The Pick List - Week 8

Braedan Crites will try to lead #2 Central Plains past #3 Solomon. (Everett
By: Matt Gilmore & Conor Nicholl for
Oct 21, 2015

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Each Thursday throughout the regular season, The Pick List will feature a few of the best match-ups across the state, and make our predictions on a handful of other games.

Feature Games of the Week:

Olathe North (7-0) at 6A No. 1 Lawrence (7-0)

Technically the Lawrence Lions and Olathe North Eagles will share the 2015 Sunflower League football title, but Friday’s game will serve as an unofficial championship game though it will not count towards the league standings.

In 2014, the Sunflower League began permitting open scheduling for its members in Week 1 of the season, allowing intriguing match-ups such as Olathe South-Hutchinson, Olathe East-Garden City, Leavenworth-Great Bend, and Olathe North-Rogers (Ark.) Heritage. As a result, only games from Week 2 through Week 6 count towards the league standings.

Olathe North lost a large and talented senior class from 2014’s 11-1 team which reached the state semifinals before falling 36-35 in double overtime to eventual champ Shawnee Mission East.

Long-time coach Gene Wier also departed to join the coaching staff at Kansas this season. That move opened the door for North’s longtime defensive coordinator Chris McCartney to take over a program which he has help guide to eight state championships in ten title game appearances.

McCartney’s Eagles have not experienced any drop off this season. Olathe North technically lost 35-33 to Rogers-Heritage in Week 1, but later found out that Heritage had used an ineligible play and would forfeit the game.

That leaves the Eagles unbeaten at 7-0 as they enter this Week 8 district showdown with top-ranked Lawrence.

The Chesty Lions have rolled to a 7-0 start with only a hard-fought 14-12 win over rival Free State as having posed a significant challenge.

Lawrence is led by standout running back J.D. Woods who just set the school’s career rushing record with 3,289 yards.

But Woods is just part of the picture. Alan Clothier has been solid at quarterback, and the offensive line is one of the state’s best with Amani Bledsoe (6-5, 270), Trey Georgie (6-5, 260), and Nathan Koehn (6-3, 330).

While Olathe North had similar big-name talent a season ago, the current roster is full of players who have stepped up.

Vinnie Shabazz (5-10, 190) went from play-maker last season to feature back this season. Shabazz has rushed for 1,197 yards and 19 touchdowns and is ripping off 8.3 yards per carry.

Quarterback Matt Wright has passed for 951 yards and 11 scores, while rushing for an additional 809 yards and nine touchdowns.

Standout safety Isaiah Simmons (6-3, 205) has also been great on the offensive side of the ball with 17 catches for 537 yards and five scores.

Both defenses have been good, but Lawrence gives up only 9.4 points per game compared to Olathe North’s 19.7.

Our Pick: Lawrence 31, Olathe North 23 (Gilmore)

Garden City (7-0) at 6A No. 3 Wichita Northwest (7-0)

Wichita Northwest is known for its high-octane, fast-paced offense that leads Class 6A in scoring and is on pace to break the Kansas 11-man record for total yards per game. The Grizzlies average 570 yards a contest.

But Northwest’s defense, especially against the run, has been underrated. In five of seven contests, Northwest has held teams to under 135 yards rushing. Those include wins over Bishop Carroll, Kapaun Mount Carmel, and Dodge City.  Overall, Northwest’s opponents average 145 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.

Even Dodge City, a passing team that averaged 50 points and 501 yards per contest entering last week, was inefficient offensively in Northwest’s 52-33 victory. Dodge City ran 89 plays for 400 yards.

Garden City, behind a great ground game, defense and special teams, is off to its best start in 24 years. The Buffs have permitted just 78 points this year.

Last week, Garden City delivered a 14-2 home win versus Hutchinson. Hutchinson ran 65 plays, 15 more than Garden City but had trouble scoring. The Buffs forced three Salthawk turnovers and stopped Hutchinson on downs twice inside the Garden City 5-yard line. Junior Zeke Herrera led the defense with 15 tackles. Senior Dakota Brungardt picked off two passes, and Garden City recovered a fumble.

On offense, junior fullback Peyton Hill had 10 carries for 167 yards, while junior quarterback Jesse Nunez contributed 21 carries for 116 yards.

