The St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers are no strangers to the KSHSAA football playoffs. The Panthers make their Class 3A playoff debut tonight against first-time opponent Neodesha — during a season when Colgan already faced Anderson County and Columbus for the first time.
“I don’t remember ever playing them in football since I’ve been here,” Colgan head coach Chuck Smith said. “But, you know, they’re close, 60 miles and I know their coach (John Black) well. He did a prelab for me when he was in college and they have a real nice program. We think we’ll have a real nice turnout from the Neodesha people and should be a lot of blue and white on the field.”
Neodesha plays in the Tri-Valley League and its 7-2 record features wins over Osawatomie (39-27), Humboldt (33-23), Eureka (52-16), Fredonia (46-20), Burlington (37-0), Erie (42-7) and Cherryvale (39-8).
The Blue Streaks’ only two losses came against 3A top-ranked and undefeated Silver Lake and one-loss Caney Valley.
“We didn’t get to watch the Silver Lake film,” Smith said. “But we watched the Caney film and Neodesha’s a good football team. They’re physical, they do a lot of things, they try and confuse you, and they’re just well-coached. Our kids are going to have to play good football.”
Neodesha features three primary ball carriers, all three with at least 500 yards rushing and matching 10 TDs: senior quarterback Justice Baird 527 yards on 54 carries, senior running back Jake Crawford 733 yards on 82 carries, and junior running back Dierks Hayden 653 yards on 73 carries. Hayden also has a team-high 14 receptions for 178 yards.
“That’s a lot of points and a lot of balance,” Smith said. “Our defense is the strong point of this football team and again, we need the defense to play well.”
At the end of practice Monday, Coach Smith identified Baird (6-foot-1, 150 pounds) as a game-changer and somebody who needs to be contained for Colgan success. Baird has also passed for over 500 yards and five TDs and leads Neodesha with three interceptions from the Blue Streaks secondary.
Meanwhile, the Colgan offense features a 1,000-yard rusher in slender senior Conner Dayton (1,174 yards, 11 TDs) and 1,000-yard passer in senior quarterback Dyson Dechant (1,060 yards, 7 TDs).
“Well, gosh, what a great year Conner’s had,” Smith said. “He’s rushed for over 1,150 yards and he’s just had a great year. I feel real good for Conner and his family. Boy, when a kid rushes for 1,150 yards, your offensive line has to feel good and then Dyson has thrown the ball real well. Coach (Brad) Snow’s had his work cut out for him with our offensive line but he’s done a great job and I’m real proud of the offensive line, they’ve gotten better every week.”
Page 2 of 4 - Colgan dominated time of possession in the second half last week against Southeast, turning a 26-24 halftime lead into a 40-24 win. Dayton and Dechant played two of their best games last week, both over 200 yards.
Columbus (4-5) at Girard (8-1)
Girard senior running back Anthony Scholes will not play tonight from a knee injury he suffered last week against Frontenac.
While it’s true no one football player wins games alone, Scholes leaves big shoes to fill: offensively, Scholes leads Girard with 1,412 rushing yards and 19 TDs on 177 carries (around eight yards per carry) and defensively, he’s picked off a team-high four passes from his safety position. No. 21, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, leads Girard with 22 TDs and 138 points.
Scholes gashed Columbus for 221 yards and three TDs in Week 3, a 19-14 win for the Trojans on the mud and muck of Jameson Field.
Taylor Lewis (107-768, 5 TDs) and Caleb Egbert (44-226, 2 TDs), both juniors, will have to pick up the running slack along with fellow junior quarterback Brayden Johnson (40-132, 3 TDs). The Trojans average over 310 yards on the ground and only 11 via their passing attack.
The Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League champions rely on the best defense in any of the three area leagues (CNC, Southeast Kansas and Three Rivers), surrendering 79 points in nine games and 38 in six CNC games.
Jalen Merrell and Nate George lead Girard with 47 tackles apiece, followed by Devin Vail (41), Tyler Gray (36), Kevin Rowe (33), Trenton Stolte (31), Scholes (28), Egbert (27), Nick George (25) and Logan Franklin (25) — 10 players for Girard have at least 25 tackles, embodying the swarming mentality of the Trojan defense. Merrell adds 6.0 sacks and two blocked extra points; Vail leads with four fumble recoveries.
Columbus has been something of a famous Robert Louis Stevenson short story: three opening losses, two wins, a loss, a win, a loss and a win add up to 4-5. The Titans lost 35-32 in double overtime to undefeated Fort Scott, in addition to its loss to Girard, and have wins over Riverton (56-27) and Galena (19-16).
