Nicholl: Q&A in the west playoff brackets
Is this the year for LaCrosse? Tayler Stull (8) and the Leopards are strong contenders after a 14-8 win over Plainville on Friday. (Photo by Everett Royer)
By Conor Nicholl of the Hays Daily News
Posted: October 30, 2011 - 1:05 AM
The playoffs open Tuesday for Class 4A, 3A and the eight-man classes. On Friday, Class 2-1A, 5A and 6A will have their first round games. Here’s a look at some of the key questions for the playoff picture in the western half of the state – and several predictions as well.
Is this the year for La Crosse?
The Leopards have established themselves as one of the best, but most underrated teams, in Kansas. La Crosse has a stretch of 16 straight non-losing seasons, but has never made a sub-state championship or state championship contest. The Leopards have beaten several quality teams in recent years, including Meade on several occasions, and Oakley and St. Francis in the playoffs. But they’ve often run into the eventual state champion, including Smith Center and Meade, deep into the postseason.
This year, the Leopards average 49 points per contest behind an offense that includes senior quarterback Tayler Stull, a three-year starter on offense and four-year starter on defense, senior wideout Austin Webs, junior fullback Kip Keeley and a veteran offensive line. La Crosse averages more yards and more points per game than the famous 2008 Leopard squad that finished 11-1 and had Marshall Musil, a University of Oklahoma signee, and quarterback Jeremy Garcia.
Defensively, the Leopards rank in the top-10 in the country in interceptions and have a strong front seven that includes senior end Dylan Engel, who collected 11 sacks in the first eight games.
“It’s a group effort,” junior defensive back Clayton Basgall, who has seven interceptions, said.
This is the most experienced squad in three-year coach Jon Webster’s tenure and a group that went 9-0 in the regular season, including a 14-8 Week 9 home victory versus previously undefeated Plainville.
Prediction: La Crosse will have a tough playoff road, including a likely second round matchup against defending state champion Meade. If the Leopards get past Meade, a possible matchup against Plainville could occur. However, La Crosse is deep, talented and experienced across the board – and will end the season in Hays playing for the state title.
Is this the year for Scott City?
The Beavers consistently ranked among Class 3A’s top teams for several years. But Scott City has suffered multiple close playoff losses. This year, the Beavers rolled through the regular season again behind quarterback Brett O’Neil and running back Colborn Couchman. The Beavers have had one game within 27 points and have permitted more than seven points in just one contest, a 27-13 win versus Class 4A power Ulysses. Scott City ranked No. 1 in the Kpreps.com poll, has been more stable and consistent than several 3A teams, including Garden Plain.
Prediction: Scott City will likely have to get through Conway Springs to reach the state finale, a matchup that will pit Conway Springs’ offense, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, versus the Beavers’ shut down defense. The winner of that contest will take home a state championship.
Who will win the rematches in Eight-Man, Division II?
Last year, the four first round matchups on the west side in Eight-Man, Division II were Fowler at Otis-Bison, Victoria at Bird City-Cheylin, Sharon Springs at Thunder Ridge, Chase at Ashland. Otis-Bison, Cheylin, Thunder Ridge and Ashland won the first round matchups.
Then, Otis-Bison defeated Cheylin and Ashland beat Thunder Ridge. Otis-Bison defeated Ashland in the sub-state championship game and finished as state runner-up to Baileyville B&B.
This fall, the first round matchups are identical, with the exception of Otis-Bison hosting Moscow and its high-powered offense led by wingback Osvaldo Granillo. Thunder Ridge has senior running back Joel Struckhoff, who rushed for 313 yards in a Week 9 victory against Victoria and broke the career eight-man rushing record. The Longhorns defense has delivered five straight shutouts, six for the season and ranks first in eight-man scoring defense (30 total points allowed). Thunder Ridge’s lone close game is a 44-18 Week 4 win against Otis-Bison.
Otis-Bison suffered through several injuries in midseason, but was healthy in a big win against Frankfort in Week 9. The Cougars have three terrific skill players in quarterback Trevor Keller and running backs Patrick Piper and Dylan Wissman. Ashland enjoyed an undefeated regular season behind linebacker Giles Fox, quarterback Austin Stebens and wideout Chance Stebens. Cheylin, one of the state’s surprises, retooled after a 10-1 season last year and posted an 8-1 record behind senior running back Jeremiah White.
Prediction: Thunder Ridge will likely face two strong tests in Ashland and Otis-Bison. In the first matchup against Otis-Bison, the Cougars led 18-16, but Wissman suffered a concussion early in the third quarter and missed the rest of the contest, an injury that turned the game in Thunder Ridge’s favor. The Longhorns are Eight-Man, Division II’s top team in the west, but the road to Newton won’t be easy.
Which team will emerge from Eight-Man, Division I?
The west side of the bracket in Eight-Man, Division I is filled with strong teams that could make a run to Newton.
“It’s a test every week,” first-year Osborne coach Steve Tiernan said.
Macksville (9-0) and South Gray (8-0) are the lone teams that went through the regular season undefeated. Central Plains (8-1) and Osborne (8-1) won the other two districts on the west side. The district runner-ups feature Pretty Prairie (8-1), Ness City (8-1), Quinter (6-3) and Little River (7-2). Quinter features all-state fullback Logan Reed and all-state lineman Brian Ochs, but has been hit hard by injuries in the last three weeks. Ness City has also been injury-plagued down the stretch.
South Gray has had one game with 28 points, while Macksville has three wins within 21 points. Central Plains has played well in its first year of a consolidation with Claflin and Quivira Heights. Osborne has struggled on defense, allowing 28 points per game. But senior running back Damon Schurr, one of Kansas’ fastest players, has proved unstoppable with 1,616 rushing yards and 30 scores.
Prediction: No player can match Schurr’s speed. Osborne may not blow teams out, but their offense (42 or more points in eight games) will be hard to stop. Look for the Bulldogs to improve on last season’s sub-state runner-up performance and reach the state title.