Hutchinson, Shawnee Mission East to battle for 6A crown

Hutchinson's Blaik Middleton (32) & SM East's Sam Huffman (24). (by Susan Goodwyn & Nick Smith)
By: Mark Schremmer for
Nov 28, 2014

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Hutchinson coach Ryan Cornelsen isn’t going to lie.

He would have had serious doubts if someone had told him early in the season that his Salthawks would be playing for a state championship.

But, sure enough, here they are.

Hutchinson (8-4) is set to meet Shawnee Mission East (12-0) in the Class 6A state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at Emporia State University’s Welch Stadium.

The Salthawks were riddled with injuries and opened the season with a 2-4 record.

“I would have liked to believe you, but I probably wouldn’t have,” Cornelsen said. “It was probably the most frustrated I’ve been in my career. Not only were the injuries frustrating, but you’re losing as well. It was a hard time.

“The one thing I’m proud of as a coach is that our program didn’t self-destruct. We tried to stay even-keeled. I think it helped us get through that time. At that time, we were just trying to figure out a way to try and win the next game. We weren’t looking down the road to a state championship.”

Cornelsen is in his first year as Hutchinson’s head coach after leading Hays High School for several years.

“We started off the year from the scrimmage to game one with a bunch of key injuries,” Cornelsen said. “We didn’t get many of those guys back. We went through some growing pains there early. Some of those kids who were filling in had the opportunity to grow up quickly. Once those injuries kind of leveled out and those guys got some experience, we’ve just been playing a lot better here as of late.”

Hutchinson senior running back Blaik Middleton has rushed for more than 2,600 yards and 36 touchdowns. He ran for 356 yards and six touchdowns last week against Lawrence Free State.

“Their tailback is blazing fast, and he has great vision,” Shawnee Mission East coach Dustin Delaney said. “He’s hard to tackle. He ran for 356 yards in the semifinals. That’s pretty incredible. Their run terrifies you.”

Quarterback Turner Wintz has rushed for more than 800 yards and has passed for more than 500. Lucas Dunbar leads the defense with 94 tackles.

Hutchinson enters on a six-game winning streak.

“They’re playing fantastic right now,” Delaney said. “They’ve got the best offensive line we’ll go against this year. Their tailback is unbelievable. Their quarterback is a great runner. Their fullback is a great runner. They’re playing with a ton of confidence right now. They’re Salthawks. They’re playing really, really well at the right time, and we’re going to have our hands full.”

Delaney is familiar with the Hutchinson tradition. He was an assistant with the Salthawks from 2006-09, before leaving to become head coach at Emporia High School.

“It’s like I’ve come full circle,” Delaney said. “I learned everything I know about football while I was at Hutch. I played college football at Emporia State and coached at Emporia High School, and we’re going back there to play in a state championship game against Hutchinson. Hutchinson is one of the favorite places I’ve been. I learned a lot there, and there are tons of great people there. It means a lot, because it’s such a meaningful community to me.”

The Lancers finished as the state runner-up to Derby last year.

“We were pretty wide-eyed going to the state championship last year,” Delaney said. “This year, the kids have been there. Hutch has been there. So I don’t think you’ll see any jitters out of either team.”

Wyatt Edmisten leads Shawnee Mission East’s flexbone offense with 1,370 yards and 29 touchdowns. Gunnar Englund, Jackson Gossick, Calvin Jones and Sam Huffman have all rushed for more than 450 yards. Kyle Ball is the defensive leader with 112 tackles and 10 sacks.

“They play extremely hard,” Cornelsen said. “They don’t have any weaknesses. Every player is a special ballplayer. They have three or four different guys who can hurt you with the run.

“I think their offensive line is by far the best we’ve seen. They really do a great job of blowing people four, five or six yards off the ball. Their backs are good, but their offensive line is what makes them click.”

The battle up front is likely the key in a game between two run-first teams.

“I think both teams are really strong up front,” Delaney said. “I think that’s where it’s going to start. I think our two O-lines are the best two O-lines I’ve seen this year. I think the team that plays the best run defense and plays the best defensively up front is probably going to win.”

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