By CONOR NICHOLL
Paced by an experienced group, Hiawatha has won back-to-back games for the first time since 2017. Hiawatha opened with a 12-10 loss to Troy, and then defeated Perry-Lecompton (21-7) and Riverside (55-0). Hiawatha has its best start in five falls.
Third-year coach Michael Downard had an improvement from 1-8 to 3-6 last year. In 2021, against the same teams, Hiawatha opened 1-2 and permitted 89 points. Perry-Lecompton had back-to-back 3A state runner-ups to Andale, and then went through significant graduation losses for 2021. Hiawatha has not posted a winning record since a 7-4 mark eight years ago.
Red Hawks had dropped five in a row to P-L in a stretch that dated back to 2013, per the Kansas Football History database. Hiawatha had lost back-to-back games to Riverside and three of its four in the series.
Downard played at Butler in 2010 and ’11. He coached at Butler from the fall of ’13 to the spring of ’16. Then, he served as an assistant coach at Campus from the fall of ’16 to spring ’17. He started at Hiawatha as an assistant in the fall of ’17.
Overall, Downard said his top linemen are left tackle Peter Campbell and right tackle Braydon Griswold. Both also started along the defensive line. A junior, Campbell is 6-1, 215. Griswold is 6-2, 220. Campbell has 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Griswold has delivered 22 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks. Griswold leads the Red Hawks in tackles.
The top defensive backs are senior safety Joel Bryan (6-2, 185) and junior Ashton Rockey, a 5-10, 165-pound corner and all-purpose threat. The duo were both honorable mention all-Big 7 at defensive back.
Overall, the defense has held teams to just 111 yards a game. The pass defense has limited opponents to 31 of 67 passing for 332 yards with three passing scores against four interceptions. The defense has permitted 1.4 yards per carry.
Hiawatha’s defense kept Perry to 69 plays with 94 passing and 94 rushing yards.
In his first year as the starter, quarterback Brandt Barnhill has completed 11 of 25 passes for 272 yards with four scores against four interceptions. Barnhill was considered one of three possibilities for quarterback in the summer.
Senior Cody Nevels has 22 carries for 168 yards and a score. Rockey has eight carries for 94 yards and a TD. Barnhill has rushed 11 times for 52 yards with a TD. Nevels led with 93 rushes for 704 yards and eight scores.
Senior Carson Gilbert has four catches for 175 yards and three scores. Against Perry, Barnhill found Gilbert on a 37-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half to break a 7-7 tie. Barnhill also scored on a touchdown late in the contest.
Bryan, Gilbert, Nevels, RB/LB Tyler Davis, linebacker Nelson King and Griswold all are returning senior starters.
Bryan, Davis, King, and Nevels are all at least three-year starters.
Rockey, linebacker Xavier Oldham, and linemen Peter Campbell, Memphis Wahwahsuck and Lucas Lineras are returning junior starters.
Versus Riverside, Rockey scored a touchdown in each facet of the game. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a 69-yard run on offense and a 53-yard pick-six on defense. Overall, on special teams, Rockey has four kickoff returns for 196 yards with a TD. Rockey had just 212 all-purpose yards last season, with 95 coming in kick returns.
Hiawatha opens Class 3A, District 4 play this week at Rock Creek, 1-2 with competitive losses to Silver Lake and Rossville. No. 5-ranked Holton leads the district.