A big key on Friday will be whether standout Northwest quarterback Kevin Folsom (knee) is able to play at a high level.

Folsom came off the bench and keyed a comeback last Friday after Northwest trailed 21-14. The Grizzlies had just thrown their first interception of the season last week, prompting Folsom’s entry into the game. The senior quarterback went on to pass for 267 yards and threw four touchdown passes to lead the Grizzlies to victory. Overall, Folsom has thrown 18 touchdown passes without an interception on the season.

Junior Jahlyl Rounds has 837 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, and senior Antonio Joyner has 751 rushing yards and eight scores.

Northwest holds a 7-3 edge in the last 10 meetings between the two teams.

Garden City has a great defense, but Northwest is arguably the best team in Kansas. The Buffs will likely hold Northwest to its lowest point total since a 31-24 win versus Carroll in Week 1, but won’t be able to keep pace with the Grizzlies all four quarters.

Our Pick: Wichita Northwest 34, Garden City 21 (Nicholl)

5A No. 5 Bonner Springs (7-0) at 5A No. 1 Mill Valley (6-1)

It’s another week and another test for 5A’s top-ranked team. Mill Valley’s effort to improve its strength of schedule paid off with wins over St. Thomas Aquinas, Derby, and a close loss to Staley (Mo.) during the regular season.

The Jaguars’ district schedule has helped out too.  For the second consecutive week Mill Valley will face the No. 5 ranked team in Class 5A with the Bonner Springs Braves presenting the challenge this week.

Last week, Mill Valley handed St. James Academy its first loss of the season, 45-14, behind a big second half. The Jaguars scored in the final minute of the first half to lead 17-14 at the break, then blanked the Thunder 28-0 the rest of the way.

Quarterback Logan Koch seems to step up to every challenge.  The senior completed 20 of 26 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns and added 71 yards rushing in last week’s win. Koch has now thrown for more than 1,220 yards and 16 scores on the season, and rushed for 569 additional yards and eight touchdowns.

Christian Jegen (6-2, 200) remains Koch’s primary receiving target with 42 receptions for 605 yards and seven scores, while Lucas Krull (6-7, 215) has added 28 receptions for 426 yards and eight scores.

Jegen moved into the backfield in the second half of last week’s win when Tristan Milne went out with an injury. Jegen responded with 53 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Bonner Springs has flown under the radar for the most part this season despite a 7-0 start. The Braves have won close games against Eudora (28-14), Basehor-Linwood (27-21), and Lansing (35-28).

Bonner Springs is led by senior quarterback Connor Byers.  Byers (6-0, 185) has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns against only two interceptions. He’s also a running threat, having gained 949 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground on only 71 carries.  Do the math, that’s an incredible 13.4 yards per attempt when Byers takes off.

The Braves also feature the speedy Marcell Holmes (5-5, 160) out of the backfield. Holmes has 642 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Michael Amayo (6-1, 185) leads a group of four receivers who have at least 255 receiving yards. Amayo has 24 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Braves finished 7-3 last season with a 23-15 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the first round of the 5A playoffs. Mill Valley won last year’s meeting 42-0 at Bonner Springs.  

Our Pick: Mill Valley 35 Bonner Springs 17 (Gilmore)

4A-II No. 1 Columbus (7-0) at Frontenac (5-2)

Frontenac can clinch a share of the CNC League title with a win over top-ranked Columbus. The Raiders beat the Titans 22-13 in Columbus last season to win the 2014 league title outright.

Columbus enters undefeated overall and 6-0 in the CNC, while Frontenac is 5-2 overall and 4-1 in league play. The Raiders only loss came 28-21 to St. Mary’s Colgan in Week 5, while Columbus survived a trip to Colgan with a 43-40 win in Week 6.

The Titans feature an explosive offense that averages nearly 53 points per game. Senior running back Jace McDown paces the Titans with 1,561 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns on just 112 carries. McDown (6-0, 200) averages 13.9 yards per carry.

Quarterback Trey Robinson has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns. His top receiving target is senior JaVohn Morrill (5-10, 160) who has 25 receptions for 630 yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore Kennan Stanley (6-0, 190) has 256 receiving yards and five scores.

Frontenac has posted solid wins over Girard (33-6) and Parsons (34-14) the past two weeks.

