The Pick List - Week 1

Olpe RB Andrew Burenheide (Photo by Everett Royer,
By: Matt Gilmore & Conor Nicholl for
Sep 2, 2015

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Welcome to the 2015 football season and our first edition of The Pick List. Each Thursday throughout the regular season, The Pick List will feature six of the best match-ups across the state, and make our predictions on a handful of other games.

Feature Games of the Week:

5A No. 4 Blue Valley West at 6A No. 4 Lawrence

An early season showdown between members of two of the state’s best leagues also happens to be a pair of ranked teams. Blue Valley West, ranked No. 4 in the Kpreps preseason poll in Class 5A, will travel to Lawrence to take on the talented Chesty Lions.  Lawrence begins the season as the No. 4 ranked team in Class 6A.

The two teams opened the 2014 season with Blue Valley West claiming a 37-13 victory at home.

Blue Valley West returns 11 total starters from last year’s 5-4 team that missed out on the 5A playoffs due to the district tiebreaker. The Jaguars hope to compete for the Eastern Kansas League title with the help of senior quarterback Nathan Wiles and three returning offensive linemen. Wiles took over a season ago after starter Zev Mallin was lost for the season with an injury.  The Oklahoma baseball commit went on to pass for 1,038 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 62% of his passes.

While the Jaguar offense has experience up front, West will have to find a replacement for all-state running back Tyler Cox who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards as a senior last fall.

Some of the Jaguars top receiving targets also graduated, but versatile athlete Mark Collins, Jr. returns and will line up all over the field. Collins caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mallin in this game last season.

Lawrence is hands down one of the most talented teams in the state on paper. The Lions return eight starters on both sides of the ball, and feature some of the state's top recruits.

Defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe is considered the top recruit in Kansas by many publications. Bledsoe (6-5, 270) recently cut his list of potential college choices to Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Oregon, and UCLA.

Joining Bledsoe on the line is Trey Georgie (6-5, 250), Nate Koehn (6-3, 330), and Jacob Unruh (6-0, 235).  Their job is to create a hole for all-state running back J.D. Woods.  All Woods did last season was lead the Sunflower League in rushing with 1,497 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The defense should be stout as well with linebacker Price Morgan, who is also receiving significant recruiting interest. He’s joined by Tanner Green and Konner Kelley, while the secondary features returners Ivan Hollins and Coulter Strauss.

In last year’s opener, Lawrence turned the ball over four times leading to 16 Blue Valley West points. Woods rushed for 134 of the Lions’ 281 rushing yards in the game last season. Expect a similar formula this time, and if Lawrence can hang on to the ball they have a great shot a avenging last year’s loss.

Our Pick: Lawrence 34, Blue Valley West 28 (Gilmore)

4A-II No. 1 Andale at 4A-I No. 2 Buhler

Andale is the defending Class 4A, Division II champion after the Indians rolled through the new classification with a cumulative total of 628-196. The Indians finished 13-0, including a 41-20 home victory against Buhler to start 2014.

However, the Indians graduated its top two rushers in Hank Eck and Hunter Knoblauch and running back Anthony Capul will not play this season because of injury.

Still, Andale has won nine straight in the series, but the last seven have all been relatively close with margins of 21, seven, five, 13, 21, 20 and 21 points.

Buhler, known for its high-octane offense, has never scored more than 31 points (in 2012) in those nine games against the Indians. However, since 2008, Buhler has never averaged fewer than 30 points in a season.

The Crusaders again return outstanding skill players from a 9-3 team with quarterback Jace Williams and running back Dillon Engelland. Williams had more than 2,000 passing yards and 1,900 rushing and enters his third year as a starter. Engelland collected more than 1,700 rushing yards.

Two years ago, Buhler won the Class 4A championship with Williams as the starter. Last season, the Crusaders were undefeated at home before a Class 4A, Division I semifinal loss to Topeka Hayden.

Buhler ends its losing streak against Andale and scores its most points in the last 10 meetings with Andale

Our Pick: Buhler 40, Andale 32 (Nicholl)

4A-II No. 5 Frontenac at Osawatomie

Frontenac will travel to Osawatomie in a game featuring two teams receiving a lot of rankings consideration in our Kpreps preseason Class 4A-II poll. Ultimately, the Raiders received just enough votes to edge out the Trojans and Santa Fe Trail for the No. 5 preseason ranking.

