for 147 yards, along with 17 carries for 218 yards and four scores. For the season, Hurla has 2,243 passing yards with 24 scores against two interceptions and a 62 percent completion. He has 1,178 rushing yards and 22 TDs. Hurla was a first team all-state basketball pick in basketball for the defending state runner-up Bears.

Axtell quarterback Isaac Detweiler, the reigning 8-Man II Offensive Player of the Year, contributed 188 passing (two touchdowns) and 142 rushing (two scores).

Bishop Miege quarterback Mac Armstrong, the state’s passing leader, delivered 18 of 23 for 320 yards and four scores. Tight end Daegen Jensen had big catches all game for the Stags. Isaiah Coppage switched from defense to offense this season and has more than 1,200-plus receiving yards. He caught two TD passes.

Kingman defeated No. 1-ranked Southeast of Saline, 28-22, in double overtime. Kingman’s 3-3 HAVOC defense has allowed just 6.8 points a game, second-best among the 18 state championship qualifiers. Kingman trails only Mill Valley (5.3) and Andale (5.7) with Wamego at 6.9.

Aidan Hefley and Gannon Couture both had 11 tackles for Wamego. Hayden Oviatt finished with 28 carries for 208 yards and four scores. Oviatt, a top-15 all-classes recruit and Army West Point commit, suffered injury in the summer. A former quarterback, Oviatt has returned as a running back.

Maize’s offense receives plenty of attention, but the Eagles’ defense continues to be superb. Maize scored off a blocked punt in a 42-9 win against Hays High. Maize has an average score of 51-14.

State Qualifiers Ranked by Scoring Offense

Wichita County 61.5

Ashland 61.5

Axtell 59.2

Andale 55.1

Cunningham 55.0

Thunder Ridge 52.4

Little River 51.6

Maize 50.8

Nemaha Central 49.6

Mill Valley 48.2

Holton 45.6

Manhattan 45.1

Wamego 42.3

Bishop Miege 41.6

St. Marys 41.5

Kingman 40.1

Inman 37.3

Gardner-Edgerton 35.8

State Qualifiers Ranked by Scoring Defense

Mill Valley 5.3

Andale 5.7

Cunningham 6.6

Kingman 6.8

Wamego 6.9

Inman 9.4

Axtell 10.3

Wichita County 10.3

Nemaha Central 11.2

St. Marys 13.3

Maize 14.1

Little River 14.3

Manhattan 15.5

Holton 15.5

Thunder Ridge 15.8

Bishop Miege 17.3

Gardner Edgerton 18.7

Ashland 21.9

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