It’s finally time to put on the pads, strap on the helmets, and fire up those Friday night lights. The 2019 Kansas high school football season opens tonight, with city battles and Centennial League action highlighting the night in the Topeka area. Here’s an in-depth look at the city’s four games tonight:
TOPEKA HIGH (0-0) at SHAWNEE HEIGHTS (0-0)
7:00, Lester Wetter Field, Tecumseh
Envista Credit Union Game of the Week – LIVE on Country 106.9
The defending co-Centennial League champion Trojans started their campaign last year with an easy 42-7 win over the T-Birds, but don’t expect the sledding to be so smooth this time around. Heights is a much more experienced team to start this season, particularly up front. All-United Kansas Conference and All-City lineman Reid Holthaus anchors a group that will make the T-Birds tough in the trenches both ways. He and fellow returning O-line starters Jayson Zuperku and Kale Stahl will try and open running lanes for speedy running back Davion Gardenhire while Hunter Wohler pulls the strings at quarterback. This Heights team has a chance to be very tough in the UKC this season and improve on their five wins from last year, but they’re going to have to be at their best tonight to slow the Trojans. It’s the senior year for quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden and Ky Thomas and the duo comprise arguably the best backfield in the city. They’ve helped the Trojans average well over 40 points per game the last two seasons and they expect to get to that number every single night. There’s serious highlight potential every time either Harden or Thomas bursts forward, and if they get to the second level clean… well, good luck. The Trojan defense hopes to be better this year as well, and they have a fearsome duo on that side of the ball as well, with linebackers Uciph McDaniel and JP Deeter both outstanding.
KEY TO THE GAME: Thomas is going to get his, just as he has throughout his career, but the T-Birds want to make him work for it and do a better job tackling at the point of attack. If they can force Topeka High into long drives rather than quick strikes, a shortened game just might play into Heights’ hands.
HAYDEN (0-0) at TOPEKA WEST (0-0)
Hummer Sports Park, Topeka
The Wildcats expect big things in 2019 with an experienced group back from last year’s 7-3 team. They have one of the deepest junior classes around and playmakers on both sides abound, from linebacker/fullback Will DeVader to linebacker/running back Desmond Purnell to defensive end/receiver Trey Pivarnik. The Wildcat defense was ferocious in district play last year and with all the experience back has the chance to hit the ground running and be one of the city’s best from the get-go. Head coach Bill Arnold hasn’t publicly named his starting quarterback yet, so it will be interesting to see who will be at the controls of Hayden’s double-wing offense. The Chargers had a quarterback competition of their own, which sophomore Mikael Glenn won. He’s a terrific athlete and head coach Ryan Kelly will be creative in giving him space to spark the ground attack that West will need to be more productive on offense this season.
KEY TO THE GAME: Which new starting quarterback settles in and makes fewer mistakes will go a long way towards determining the winner.
HIGHLAND PARK (0-0) at SEAMAN (0-0)
Don Pierce Field at Seaman Stadium, Topeka
It’s the first test for a largely inexperienced Vikings team who will lean heavily on their veterans early in the season. At quarterback, Brayden Vawter will get the nod to run Glenn O’Neil’s offense, and he poses a big threat with his legs. In the passing game he’ll be looking for big tight end Drayton Foster, especially in the red zone. Vawter and Foster will also be leaders on the defense. For Highland Park, the most promising news from fall camp was the sheer number of players who came out for the team. But of the 53 Scots under head coach Mike Foristiere, an overwhelming majority are freshman and sophomores. This night will surely be a learning experience for many of them.
KEY TO THE GAME: Highland Park has some big bodies up front, and if they can get enough push against the Seaman defensive line to move the chains, their confidence will surely grow as the game goes on.
EMPORIA (0-0) at WASHBURN RURAL (0-0)
Bowen-Glaze Stadium, Topeka
Rural head coach Steve Buhler made a great point when I talked to him earlier in fall camp: yes, their schedule to start the season is tough on paper, but the Junior Blues’ mindset is that it’s actually their opponents who have the tough schedule because those teams have to play them. It’s another example of the new attitude that Rural now carries with them into this new season after going 7-3 last year. Jaylen Carter might be the city’s best running back and he’s back to make plays behind an experienced offensive line. Defensively, there’s lots of experience for the Junior Blues as well. They’ll need to be assignment-sound and savvy against the always well-coached Spartans. The play of Kort Mattison and Eric Schnurr up front and Drake McCall at linebacker will be crucial.
KEY TO THE GAME: The Junior Blues want to get Carter on track early and put themselves in good third down situations as to not put too much early pressure on new starting quarterback Cooper Carlgren.
And elsewhere in Northeast Kansas tonight…
ACCHS (0-0) at Oskaloosa (0-0)
Burlingame (0-0) at Southern Coffey County (0-0)
Burlington (0-0) at Council Grove (0-0)
Central Heights (0-0) at Lyndon (0-0)
Centralia (0-0) at Rossville (0-0)
Concordia (0-0) at Wamego (0-0)
Holton (0-0) at Jeff West (0-0)
Jackson Heights (0-0) at Horton (0-0)
Jefferson County North (0-0) at Pleasant Ridge (0-0)
Junction City (0-0) at Hays (0-0)
Manhattan (0-0) at Olathe Northwest (0-0)
Maur Hill-Mount Academy (0-0) at McLouth (0-0)
Mission Valley (0-0) at West Franklin (0-0)
Olathe South (0-0) at Lawrence (0-0)
Olathe West (0-0) at Free State (0-0)
Osage City (0-0) at Northern Heights (0-0)
Rock Creek (0-0) at Riley County (0-0)
Royal Valley (0-0) at Perry-Lecompton (0-0)
St. Marys (0-0) at Silver Lake (0-0)
Santa Fe Trail (0-0) at Prairie View (0-0)
Valley Falls (0-0) at Onaga (0-0)
Wabaunsee (0-0) at KC Christ Prep (0-0)