The field has been whittled down to 16 teams per class as the regional round of the state football playoffs is upon us. Three teams from the capital city survived round one to move on to a tenth game this season. Here’s a look at tonight’s action.
LAWRENCE (8-1) at TOPEKA HIGH (8-1)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka
Envista Credit Union Game of the Week – LIVE on Country 106.9
The Lawrence Lions were 1-8 last season, but four-time state champion head coach Steve Rampy has them roaring again in his second year on their sideline. The Lions topped Washburn Rural last week to return to the regional round, and they seek a return to the sectionals for the first time since 2015 behind a balanced offensive attack. Devin Neal has had an outstanding year at running back and scored three touchdowns last week against the Junior Blues, and quarterback Jackson Dooley has improved each week. The Lions average 38 points per game, but that pales in comparison to the 45.6 points per contest the Trojans are putting up, including 48 last week in beating Garden City. Da’Vonshai Harden had one of the best performances of his career, passing for four touchdowns, and Ky Thomas needs just 21 yards to reach 2000 rushing yards for the season. Expect fireworks down on Chuck Lower Field tonight.
KEY TO THE GAME: Expect this to be a four-quarter game tonight, with the outcome in doubt in the waning moments. The Trojans are 1-1 in one-score games this season, as are the Lions, who have a one-point win (over Gardner-Edgerton) and a one-point loss (to Free State in the regular season finale) on their resume. In those kinds of games, it’s about who keeps their cool and makes the fewest mistakes.
JEFF WEST (8-1) at HAYDEN (8-1)
Hayden Field, Topeka
A rematch of two of the best defenses in 3A is the kind of game you wish were a sub-state round game, not a regional game. But one of these great teams is going to be finished playing for the season after tonight. The Wildcats defeated the Tigers 13-6 back in Week 5 thanks to a last-second goal-line stand. At the time, Hayden was the first team this season to score on Jeff West, who has allowed just 59 points this year and stifled Marysville in the second half last week to come back for a 20-14 win. The Wildcats are back in a groove after their Week 7 loss to Perry-Lecompton. They throttled two-time defending 3A champs Sabetha 35-0 last week, with a big game through the air from junior quarterback Johnny Holloway.
KEY TO THE GAME: Hayden moved the ball effectively on Jeff West the first time around, but three turnovers kept the game interesting deep into the night. If Hayden takes better care of the ball, they could put up a number that the Tiger offense will find hard to match against Hayden’s own terrific defense.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS (5-4) at DE SOTO (9-0)
After beating one United Kansas Conference foe in round one, the T-Birds will see another one in the regionals as they trek to De Soto for a second time this season. The first visit didn’t go well for Heights, as they fell behind early and suffered a 59-14 defeat. This year, the T-Birds will try and avoid a second-straight season-ending loss to the Wildcats. They will ride the confidence of their defense, which pitched a shutout last week in a win over Lansing, and hope to power their way for chunks of yards with Antonio Ruiz carrying the load.
KEY TO THE GAME: Heights fell behind 14-0 inside the first minute against De Soto back in Week 7 by allowing a kickoff return TD and by turning the ball over. If they can avoid that rocky start and take better care of the ball, their defense can give them a chance to stay competitive in this one.
And elsewhere, by class, in the 580 Preps coverage area tonight…
#5 Free State (8-1) at #4 Manhattan (8-1)
#7 Junction City (7-2) at #2 Dodge City (9-0)
#6 Emporia (6-3) at #3 Maize (8-1)
D3 #2 Perry-Lecompton (6-3) at D4 #1 Holton (7-2)
D1 #2 Riverton (6-3) at D2 #1 Silver Lake (9-0)
D4 #2 Rossville (7-2) at D3 #1 Nemaha Central (7-2)
D4 #3 Southeast of Saline (7-2) at D4 #1 Riley County (7-2)
D4 #2 Valley Heights (7-2) at D3 #1 Jackson Heights (7-2)