The Pick List - Week 8

Kirk Coomes will try to lead Phillipsburg past Norton. (by Steven Seems)
By: Conor Nicholl, Mark Schremmer, & Matt Gilmore for
Oct 18, 2017

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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:

6A No. 1 Lawrence Free State (7-0) at Lawrence (4-3)

The Lawrence Free State Firebirds are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 6A, while the Lawrence Lions have already suffered three losses. However, those details mean a little less in a rivalry game.

The Sunflower League foes have split the last two meetings with the Firebirds winning in 2016 and the Lions winning in 2015.

This season, Lawrence Free State has been dominant most of the season. The Firebirds have won five of their seven games by 25 points or more. They also earned an impressive 21-16 victory over Missouri’s Park Hill in Week 3.

Last week, Free State rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Olathe East 38-31. Junior running back Jax Dineen rushed for a school-record 293 yards and four touchdowns on only 18 carries. Dineen’s performance broke the previous single-game record of Camren Torneden with 258 yards in 2008. Dineen scored three of his four touchdowns in the second half, including two in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Gage Foster added 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

Lawrence has suffered losses to Missouri’s Lee’s Summit West, Olathe North, and Shawnee Mission East.

The Lions enter the matchup with Free State fresh off a 62-40 loss to 6A’s second-ranked Shawnee Mission East Lancers.

Lawrence couldn’t keep pace in the shootout, trailing 42-34 at halftime.

The Lions boasted two 100-yard rushers in Dante Jackson with 131 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and Hunter Krom with 119 yards and three touchdowns on 16 attempts. Jackson also passed for 188 yards and a touchdown, but he threw two interceptions. Jalen Dudley recorded two receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Lawrence will try to avenge last year’s 56-7 loss to the Firebirds.

Our Pick: Free State 35, Lawrence 30 (Schremmer)

Blue Valley (5-2) at 5A No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas (6-1)

Blue Valley will visit St. Thomas Aquinas with hopes of retaining a top seed in Class 6A and 5A bracket, respectively.

The Tigers currently hold the No. 2 seed on the east side of Class 6A behind Shawnee Mission East. Aquinas is also in the No. 2 slot on the east side of Class 5A, but the Saints have the same record as Shawnee Heights (6-1).

St. Thomas Aquinas’ lone loss came 27-14 to Bishop Miege. Since the loss, Aquinas has won four consecutive games including dominant victories over two-time defending champion Mill Valley (42-21) and St. James Academy (34-14).

The Saints are led by senior quarterback Will Swanson who has passed for 701 yards and six touchdowns this season. Swanson has also added nearly 300 yards on the ground with nine scores.

Cameron Jackson averages nearly 7.5 yards per carry and has tallied 819 yards and ten scores.

Blue Valley has won two straight games after a 35-28 loss to St. James Adacemy. The Tigers also fell to Miege, 55-10, in the season-opener.

The Tigers’ two-quarterback system produces more than 235 yards per game through the air. Senior Luke Bernard has thrown for 963 yards and 13 scores, while junior Walker Kinney has added 684 yards and eight touchdowns.

Alex Totta leads the ground game with 341 yards and three scores. Four recievers have at least 250 receiving yards let by Benjamin Dezube’s 449 yards on 21 catches.

Blue Valley has won seven of the past ten meetings in this series including 45-34 last season that gave the Tigers the Eastern Kansas League title. In that game, Blue Valley built a 38-14 lead at halftime thanks to a pair of Totta touchdown runs.

Our Pick: Aquinas 41, Blue Valley 27 (Gilmore)


Holton (5-2) at Topeka Hayden (3-4)

Holton will travel to Topeka Hayden in a game between two sets of Wildcats that are no strangers to one another. The two teams have met numerous times in the Class 4A playoffs and have been also been placed in the same district on multiple occasions.

Last season, both Hayden and Holton got off to 0-3 starts to the season before eventually squaring off in the state semifinals of Class 4A, Division II.

This season, Hayden enters the regular-season showdown with the same 3-4 record as last season. The Wildcats have dropped games to Centennial League members Topeka High (6-1), Topeka Seaman (4-3), Washburn Rural (3-4), and Shawnee Heights (6-1).

Hayden opened district play with a 35-6 win over Santa Fe Trail last week. Sampson Huston connected with DeShawn Hanika on eight passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

Holton has won four consecutive games since back-to-back losses to Class 3A powers Sabetha and Nemaha Central. Nemaha Central remains unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A.

Holton opened district play with a 27-0 shutout of Jefferson West.

In typical Holton fashion, the Wildcats average more than 350 yards on the ground this season. Five different Wildcats have more than 350 yards rushing this season, let by junior Jayger Carson’s 537 yards and seven touchdowns. A.J. Haussler has 419 yards, while Dylan Aeschliman has 392 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.

Hayden won both meetings last season in eventually finishing as the 4A-II state runner-up. Hayden won a 47-32 shootout during district play, before out-rushing Holton in a 20-8 victory in the state semifinals.