Last season, the opener between the Trojans and Raiders was delayed until Saturday due to storms that passed through southeast Kansas. Frontenac scored on seven consecutive possessions and ran away with a 45-6 victory.

This season the tables have turned a bit in the fact that Frontenac returns only five total starters from last season’s 10-1 team that reached the state quarterfinals. On the other hand, Osawatomie welcomes 18 starters back including all-state running back Riley England.

England rushed for 1,845 yards and 19 touchdowns last season after a 2,000-yard season as a sophomore in 2013. Frontenac, however, keyed on England in last year’s opener; holding him to 68 yards on 23 carries.

England hopes that four experienced offensive linemen will help him produce even bigger numbers this season and a deeper playoff run. The Trojans finished 6-4 in 2014 and lost to Holton, 54-8, in the first round of the playoffs.

While Frontenac appears to have a lot of holes to fill on paper, the Raiders return a lot of players that had significant playing experience a season ago.  Two of the Raiders main ball carriers from a year ago return including leading rusher Ryan Menghini and the speedy Cadin Bolinger. Junior Brandon Mlekus will take over at quarterback for the Raiders.

If Frontenac can develop consistency on the offensive line, the Raiders will be a factor in repeating as CNC League champions.

Our Pick: Frontenac 22, Osawatomie 20 (Gilmore)

3A No. 5 Silver Lake at 4A-II No. 3 Holton

Two of the more tradition-rich programs in the state will once again square off to open the season as 3A No. 5 Silver Lake travels to 4A-II No. 3 Holton.

In the past 10 seasons, Silver Lake has posted a 126-11 record with three state championships, while Holton has gone 110-14 with two state titles.

The game also features two of the state’s best coaches in Silver Lake’s C.J. Hamilton and Holton’s Brooks Barta. Hamilton enters his 39th season with the Eagles and has amassed an amazing 381-87 record with eight state titles. Meanwhile, Barta begins his 20th season at Holton and has a 193-32 record with 4A state championships in 2003, 2005 and 2012.

Both teams’ season ended a bit earlier than they liked a year ago. Holton fell 22-21 at Columbus in the 4A-II state quarterfinals, while Silver Lake lost 21-14 to rival Rossville in the 3A state semifinals. It was the first time since 2009 that the Eagles were not in the 3A title game, and only the second time in the past 13 seasons.

Silver Lake must replace six starters on offense and nine defensive starters from last year's team. Expect Cole Baird to be involved heavily in the Eagle offense in 2015. Baird, who had 375 receiving yards a year ago, was forced to switch to quarterback in the state semifinal game against Rossville due to an injury to starter Ryan Matzke.  Baird rushed for 132 yards against the Bulldawgs in that game. 

The Eagles return two starters up front in Kyler Womack and Kolton Kirkwood. Matzke produced nearly 2,800 yards of total offense a year ago and will be difficult to replace. But the Eagles always seem to have that next group of players ready to step up and perform at a high level.

Holton returns 13 total starters from last year’s 9-2 team. The Wildcats won nine consecutive games surrounded by a season-opening loss to Silver Lake and a playoff loss to Columbus.

Coach Brooks Barta's son Mason returns at fullback and linebacker and will be one of the classification's top players.

Leading rusher Indie Allen has graduated, and the vaunted Wildcat ground attack will be handed to Justin Rieschick.  Rieschick rushed for more than 400 yards in 2014 and is a proven weapon in the return game. His 94-yard kickoff return against Silver Lake in last year’s opener set up Holton’s only score of the game.

In last season’s opener, Silver Lake’s defense shut down Holton’s powerful wishbone attack in claiming an 18-7 win.  The Eagles limited the Wildcats to just 121 rushing yards and only five first downs.

The Eagles were the more experienced team a year ago, but this time around it appears Holton has more guys with significant playing experience.  That experience coupled with the Wildcats being at home leads us to believe Holton has a slight advantage.  Turnovers and field position will likely be a key factor.

Our Pick: Holton 20, Silver Lake 14 (Gilmore)

La Crosse vs 2-1A No. 3 Olpe

Two of the 2-1A classification’s consistent powers, La Crosse and Olpe will once again open the season at Bethel College in Newton.

