State championship glory is close enough to taste for the teams still playing on the second-to-last Saturday of November. Four teams in each class are still standing, and after the dust settles tonight, the title game matchups in all eight classes will be set. With two city teams still playing onward, here’s a preview of tonight’s action:
TOPEKA HIGH (10-1) at DERBY (11-0)
Panther Stadium, Derby
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How good are the Derby Panthers? They have claimed three of the last four and four of the last six 6A state titles. They’ve won their last 24 games and given up less than 10 points per game in the process. Their starters haven’t played a fourth quarter in a game all season, and that includes their 56-0 win over Manhattan in the quarterfinals last week – the worst loss Manhattan has suffered in over 20 years. They have two quarterbacks – Grant Adler and Lem Wash who have accounted for over 1400 yards of total offense each, with Tre Washington and his 1,334 rushing yards next to either QB in the backfield, an offensive line led by future Nebraska Cornhusker Alex Conn at left tackle, and a hellacious defense that has allowed just 12 touchdowns all season. They are incredibly good, to go back and answer that question at the top of this paragraph, and it’s going to take something special for the Trojans to pull the road upset. But if any team will come into this matchup believing they can hang with the Panthers, it’s Topeka High. After all, they held an early lead and were down just 10-7 at the half in a sectional meeting at Derby last year before a key injury and a dominant second half effort allowed the Panthers to pull away for a 38-7 victory. But this year’s version of the Trojans is playing terrific football. Ky Thomas, who became the second all-time leading rusher in state history last week, has put the offense on his back, and Da’Vonshai Harden is a much more confident and accurate passer now. And the Trojan defense, led by J.P. Deeter and Uciph McDaniel in the middle, might be Walt Alexander’s best in his 14 years as a coach. Topeka High is primed and ready to take their swing at Kansas high school football’s Goliath tonight.
KEY TO THE GAME: Alexander has talked all week about composure and confidence. Teams that have given up early leads to Derby have tended to lose their fight and succumb to inevitability. These Trojans are too good – and too veteran a team – for that. Topeka High has to roll with every punch the Panthers throw and be ready to respond to one of their own to turn tonight’s game into something the Trojans are far more familiar with than Derby – a four-quarter football game.
HAYDEN (10-1) at PERRY-LECOMPTON (8-3)
Mason Brunton Field, Perry
To a man, Hayden players and coaches will tell you they were not at their best when they played the Kaws on the road back in Week Seven. They might also suggest they took victory for granted after easing to a 6-0 start to their season. Whatever the case, they left Perry that night no longer undefeated, after a two-point conversion attempt fell short in overtime. That 21-20 defeat is still the only one on Hayden’s ledger as they prepare for their fifth state semifinal in the last six seasons tonight. The story of the first meeting between these two teams was the heroics of a backup quarterback, as Perry-Lecompton’s starting running back Thad Metcalfe took over for the injured Billy Welch under center and threw a pair of touchdown passes. Welch is back for the Kaws, but Hayden will hope a similar script can be written in reverse as senior Cade Pavlik makes his first start of the season at QB for the injured Johnny Holloway. The Wildcats will depend heavily on their defense, which has allowed just 12 points in their three playoff wins so far, to slow down a Kaws offense that is averaging 34.3 points per playoff contest.
KEY TO THE GAME: The Kaws have a well-balanced offense, but Hayden has been so good defensively in the playoffs, particularly in the box. That front eight must limit Perry-Lecompton’s rushing yards and force them into must-throw situations on third down to give them the best chance to keep Welch and his receivers in check.
And elsewhere, by class, in the 580 Preps coverage area tonight…
Riley County (9-2) at Nemaha Central (9-2)
Jackson Heights (9-2) at Centralia (10-1)