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Thursday night football means we have two broadcasts and two Games of the Week this week. It also means the Week Four preview arrives a day early. Some important games are on the docket tonight as the season hits its halfway point. Here’s what’s coming up on the gridiron…

JUNCTION CITY (3-0) at TOPEKA HIGH (3-0)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka (THURSDAY)
Envista Credit Union Game of the Week – LIVE on AM 580 WIBW/FM News 104.9

This one ought to light up the scoreboard down on Chuck Lower Field. Junction City and Topeka High come in with two of the most potent offenses in Class 6A. The Blue Jays average just over 41 points per game, led by experienced quarterback Andrew Khoury, physical running back Russell Wilkey, and explosive wideout Qua’vez Humphreys. They can move the ball in lots of different ways and will be the toughest test so far for an improved Topeka High defense. The Trojans, of course, boast quite the dynamic duo of their own, and both Da’Vonshai Harden and Ky Thomas will be rested and ready after short nights of work last Friday night. Those two have the Trojans averaging 45 points per contest.

KEY TO THE GAME: It’s two-fold for the Trojans. They have to be ready from the get-go, after having fallen behind Manhattan 14-0 in their previous significant game against a 6A contender. And they have to avoid the mental and physical mistakes that have occasionally been pitfalls for them. If the Trojans do that, they won’t have any problem moving the ball and finding the end zone.

EMPORIA (2-1) at SEAMAN (1-2)
Don Pierce Field, Topeka
Envista Credit Union Game of the Week – LIVE on Country 106.9

The final score suggests a blowout, but there’s more to Seaman’s 56-24 loss to Manhattan last week, and much of it is positive. A shorthanded Viking squad traded punches with the Indians for a half before they ran out of gas in the final 24 minutes, and junior Reid Cowan found his rhythm as a passer in his first start and added a pick-six on defense besides. The Vikings should have some key contributors back on the field this week, and they’ll need them against a physical Spartan squad whose strength is in the trenches. Beau Baumgardner running behind future Iowa State Cyclone Hayden Pauls has been a recipe for success for Emporia thus far, and a win would give them their best start since 2013.

KEY TO THE GAME: The Vikings haven’t been a consistently great tackling team to this point this season, but that will have to change against Emporia’s ground attack. The expected return of Drayton Foster, who missed last week’s game with an injury, would bolster Seaman’s linebacking corps and give them a chance to force the Spartans offense off the field.

HAYDEN (3-0) at SANTA FE TRAIL (2-1)
Von Stein Field, Carbondale

The last time Hayden started 3-0, they raised a state championship trophy at the end of the season. Bill Arnold’s Wildcats are rolling to start a campaign like they haven’t since 2008, and with Desmond PurnellWill DeVader, and Jack Konrade sparking the ground game, they appear poised to score with anybody as they enter district play. The Chargers aren’t too shabby on offense, either, posting 40-plus points each of the last two weeks after a season-opening loss to Prairie View. It could be that whichever defense sets the tone in this one will allow their offense to show the way to victory.

KEY TO THE GAME: It’s natural for Hayden to be riding high after wins over two 5A teams and one 6A team to start their season, but none of the 3A teams they’re going to see in district play will be the least bit impressed or intimidated. The aggressive mindset the Wildcats have taken into the season’s first three games must continue into this road test.

HIGHLAND PARK (0-3) at TOPEKA WEST (0-3)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka

West has claimed the last seven victories in this TPS 501 rivalry, and in each of the last three seasons, it’s been their only win of the year. Highland Park, meanwhile, would love to snap their 46-game losing skid. So there’s plenty at stake for both of these teams going into this one. The Scots believe they’re seeing some positive signs on offense despite their 0-3 start, while West head coach Ryan Kelly thought his defense took some steps forward last week as well. If things click into place for both teams tonight, this could be one of the slate’s most entertaining games despite the matching 0-3 records.

KEY TO THE GAME: Pick a well-worn football cliche about physical play – ‘pad level’, ‘low man wins’, ‘set a tone’, ‘smashmouth’ – and they all apply to this game. Both coaches want their teams to excel in the physical aspects of football. Whichever team hits the hardest is going to gain a significant edge in this one.

SHAWNEE HEIGHTS (1-2) at BASEHOR-LINWOOD (1-2)
Kiester Field, Basehor

It was heartbreak for Heights last week on the road as they gave up a last-minute touchdown to fall to Schlagle and drop to 1-2 on the season. Now, they’ll reset and try to get to 2-0 in United Kansas Conference play with their first league visit to Basehor-Linwood. It’s been a slow start for the Bobcats, who went 10-2 and hammered the T-Birds 50-0 in Tecumseh last year, as they’re coming off a surprising loss to Leavenworth last week. Heights will hope to establish their running game against a team who has allowed 28-plus points in each of their first three games, with quarterback Hunter Wohler (three TDs last week) joining Davion Gardenhire as big play rushing threats.

KEY TO THE GAME: Mistakes hurt the T-Birds in last season’s matchup with the Bobcats, and it ended up being a Murphy’s Law kind of night. Establishing a good tempo on offense and taking care of the football will give them their best chance to score a pivotal road league win.

WASHBURN RURAL (0-3) at MANHATTAN (2-1)
Bishop Stadium, Manhattan

A rugged early season schedule gets no easier at the midpoint for the Junior Blues, who trek west on I-70 hoping to avoid an 0-4 start. Inconsistency and turnovers continue to plague the Junior Blues on offense, and on defense, though they had their moments, they weren’t able to slow down Hayden’s speed. The Indians’ standout running back BJ Young is coming off a big night against Seaman, and it will be a challenge for Rural to bottle him up and keep Manhattan from scoring big.

KEY TO THE GAME: Quarterback Cooper Carlgren and running back Jaylen Carter have both shown flashes this year, but it’s incumbent upon the Rural offensive line to give them room to operate and confidence to make the throw or the cut to the right spot.

And elsewhere in the 580 Preps coverage area tonight…

Free State (2-1) @ Shawnee Mission West (1-2) (Thursday)
Burlington (2-1) @ Girard (1-2)
Chase County (2-1) @ Burlingame (3-0)
Halstead (3-0) @ Rock Creek (1-2)
Hiawatha (0-3) @ Holton (2-1)
Jackson Heights (2-1) @ Olpe (3-0)
Jeff West (3-0) @ Bishop Ward (0-3)
Lebo (3-0) @ Valley Falls (0-3)
Lyndon (3-0) @ Uniontown (1-2)
McLouth (0-3) @ Silver Lake (3-0)
Mission Valley (2-1) @ Council Grove (1-2)
Olathe Northwest (0-3) @ Lawrence (3-0)
Oskaloosa (0-3) @ Central Heights (0-3)
Perry-Lecompton (1-2) @ Wellsville (2-1)
Riley County (1-2) @ Rossville (2-1)
Southeast of Saline (3-0) @ St. Marys (0-3)
Wabaunsee (1-2) @ JCN (3-0)
Wamego (3-0) @ Royal Valley (0-3)
West Franklin (0-3) @ Osage City (1-2)

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