Riley County survived a scare last week in an 18-15 opening-round win over Russell in the Class 3A football playoffs. The Falcons won without star quarterback Trey Harmison, whose season ended prematurely because of a foot injury.
Harmison ended the 2021 campaign 32-for-70 for 550 yards passing with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He also was second on the team in rushing yards with 860.
“The first thing that you have to think about is the kid and the impact that the injury could have on them and their family,” Riley County head coach Erik Willimon said. “But when it happens to a senior, your heart just goes out to them, knowing how much the game means to Trey and how much he’s invested. The guys have done a good job rallying around Trey, and he’s still a tremendous leader. He’s still a very important player for us even if he can’t be out on the field. He still has a commanding presence on the sideline.”
Riley County has plenty of other weapons it will use to try and fill Harmison’s spot, led by senior running back Blake Brokenicky, who has 1,075 yards and 17 touchdowns on 133 carries this season.
Now, the Falcons (9-0) host district foe Concordia (7-2) in the regional championship. Riley County smashed the Panthers, 48-7, just three weeks ago. However, Willimon said that for many reasons, that victory has zero effect on how Friday’s matchup will go down.
“It’s a different season,” Willimon said. “That’s what we’ve told the guys: 'Our regular-season record doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what happened when we played them last time. What matters now is this Friday. It’s win or go home, and they’re in the same position that we are.' I’m sure they feel the same way about it that we do. It’s a new slate.”
Wamego vs. Augusta
The machine is fully operational in Boomtown.
Wamego (8-1) has rattled off eight straight victories after a quadruple-overtime, one-point loss to Concordia to open the season.
The Red Raiders are led by electrifying junior quarterback Hayden Oviatt, who has been as advertised this season after a breakout 2020 campaign.
Oviatt has been a dual-threat nightmare for the Red Raiders, racking up 1,237 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground to pair with 1,334 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air.
“He’s special,” Wamego head coach Weston Moody said. “That’s one word I can describe him. If he’s not getting major offers in the offseason, I’ll be shocked. His ability to take over when he wants to and lead and develop as a quarterback has been incredible.”
Wamego has four receivers with 300-plus yards, led by junior Chase Cottam, who has 432 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Red Raiders now face an Augusta (6-3) team that has had success this fall, but has struggled to stop the top offenses in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Div. III, allowing 54.6 points in their three losses to Towanda-Circle (6-3), Buhler (8-1) and McPherson (7-2).
“They’re a flexbone style offense, which most people think of as heavy, heavy run. But in reality, they’ve really been 50/50,” Moody said. “They have a nice sophomore quarterback who is 6-foor-4, 205 pounds and they have tremendous size. Lots of dudes over there are 6-foot-4 and they’re athletes … It’s going to be a battle. There aren’t going to be any games from here on our that won’t be tough.”
Rock Creek at Hayden
Last week, Rock Creek won its first playoff game since 2011. That team made it all of the way to sub-state and eventually lost by a point to Silver Lake.
This year’s Mustangs (6-3) are well on their way to chasing the accomplishments of the 2011 team, led by junior quarterback Dalton Whitworth, who has been a stud in his first season under center. He is 162-for-279 for 2,333 yards with 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Those numbers place Whitworth among the top signal-callers in the state.
“He’s more comfortable with what we’re asking of him,” Rock Creek head coach Shane Sieben said. “I think the other thing that’s helped is that the further along in the season that we’ve gotten, the more confidence he’s gotten with his receivers.”
Whitworth’s favorite target this season is Ethan Burgess, who has 801 yards on 46 catches. But Yanci Spiller has been right behind Burgess in terms of targets, grabbing 43 passes for 479 yards. Daegen Vinduska has come on strong as of late, too, catching 21 passes for 466 yards.
They also have gotten good production from Jaydon Winans at the running back spot. Winans has 80 carries for 611 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.
Rock Creek has its work cut out for it, though, as it travels to Topeka to take on Hayden (8-1), a team whose only loss came versus Seaman in the second game of the season.