The Raiders are led by talented junior quarterback Brandon Mlekus.  Mlekus has passed for nearly 1,275 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.  He’s also a threat to run as he’s put up nearly 500 yards rushing with six touchdowns on limited carries.

In last week’s win over Parsons, Mlekus passed for 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half.  He also passed for more than 250 yards in the loss to Colgan.

Raider running backs Ryan Menghini and Cadin Bolinger have big play capability, and can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

If Columbus has shown a weakness it is in their pass defense.  The Titans gave up 370 passing yards in the three-point win over Colgan.  Mlekus has the capability to put up big numbers through the air.  The key may be how well the Raider defense can limit McDown.

Our Pick: Columbus 40, Frontenac 27 (Gilmore)

8M-I No. 2 Central Plains (6-1) at 8M-I No. 3 Solomon (7-0)

Friday night will be the first time Central Plains’ Chris Steiner and Solomon’s Steve Tiernan have faced each other in their coaching careers. Both coaches have had several great teams and won state titles, including Steiner last year and Tiernan two seasons ago at Osborne. Tiernan also collected rings earlier in his career at Baileyville B&B.

Central Plains has won 19 of 20 contests, while Tiernan has turned around Solomon in his first year.

The Oilers lost 16-12 at Victoria, ranked No. 1 in 8-man II, in the season opener. Since then, Central Plains has won 66-0, 74-0, 62-0, 52-0, 62-16 and 52-6.

Senior quarterback Braedan Crites has completed 47 of 90 passes for 737 yards with 15 scores against three interceptions. Senior Jacob Warnken leads the team with 284 rushing yards.

The Oilers have not statistically fully replaced record-breaking wide receiver Layne Bieberle on offense. Central Plains is averaging 15.8 yards per reception, down from 17.3 in 2014. However, the offense was at 7.1 yards per play last season, 6.6 this year.

The defense, though, has played outstanding again after it led the classification in scoring defense in 2014. The turnover-creating unit has 224 return yards on 10 interceptions and has recovered 12 fumbles. Warnken has 71 tackles, while junior Trey Schulte and senior Michael Ryan each have eight tackles for loss (TFLs). Ryan and Trustin Kreft have each registered six sacks.  

Solomon has averaged 372 yards per game and 8.9 yards per play. Jake Tiernan has continued his great career with 64 of 92 passing for 1,085 yards with 19 scores versus two interceptions.

Three players have between 371 and 425 rushing yards. Seniors Kord Hilbert and Cain Fowles have 667 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns combined.

Solomon has shown massive improvement defensively with 17 forced turnovers. Senior Blake Swenson has 40 tackles, and senior Zach Neilson has 10 TFLs. The Gorillas have allowed just 60 points after they permitted 414 points last season.

Central Plains, in its fifth year of existence, is 4-0 against Solomon with victories of 54-6, 56-52, 86-40 and 58-0. The 56-52 win in 2012 was a big upset as Central Plains finished 4-5 that season, while Solomon went 10-3.

Solomon’s offense is a little more dynamic than the Oilers and pulls off the home victory.

Our Pick: Solomon 30, Central Plains 24 (Nicholl)

The Pick List:

Manhattan (4-3) at Lawrence Free State (4-3) – Free State

6A No. 5 Topeka High (7-0) at Washburn Rural (6-1) – Topeka High

Maize South (6-1) at 5A No. 2 Bishop Carroll (6-1) – Carroll

Salina Central (3-4) at Great Bend (5-2) – Salina Central

Atchison (7-0) at Basehor-Linwood (4-3) – Basehor-Linwood

Eudora (4-3) at De Soto (5-2) -- Eudora

Louisburg (6-1) at 4A-I No. 1 Bishop Miege (6-1) – Miege

McPherson (4-3) at 4A-I No. 2 Buhler (7-0) – Buhler

Norton (5-2) at Beloit (6-1) – Norton

Cheney (5-2) at Chaparral (6-1) – Chaparral

Hesston (6-1) at Council Grove (5-2) – Hesston

Pleasant Ridge (6-1) at Maur Hill-Mount Academy (5-1) – Pleasant Ridge

Pretty Prairie (5-2) at South Barber (6-1) – South Barber

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