Kpreps Game Day - Week 7 showdowns in Class 3A

Artwork by Joe Wachter,
By: Mark Schremmer for
Oct 12, 2017

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Eight teams in Class 3A remain unbeaten. After this week’s games, there will be at least two fewer.

Sabetha (6-0) travels to face top-ranked Nemaha Central (6-0), and No. 4 Conway Springs (6-0) is at No. 5 Garden Plain (6-0) in a pair of important district matchups.

The outcomes should provide a clearer picture of who the favorites are in an extremely loaded classification. No. 2 Phillipsburg, No. 3 Silver Lake, Galena, and Cheney are the other undefeated teams in 3A. Galena remains unranked despite knocking off Class 4A Division II’s previously top-ranked Columbus Titans last week.

“The coaches in the Kansas Coaches Association have talked about it, and we feel like 3A is loaded,” Conway Springs coach Matt Biehler said. “I can’t really predict who will be the team to represent the East or the West. You can’t rule out anyone.”

Sabetha remains unscathed through six games despite playing a difficult schedule. The Bluejays possess wins over Centralia, Holton, and Perry-Lecompton. They average 34.2 points per game despite entering the season with only two returning starters on offense.

“We had to replace nine out of 11 starters on offense,” Sabetha coach Garrett Michael said. “Our kids were willing to move around to different spots for the betterment of the team. It’s kind of our motto to get better with every play, every practice, and every drill.”

Sabetha is a run-first team, averaging about 285 yards on the ground and about 50 yards through the air. Junior Joe Gruber is the leading rusher in the Bluejays’ splitback veer offense with 525 yards and nine touchdowns on 70 carries. Junior Mason Engelken has added 455 yards and five touchdowns on only 46 attempts.

Junior linebacker Cauy Rokey leads the Sabetha defense with 67 tackles, including three sacks. The Sabetha defense has been stout, allowing eight points or fewer in five of six games.

Nemaha Central is not only undefeated this season, but the Thunder boast a 26-game regular-season winning streak. Last year, Nemaha Central’s only loss came to Rossville in the state semifinals. The Thunder haven’t lost a regular season game since 2014.

Through this season, Nemaha Central has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 242-67. The Thunder have done so despite battling injuries, such as the loss of senior wide receiver Luke Haverkamp.

“We’ve been banged up throughout the year,” Nemaha Central coach Warren Seitz said. “We’ve been more banged up this year than we have during any other year in my tenure here.”

The Nemaha Central offense is led by senior Mitchell Henry, who has played quarterback and running back this season.

Michael said he expects to see Henry at quarterback.

“We think he will be at quarterback, but we have to prepare for everything,” he said. “We have to prepare to see him in the slot, at running back, and at quarterback. He’s a really good football player. He’s the best running back or quarterback we’ve seen. There’s no doubt that’s correct. He’s the gas that makes their engine run.”

In a district that also includes Hiawatha (2-4) and Riverside (1-5), the winner of this game could decide the District 1 champion. In addition, the game will determine the Big 7 Conference champion.

Nemaha Central won last year’s matchup 20-14. Just like this season, both teams entered the game undefeated.

The Thunder have won the past eight regular-season games between the two teams, but Sabetha earned a 28-8 playoff victory over Nemaha Central in 2014.

“It will be a game between teams with two different styles,” Seitz said. “There’s a lot riding on it. It should be a good game.”

Conway Springs and Garden Plain begin battle in what may be the most competitive district in the state. Fellow undefeated Cheney and Chaparral (5-1) join the Cardinals and Owls, giving District 10 a combined record of 23-1.

Biehler has dealt with competitive districts before. He said when he was an assistant at Conway Springs in 1998, the Cardinals were joined in their district by three fellow undefeated teams in Andale, Cheney, and Medicine Lodge.

“And that was back when only one team made the playoffs,” he said.

Conway Springs went on to win the state title that year.

To repeat that success, the Cardinals will need to continue to play like they have through the first six games.

The Cardinals average more than 500 yards rushing and have scored no fewer than 44 points in a game. Their biggest offensive output was 98 in Week 1 against Belle Plaine.

Senior running back Trenton Jones is averaging a ridiculous 21.4 yards per carry, rushing for 1,176 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“He has special speed,” Garden Plain coach Ken Dusenbury said. “Some players have track speed and some have football speed. He has both. You give him a sliver, and he’s gone. That speed always scares you.”

However, Jones is not the only option in the Cardinals’ run game. Senior Colton Terhune has added about 700 yards and 14 touchdowns, while senior Riley Akiu has rushed for 437 yards and five TDs.

Meanwhile, the Conway Springs defense has recorded three shutouts.

Garden Plain has enjoyed success this season after graduating several key players from last year’s 10-2 squad.

“We graduated quite a bit of talent,” Dusenberry said. “I wasn’t sure how the guys who played supplemental roles last year would step up. I’m very pleased with how they’ve played, and I think you can say they have even exceeded my expectations. I’m pleased with the development. We’re getting better each week.”

The Owls’ shotgun wing-T offense is led by running backs Nick Dooley and Colin Zoglman, and quarterback Matt Pauly. The offensive and defensive lines are anchored by senior Austin Youngers.

Garden Plain’s top wins this season have been over last year’s 3A runner-up Hesston, and Nebraska’s Kearney Catholic.

Conway Springs defeated Garden Plain 22-21 last season, but the Owls ended up making the playoffs through a points tiebreaker after the Cardinals fell 33-8 to Chaparral in the final week of the regular season.

The Cardinals and Owls will also be battling to stay in the hunt for the Central Plains League championship.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Biehler said. “Both schools travel well, and both communities are proud of their teams. It will be a great opportunity for the kids.” 

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