Our Pick: Hayden 35, Holton 22 (Gilmore)

4A-II No. 1 Pratt (7-0) at 4A-II No. 4 Holcomb (6-1)

Holcomb captured the Class 4A, Division II state title in 2015. Last year, Pratt ended the Longhorns’ 16-game winning streak with a big Week 8 victory, 35-28. Pratt then beat Holcomb again, 21-14, in the sub-state championship game en route to the 2016 state title.

Now, Pratt, ranked first in the classification, enters on a 15-game winning streak. Holcomb fell in Week 2 to rival Scott City, which stands second in the 4A-II rankings. Pratt and Scott City are the only two undefeated squads in the class. The loser of this game will likely travel to Scott City in the first round of the playoffs if the Beavers hold on to win their district.

Pratt has a total margin of 298-153 and stands first in scoring offense in 4A-II. Holcomb has outscored teams 174-57 and is first in scoring defense. The Longhorns have shutout three straight teams, including Colby and Lakin, which both entered the matchup undefeated.

Holcomb senior quarterback Trey Gilbert has completed 81 of 143 passes for 1,106 yards with a 14/4 TD/INT ratio. The Longhorns have averaged 169 rushing yards a game and 4.8 yards a carry. Senior Kaden Tichenor has 85 carries for 402 yards and a pair of scores. Senior Chance Rodriguez is the leading receiver with 25 catches for 346 yards and six TDs.

Known for high turnover margin the last two years, Holcomb has committed seven turnovers and is just plus-1 in turnover margin. Senior Paden Cornelsen leads with 66 tackles, and seniors A.J. Ortega, Brayden Goddard and Rodriguez have combined for 17.5 TFLs.

Pratt has not been overly dominant, especially for a No. 1 team. The Greenbacks have earned quality wins against Larned (56-46), Nickerson (28-14), Hoisington (35-28) and Halstead (39-30). In many of those games, Pratt had the lead throughout and the team closed the gap in the second half.

Pratt has rushed for 360 yards and passed for 65 a game. Overall, the Greenbacks have averaged 9.3 yards per play, significantly ahead of Holcomb’s 5.9.

Junior Travis Theis is one of the state’s best players for all classes with 162 carries for 1,456 yards and 23 scores. He has cleared 100 yards in every contest.

Senior quarterback Landen Studer has enjoyed another efficient year with 21 of 33 passing for 452 yards with a 6/1 TD/INT ratio. He has 44 carries for 453 yards and five scores.

Pratt has four turnovers and is plus-seven in turnover margin. Junior Kaden Evert has picked off a Greenback-best five passes, and junior Brett Winsor has three INTs a team-high 52 tackles.

While Holcomb’s defense has been superb the last three weeks – especially rushing – the Longhorns did struggle in run defense the first two weeks. In a Week 1 win against Cimarron, Holcomb permitted 31 carries for 189 yards and two scores versus standout Bluejay back Josh Seabolt. In a Week 2 loss versus Scott City, the Beaver backfield trio had 38 carries for 175 yards.

Seabolt and Scott City’s backfield is talented, but Theis is one of Kansas’ best players. He again carries Pratt to another win.

Our Pick: Pratt 30, Holcomb 20 (Nicholl)

Norton (6-1) at 3A No. 2 Phillipsburg (7-0)

Even with its tradition and dominance the last several years, Phillipsburg looks to end a long home slide against its rival Norton.

The longtime Mid-Continent League programs match up in a contest that is expected to decide the two playoff berths from Class 3A, District 14.

Norton holds an 8-5 lead in the last 13 matchups, including a 7-6 road win at Phillipsburg in Week 2 of 2015.

From ’04-16, Phillipsburg is 0-6 at home against Norton with scores of 16-13, 12-6, 21-14, 35-22, 20-7 and 7-6.

The teams, separated by around 30 minutes on Highway 36, have generally matched up in key district games, including the last two years.

Phillipsburg has made the playoffs every year since losing the 20-7 winner-take-all home game to Norton in Week 9 of 2012 for the MCL crown and a playoff berth.

Phillipsburg is 125-40 under 15th-year coach J.B. Covington, including a 2-1A state title in ’15. Norton carries an 88-36 mark with coach Lucas Melvin.

The 7-6 loss in Week 2 of ’15 marks the Panthers’ last league and second-to-last regular season defeat.

Phillipsburg won 36-13 in Norton last season, the most points scored by any team in the rivalry since 2011 and the second highest since ’06.

Phillipsburg, 11-1 in 2016, has arguably the deepest, most talented team in the Covington era and has been a top-5 unit all year. The Panthers have rolled to a 7-0 start and outscored teams 370-66.

The Panthers stand in the top four in scoring offense and defense in the classification. Most notably, Phillipsburg won at Smith Center, 23-0, in a close Week 2 contest. One-loss Smith Center, ranked first in 2-1A, defeated Norton, 43-0, at home in a Week 4 game marked by key Bluejay turnovers.

