The postseason is here for high school football, and from this day forward it’s win or go home. No matter what you did in the regular season, your record resets to 0-0 when the playoffs roll around, and if you want to keep playing deep into November, you have to be your very best every single week. Here’s an in-depth look at the city’s playoff schedule:
5A: #12 SEAMAN (2-6) at #5 OLATHE WEST (5-3)
College Boulevard Activities Complex, Olathe
The postseason begins Thursday night for the Vikings, who, due to injuries and inconsistency, never found any traction during the regular season. The two wins are their fewest in a regular season since Glenn O’Neil became their head coach in 2016. Seaman still has the capacity to make big plays in the passing game, and thumping fullback Nathan Zeferjahn to start and continue drives with tough running inside, but they’ll need to be on the field a lot and almost perfect to take the heat off a defense that is allowing 35 points per game.
KEY TO THE GAME: Sustained drives and no turnovers are a must for the Vikings against this Owls team that made a surprise run to sectionals last year.
6A: #14 GARDEN CITY (2-6) at #3 TOPEKA HIGH (7-1)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka
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On paper, the Centennial League champions should have an easy time with a Buffaloes team that is down to their third-string quarterback and has just 16 points to show from their last three games of the regular season. But they don’t play these games on paper, and the Trojans know that as well as anyone. Their upset loss to the Buffaloes in the regional round two years ago, and a near-defeat against Hutchinson in round one last season, have surely reminded Topeka High that they can’t take anything for granted.
KEY TO THE GAME: The Trojan defense must be stout against Garden City’s run game and force them into passing situations, where the pass rush can tee off and their ball-hawking secondary, led by safety Geivonnii Williams, can look to make game-breaking plays.
5A: #15 HIGHLAND PARK (0-8) at #2 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (7-1)
Saints Stadium, Overland Park
For the second straight year, the Scots have drawn the team many expect to win the 5A state championship. That’s just what the Saints did last season, starting their playoff run with a 69-14 win over Highland Park.
KEY TO THE GAME: For the seniors who have represented the Scots and played with effort and pride all season despite dispiriting results, it’s one final chance to fight and try and make some positive impressions for the program to grow on.
5A: #9 LANSING (4-4) at #8 SHAWNEE HEIGHTS (4-4)
Lester Wetter Field, Tecumseh
Yogi Berra would call this game ‘deja vu all over again’. It’s a Week Eight rematch for these two United Kansas Conference foes. The good news for the T-Birds – they won the first meeting, taking a convincing 35-17 victory over the Lions. The bad news – well, you’ve heard the cliche about how tough it is to beat the same team twice.
KEY TO THE GAME: Heights pulled out the win last week with a true team effort – it wasn’t just the stars making plays but also players like Chase Eklund and Antonio Ruiz stepping up and contributing big plays that helped the T-Birds to victory. That same spirit will need to be on display again against a proud Lansing team.
3A: D4 #4 SABETHA (6-2) at D3 #1 HAYDEN (7-1)
Hayden Field, Topeka
For my money, there’s not a tougher half of the bracket in the entire state at any classification than the 3A East. This matchup is proof positive – Hayden’s reward for winning a tough District 3 is a round one matchup with the two-time defending 3A champion Blue Jays, who finished behind Holton, Marysville and Wamego in the class’s meanest district. Both of these teams are good enough to win the whole thing, but one of them will see their season end Friday night. That’s the cruelty of the postseason. Hayden got back on firm offensive footing last week to beat Wellsville, but it will be their defense, one of 3A’s stingiest, that may decide this game.
KEY TO THE GAME: Sabetha quarterback Gabe Garber is as good as it gets as a playmaker. The Wildcats have to keep him contained and wrap him up when they get a chance in order to limit Sabetha’s explosive plays and get the ball back into the hands of their own offense.
5A: #13 TOPEKA WEST (1-7) at #4 MILL VALLEY (5-3)
Jaguar Stadium, Shawnee
This is a playoff rematch from last season, a game that saw the Jaguars win 49-10 and start their run to the sectionals. Mill Valley plays in the always-tough EKL and is assuredly better than their record, but West also plays a tough league schedule so they’ve seen teams of Mill Valley’s caliber all season. The problem for the Chargers is that injuries have decimated their roster and their depth, so many underclassmen will be getting their first taste of playoff football tonight.
KEY TO THE GAME: If Topeka West plays with toughness and discipline, they’ll be able to be proud of their effort. And they’ll need both of those against a well-drilled Jaguar squad who aims to be more physical than their opponents.
6A: #11 WASHBURN RURAL (3-5) at #6 LAWRENCE (7-1)
Lawrence High School Stadium, Lawrence
The Junior Blues found a groove in the second half of the season, washing away the frustrations of their 0-4 start with a 3-1 finish. The offense is firing on all cylinders with quarterback Cooper Carlgren, running back Jaylen Carter, and a veteran offensive line all getting better every week. They enter this matchup as underdogs against the upstart Lions, who have gone from 1-8 last season to 7-1 thanks in part to the all-purpose efforts of Devin Neal and the sideline wisdom of head coach Steve Rampy.
KEY TO THE GAME: Washburn Rural is at their best when the defense sets the tone. The ‘Wild Bunch’ is full of seniors who will play with great energy, and if they can be good on third down and force turnovers in plus territory, they’ll set the stage for the chance at an upset.
And elsewhere, by class, in the 580 Preps listening area for Round One…
#13 Hutchinson (2-6) at #4 Manhattan (7-1)
#10 Wichita Southeast (3-5) at #7 Junction City (6-2)
#11 Newton (3-5) at #6 Emporia (5-3)
D1 #3 Galena (5-3) at D2 #2 Burlington (5-3) (Thursday)
D3 #3 Jeff West (7-1) at D4 #2 Marysville (7-1)
D5 #3 Rock Creek (3-5) at D6 #2 Cheney (6-2)
D3 #4 Santa Fe Trail (4-4) at D4 #1 Holton (6-2)
D4 #3 Wamego (6-2) at D3 #2 Perry-Lecompton (5-3)
D1 #4 Jayhawk-Linn (5-3) at D2 #1 Silver Lake (8-0) (Thursday)
D2 #3 Oskaloosa (3-5) at D1 #2 Riverton (5-3) (Thursday)
D1 #3 Southeast (6-2) at D2 #2 Osage City (5-3) (Thursday)
D3 #3 Maur Hill-Mount Academy (6-2) at D4 #2 Rossville (6-2)
D3 #4 Pleasant Ridge (3-5) at D4 #1 Riley County (6-2)
D4 #4 St. Marys (2-6) at D3 #1 Nemaha Central (6-2)
D3 #3 JCN (5-3) at D4 #2 Valley Heights (6-2) (Thursday)
D4 #3 Northern Heights (5-3) at D3 #2 Lyndon (7-1)
D4 #4 Wabaunsee (1-7) at D3 #1 Jackson Heights (6-2)
Herington (0-8) at Valley Falls (1-7) (Thursday)
Peabody-Burns (2-6) at Burlingame (4-4) (Thursday)
Royal Valley (1-7) at Wellsville (3-5) (Thursday)
McLouth (0-8) at Northeast-Arma (1-7)
Mission Valley (2-6) at Horton (0-8)