“Any time you play Hayden, you’re going to get a very physical football team,” Sieben said. “I go back to my time when I was coaching at Manhattan, and those were some of the most physical game that I can remember. You’ve got to be able to match their physicality up front. If not, it’s going to be a long night.”
Wabaunsee at Lyndon
Wabaunsee is enjoying one of its best seasons in a quarter century, and has a chance to add another chapter Friday when it travels to Lyndon for a Class 1A regional championship game.
Wabaunsee (7-2) will tie the school-record for wins in a season with a victory Friday, and that — along with the other milestones the team has reached this fall — is something head coach Jess Rutledge has yet to fully process.
“Right now I’m just kind of in the moment making sure this continues,” Rutledge said. “I’m sure when our season is over, hopefully Saturday, Nov. 27, I’ll probably sit back and take in all of the wonderful accomplishments the boys were able to have.”
Driving that success has been senior quarterback Cade Oliver, who racked up a stellar 1,652 passing yards with 23 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
Senior Brayden Meseke has 733 yards and seven touchdowns while younger brother Eli Oliver has 394 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Zach Frank has had a strong season on the ground, adding 469 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
Now the Chargers face a Lyndon (5-3) team that’s in a bit of a rebuilding year but has had great success in years’ past, including making a sub-state appearance, where it lost 14-12 to eventual state champion Olpe.
“They made a pretty deep playoff run last year and they return some key players,” Rutledge said. “They’re big upfront on both sides and they have some fast skill players. We just need to make sure that we have a solid week of practice and implement our game plan.”
Valley Heights at Centralia
It’s been a season of learning and growth for Valley Heights (4-4) and head coach Cody Trimble.
After losing a large and talented senior class, Trimble knew he was heading into a year of rebuilding with a small group of upperclassmen and a lot of freshmen and sophomores.
“We’ve definitely progressed,” Trimble said. “We still have a long way to go, but I think as far as reaching their full potential, we’re getting there. Any Friday, we have between six to eight freshmen and sophomores on the field on either side of the ball. We’re still a work in progress, but the kids know that.”
Leading the way for the upperclassmen has been senior running back Trenton L’Ecuyer, who has been a nightmare for defenses this season, racking up 1,324 yards and 17 touchdowns on 127 carries — with just one fumble.
The Mustangs now head into a rematch with Centralia (6-2), a team that they lost to, 41-16, on Sept. 24. Trimble said he believes his team is far better now than a month and a half ago, especially since it didn’t play its opening game this fall because of a coronavirus quarantine.
“Centralia was kind of the first game where we found out what we had with our team,” Trimble said. “We felt like it was our first test after we put some pieces of the puzzle together. We felt like we played extremely well. They had a score late in the game that made it look worse than it was, and we had a couple of opportunities in the red zone that we didn’t capitalize on.
"We’ve just kind of been looking at it like, ‘What do we have to lose?’ because they’re obviously favored. We feel like if we play like we did last time but just execute on a few things here and there, hopefully it will flip the score column to our favor.”
Frankfort at Thunder Ridge
Frankfort head coach Nick Anderson said he’s mostly pleased with his team’s season to this point.
The Wildcats have won their first-round playoff game each of the past four years, and earlier this season, they took down a Hanover team that has given them fits the past decade. But when Frankfort lost 60-12 on the road to undefeated Thunder Ridge last month, the team’s effort did not meet Anderson’s standards.
“The first time, we probably gave a D-minus effort when we went over there and played,” Anderson said. “So we really didn’t give ourselves much of a chance from the beginning. We were very disappointed with how we played and how we executed and the mentality that we brought. We could’ve played much better.”
The Wildcats (7-2) will get a second shot at the Longhorns (9-0) on Friday in the regional championship game, as Frankfort once again head to Kensington.
Five Wildcats have at least 220 rushing yards, and seven players have found the end zone in some way throughout the year, led by seniors Ethan Armstrong (455 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Caden Dalinghaus (427 yards and nine scores).
“We’re probably as healthy as we’ve been in six weeks,” Anderson said. “We’re still not where we’d like to be going into this kind of game, but we’re in a better place that we were.”