Last season this match-up could easily have been seen as a state title game preview as the Leopards were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll, while Olpe was ranked No. 3.  La Crosse went on to win the game 28-8, allowing only a Bo Krueger kickoff return for a touchdown as the Eagles’ points.

La Crosse extended its regular season unbeaten streak to 37 games with the win – a streak they would extend to 39 games before a 40-6 loss to Southeast of Saline in Week 4. The Leopards eventually fell to Ell-Saline 28-12 in the state quarterfinals. 

Meanwhile, Olpe held up its end of the deal by defeating Ell-Saline 26-24 to win the 2-1A state championship. 

The 2015 season marks quite a bit of change.  Olpe once again enters the preseason polls at No. 3, but the Eagles return only five starters on both sides of the ball and must replace some notable seniors including Krueger.  Up front, the Eagles have to place holes vacated by all-state linemen Joe Redeker and Coltin Arndt.

The cupboard is not bare.  The backfield is loaded with the return of Dylan Redeker and Andew Burenheide. Brady Scheidegger returns as a big-play threat on offense and in the return game after returning five kicks for touchdowns a year ago.

The Leopards have just 23 players out, six fewer than last season and the smallest under Jon Webster. La Crosse has no returning starters in the backfield for the first time since Webster’s took over the program in 2008.

However, junior Clayton Herdman delivered a strong freshman season as a wide receiver and defensive back before he suffered a season-ending injury against Olpe in 2014. Herdman is a dynamic player who will likely carry the ball often in the offense. Juniors Jasey Woods, lineman Justin Bond and Herdman all have started since their freshman year.

Kaleb Sherman (97 stops) and Woods (78 tackles) were the top two tacklers in 2014. Woods will again start at linebacker along with Sherman and senior Alex Jay, a position considered the team's strength.

La Crosse has some great individuals but very little depth. Olpe wins the game late in a lower scoring contest.

Our Pick: Olpe 24 La Crosse 20 (Nicholl)

8M-II No. 5 Axtell at Hanover

Axtell, led by quarterback Colton Buessing, made a surprising run to the Eight-Man, Division II state semifinals last season; losing to eventual runner-up Argonia-Attica.

Hanover was the Division I state favorite virtually all season but fell 42-30 to Central Plains in the Eight-Man, Division I title game.

Last season, Hanover rolled over Axtell, 52-12, in the season opener for these two Twin Valley League members.

Hanover is 9-1 in the last 10 meetings between the squads, including eight wins in a row. None of the eight victories are within 20 points. However, for the first time in many years, Axtell is the more experienced team and is ranked in the preseason.

Hanover returns zero offensive starters from a squad that nearly broke the eight-man single season scoring record.  The Wildcats return a pair of defensive starters in juniors Adam Zarybnicky and Devin Jueneman. Will Bruna is the leading returning rusher with 258 yards as the backup quarterback.

After a 2-2 start, Buessing led the Eagles to a 9-3 record. Axtell outscored opponents 572-316 with a balanced offense that had 173 passing yards and 158 rushing yards a contest.

Buessing finished with 2,032 passing yards and a 26/12 TD/INT ratio and rushed for 636 yards and 17 scores. Senior Adam Kuckelman was the second-leading receiver last season with 31 catches, 587 yards and seven scores.

Axtell usually can’t match Hanover, but this year is different. The more experienced team wins.

Our Pick: Axtell 54, Hanover 30 (Nicholl)

The Pick List:

Shawnee Mission West at Lawrence Free State – Free State

Wichita Northwest at 5A No. 2 Bishop Carroll – Bishop Carroll

4A-I No. 3 Topeka Hayden at Topeka Seaman – Topeka Hayden

Basehor-Linwood at Baldwin – Baldwin

Sabetha at Nemaha Central – Nemaha Central

Ellis at Norton – Norton

Sedan at 8M-II No. 4 Argonia-Attica – Argonia-Attica

Madison vs 8M-I No. 2 Spearville – Spearville

Hodgeman County at Kiowa County – Kiowa County

South Central at Ashland – South Central

Hoxie at Oberlin-Decatur Co. – Oberlin

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