The Panthers have averaged more than 280 rushing yards a contest. Senior Kirk Coomes and junior Treylan Gross have each exceeded 700 rushing yards. Junior Trey Sides has run the offense for the third straight season, kept turnovers low and had big plays in the passing game. Against Thomas More Prep last week, he threw for 131 yards with three scores and an interception.

Senior linebacker John Gower and senior defensive lineman Chris Van Kooten have propelled the defense. Phillipsburg returned 10 offensive and nine defensive starters. A Phillipsburg win gives the Panthers its second straight undefeated league crown, while a Norton victory yields a three-way conference tie just like in 2015.

Norton was ranked most of the last two seasons in Class 3A, years that produced 9-3 and 7-4 records. This year, Norton has one of the best offenses in terms of yardage under Melvin.

Senior quarterback Jace Ruder, a North Carolina commit, has completed 68 of 129 passes for 819 yards with a 9/3 TD/INT ratio. Senior Tevin Petrie has rushed 136 times for 948 yards and 12 scores. Ruder has 91 carries for 759 yards and 11 TDs.

Norton has averaged 371 yards a game, up from 329 last year. That’s third under Melvin. It trails the 2014 team that finished 10-1 and averaged 407 yards a contest and the ’10 squad that finished 9-1 and averaged 415 yards a game.

A brand-new receiving corps has been very strong, especially with sophomore Kade Melvin (20 catches, 338 yards). Seven players have caught a receiving TD. Melvin has picked off five passes, Ruder four.

Norton, under the radar most of the season, will keep this game close and could beat Phillipsburg again at home. However, the Panthers’ bevy of weapons and experience up front earns the win.

Our Pick: Phillipsburg 30, Norton 14 (Nicholl)

Cheney (7-0) at 3A No. 4 Conway Springs (7-0)

This Friday marks the second of three weeks of huge matchups in Class 3A, District 10. Last week, Cheney defeated Chaparral, 39-14, to move to 7-0, while Conway Springs stayed perfect with a win versus rival Garden Plain, 26-6. Cheney, with first-year coach Shelby Wehrman, has been a nice surprise after a 6-3 mark, including 0-3 in district play, last fall.

The Cardinals have enjoyed solid offensive line play and has senior dual threat quarterback Micah Grover, sophomore running back Riley Petz and senior receivers Trent Scheer and Hunter Adolph. Cheney ranks first in scoring offense in 3A with 409 points and has permitted 126. Conway Springs stands second with 397 points and has permitted just 66 versus a similar schedule. From ’06-16, Cheney’s most points in a season came in ’06 when it scored 378.

Conway Springs controlled the game last week in the Garden Plain win. The Cardinals led 14-0 at halftime and 27-0 after three quarters. Trenton Jones had 263 rushing yards as the Cardinals outgained the Owls, 420-191. Jones has rushed for more than 1,400 yards this season. Senior quarterback Colton Terhune has exceeded 700 rushing yards.

Conway Springs is 10-3 against Cheney in the last 13 meetings, though Cheney won 19-15 in ‘15. Conway Springs defeated Cheney, 34-12, last year. However, both teams missed the playoffs when Chaparral won the district, and Garden Plain took runner-up.

Cheney has been very explosive and coach Wehrman, a longtime Derby assistant, is on the short list for classification coach of the year at this point. But Conway Springs, which surprisingly hasn’t won a playoff game since ’13, has become one of Class 3A’s elite again. Cheney scores, but Conway’s run game will be too much.

Our Pick: Conway Springs 40, Cheney 24 (Nicholl)

The Pick List:

Hutchinson (5-2) at Maize (6-1) – Hutchinson          

Olathe North (4-3) at Shawnee Mission Northwest (4-3) – Olathe North

Topeka Seaman (4-3) at Junction City (3-3) – Junction City

Kapaun Mt. Carmel (5-2) at 5A No. 3 Bishop Carroll (6-1) – Carroll

Fort Scott (5-2) at Paola (6-1) – Paola

Wichita Collegiate (4-3) at Nickerson (5-2) – Collegiate     

3A No. 3 Silver Lake (7-0) at Perry-Lecompton (5-2) – Silver Lake

Garden Plain (6-1) at Chaparral (5-2) – Garden Plain

Beloit (5-2) at Riley County (6-1) – Riley County

2-1A No. 4 Centralia (5-2) at Valley Heights (6-1) – Centralia

Meade (4-3) at Elkhart (5-2) -- Elkhart

Bennington (5-2) at 8M-I No. 3 Osborne (6-1) – Osborne

Macksville (5-2) at Argonia-Attica (6-1) – Argonia-Attica

Solomon (5-2) at Logan-Palco (5-2) – Solomon

West Elk (7-0) at Marmaton Valley (5-2) – West Elk

Dighton (6-1) at 8M-II No. 4 Hodgeman County (6-1) – Hodgeman County


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