The Titans are led by sophomore quarterback Nate Bole, a dual-threat signal caller responsible for 821 yards rushing and nine TDs on 154 carries and 803 yards passing and nine TDs on 50-100.
Freshman running back Jade McDown and junior all-purpose player A.J. Randle rank 2-3 in rushing, McDown 500 yards and six TDs on 73 carries and Randle 295 yards and five TDs on 30 carries.
Senior receiver Jordan Morgan leads a sometimes explosive receiving corps with 24 receptions for 475 yards and four TDs. Randle adds 17 receptions for 277 yards and five TDs, leading Columbus with 10 TDs.
Sophomore linebacker Taylor Watkins leads with 91 tackles, senior defensive lineman ranks second with 76 stops and freshman Zack Roark contributes 73 from his defensive back position.
Page 3 of 4 - Frontenac (5-4) at Coffeyville (7-2)
Frontenac makes its 4A playoff debut against Coffeyville — once upon a time, Coffeyville was 5A and Frontenac 2A. Now, they’re both in the rugged frontier of 4A with Frontenac the new kid in town.
The Raiders started their year 0-3 and came on strong with five straight wins before a 7-6 loss to Girard last week.
Frontenac helped right its ship by decreasing turnovers and despite only two last week, both proved costly as they both occurred in the red zone.
“Every time we turn the ball over less, we have a chance of winning football games,” Frontenac head coach Mark Smith said. “Turnovers have been a talking point to our players.”
The Golden Tornado average 40 points a game, including 54.3 their last four, and feature two lethal offensive weapons in senior running back Wesley Collins and junior all-purpose player James Newton.
“You’ve got to be aware of where they are at all times,” Smith said. “We have to communicate, gang-tackle and play good solid, fundamental defense. We have to stop the run game because if they get them both going, we’re in trouble.”
Collins leads Coffeyville with 1,200 yards rushing and 18 TDs on 143 carries, averaging 8.4 yards per carry and 133.3 per game. He led the Southeast Kansas League in scoring with 20 TDs and three conversions totaling 126 points. He’s rushed for 100 yards four straight and 200 three straight games (184 against Pittsburg, 218 Labette County, 224 Columbus, 200 Baxter Springs).
Newton presents a player capable of six points every time he gets the football: eight TDs on 20 receptions, two TDs on nine carries and 15 TDs overall. He averages 28.7 yards per reception and 17.1 per carry, adding up to 727 yards and 10 TDs on 29 offensive touches.
James Jones III adds 278 yards and eight TDs on 53 carries and Darron Deffebaugh has 225 yards and three TDs on eight receptions.
On defense, the Raiders have 11 players above 20 tackles: Brett Macary 60, Bryan Wade 57, Cody Lindbloom 53, Taylor Johnson 44, Ross Edge 44, Nick Zafuta 38, Kylor McCartney 33, Tanner Craig 31, Blake Barto 30, John Murray 25 and Bryce Burdette 23 — contributions from defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.
“The defense has carried us the whole season and gave us a chance to win every game,” Smith said. “I know (Anthony) Scholes got injured last week but we played good, solid fundamental defense against Girard. We’ll need something like that against Coffeyville this week.”
Wade leads Frontenac with three interceptions and Barto has three sacks and four fumble recoveries, his nose for the football extending into the end zone twice on his four recoveries.
Senior quarterback Devon Keith, a key player in turnovers, leads Frontenac with 530 yards and seven TDs rushing and has thrown for 727 yards, nine TDs and nine interceptions on 54-127 passing.
Running backs Ethan Powell (337 yards), Taylor Johnson (305), Jace Burdette (206) and Ross Edge (169) have all had their moments this season, part of a ground game good for 1,844 yards.
Page 4 of 4 - Senior receiver Blake Vail leads Frontenac with 18 receptions for 207 yards and Macary has scored three times on his six receptions for 86 yards.
In his first game back playing both offense and defense last week, Bryce Burdette had 90 yards on 20 carries and 15 tackles, plus a TD pass.
“Last week, he competed hard all four quarters,” Smith said. “He got a little bit tired in the second half. . . . I was looking forward to having him all season. He can do a lot of different things.”
Coffeyville linebackers Elijah Jones and Nick Wintjen each have over 100 tackles: Jones 130 (68 solo, 62 assist) and Wintjen 111 (50, 61). Luis Grossi and Deffebaugh both lead with two interceptions.