Following a preseason of uncertainty and a regular season filled with unexpected cancelations and reschedulings, the football postseason finally has arrived.
Five of the six schools in The Mercury’s coverage area are preparing for playoff runs of their own, each in unique circumstances. Some will be treated as favorites while others are facing an uphill battle to make it out of the first round.
With the playoffs starting Friday, here is how each team stacks up to its opposition heading into must-win situations.
Note: Valley Heights was forced to forfeit its first playoff game because of positive coronavirus cases.
Seeding: No. 6 in the 4A West bracket
How they got here: The Red Raiders have been through an up and down season, starting off with a red-hot 3-1 run and then stumbling to the finish line by going 1-3 in the final four weeks.
However, the final three losses are slightly misleading. Wamego fell to 4A No. 1 Paola, 4A No. 3 Bishop Miege and Fort Scott, which finished 6-0. The final game of the bunch was a 22-18 loss in which Fort Scott stuffed the Raiders on the goal line as time expired.
Wamego didn’t defeat any teams this season with a record over .500. The team’s performance against teams with losing records and winning records were drastically different.
Against the former, Wamego scored an average of 41.25 points per game. When playing against the latter, the Raiders only managed 11.5 points per game.
Who they face: Wamego will square off against No. 11 seed Independence High. The Bulldogs bring a 1-3 record into the tilt.
Independence’s season was one of disruption, as four of the team’s games were canceled. The team has not won a game since the opening week of the season.
However, that win came over the West bracket’s No. 3 seed El Dorado High. Since that time, Independence has been outscored 158-29.
Key stat: 1
In Weston Moody’s first two seasons as Wamego’s head coach, the Red Raiders have not made it past the first round of the playoffs.
Both of the school’s exits in the past two years came against Perry-Lecompton. In both situations, Wamego was the lower seed.
This season, the Raiders will enter the game as the favorite through the first round. It is Moody’s best chance of moving past the first round in his young career.
X-Factor: Hayden Oviatt
Wamego’s offensive success is tied to the success of Hayden Oviatt. The sophomore has been a force both on the ground and through the air, passing for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns while also rushing for 861 yards and eight touchdowns.
For Wamego’s offense to maintain its strong output against what looks on paper to be an inferior opponent, Oviatt will need to continue to produce at his standard level.
Seeding: No. 2 seed in the Hayden regional
How they got here: How about the Mustangs? After years of subpar outcomes, Rock Creek hovered around the Kpreps.com top five all season.
Just two years ago, the team went 0-9. Now, the Mustangs have accomplished their first winning record since 2012.
They did so on the back of All-Flint Hills Player of the Year contender Charlie Killingsworth. The senior quarterback took Class 3A by storm, throwing for 1,863 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for 527 yards and 12 more scores.
His efforts led Rock Creek to outscore its opponents 322-156 on the season. The Mustangs’ only losses came against 2A No. 1 Rossville and Holton, which finished the season 6-1.
Who they face: Rock Creek faces a rather unfair draw for a team whose seeding implies it should be the favorite.
The Mustangs face Perry-Lecompton, the No. 3 team in Class 3A according to Kpreps.com. Rock Creek also shares its regional bracket with 3A No. Hayden.
The Kaws built their 7-1 record on defense, limiting opponents to just 52 overall points on the season. Meanwhile, Perry-Lecompton scores 43.87 points per game on average.
Key stat: 35
That’s the total number of touchdowns Charlie Killingsworth is responsible for this season. That’s only through seven games, as Rock Creek’s season opener was canceled.
For Rock Creek to have a chance of advancing to the second round, Killingsworth will need to be at his best. With Perry-Lecompton’s defensive abilities well known, the quarterback will likely be facing his toughest test yet.
X-Factor: Dawson Zenger
Much of Perry-Lecompton’s focus will likely be on Killingsworth and his favorite target, Brooks Whaley, who recorded 46 catches for 938 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season.
However, Whaley isn’t the only talented receiver on Rock Creek’s roster. Dawson Zenger has also performed impressively.
The senior recorded 30 catches for 480 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. Should the Kaws start focusing too heavily on Whaley, look for Zenger to play a crucial role in Rock Creek’s offensive scheme.
Seeding: No. 1 seed in Riley County regional
How they got here: There were no steps back for Riley County this year. In fact, it appears the Falcons may have even taken a step forward, which is a scary prospect for the rest of Class 3A.
Coming off back-to-back 2A state runner-up finishes, Riley County was dominant all season. The Falcons’ only loss was to Silver Lake in a game that was decided by a late two-point conversion.
The team has excelled at offense (43.71 points per game) and defense (12.28 points against per game) during the season. With exception to the Silver Lake game, Riley County has won by at least 21 points over its opponents.
The Falcons are led by running back Nic Allen, who has rushed for 1,095 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.
Who they face: Riley County will square off against Smoky Valley.
The Vikings are 3-5 on the season and have won just one game over a team with a winning record — a 38-36 win over Hillsboro in the third game of the season. Smoky Valley has been shut out three times this season, but won its final game over Russell 28-14.
Key stat: 2
Riley County has been to two consecutive state titles, though both were in Class 2A. Regardless, when the playoffs come around, Riley County turns up its intensity another notch.
X-Factor: Conner Holle
Riley County’s opposition will surely focus on stopping Nic Allen from taking over games. When that happens, quarterback Conner Holle will be asked to step up.
Holle has shown the ability to put points on the board when his number is called, passing for 1,073 yards and 13 touchdowns despite playing in a run first offense. He will be the key to ensuring Riley County’s high powered offense stays on schedule throughout the playoffs.
Seeding: No. 5 seed in Centralia regional
How they got here: The Chargers started their season off red hot, opening with a 2-1 record. However, Wabaunsee stumbled down the stretch, losing four of its last five games.
The Chargers have been able to score all season, averaging 25.88 points per game and getting shut out just once in a defeat to Valley Heights. However, defense has been an issue, as the team is allowing opponents to score an average of 32.63 points per game.
Wabaunsee did not defeat any teams with a record over .500.
Who they face: Wabaunsee will square off against another 3-5 team in Pleasanton.
The Blue Jays had an opposite season to the Chargers, starting 0-5 before finishing the regular season on a three-game winning streak. The two teams faced two similar opponents — Uniontown and Troy.
Pleasanton lost both games to the two programs, while Wabaunsee was able to win its matchups.
Key stat: 2
Anytime Wabaunsee gives up more than two touchdowns plus point after tries in a game, the Chargers lose. For Wabaunsee to make it through the first round, it will need its defense to play at a strong role.
X-Factor: Tyler Lohmeyer
Lohmeyer is having a monster senior season despite it being his first year playing high school football.
Standing 6-foot-3, Lohmeyer has provided a fantastic downfield threat for the Chargers this season while also playing well at safety. He has had several games with over 100 receiving yards, including a regular season finale in which he recorded eight catches for 191 yards and a touchdown.
Seeding: No. 2 in Beloit St. Johns-Tipton regional
How they got here: Frankfort was on quite a run before the coronavirus disrupted its season.
After losing its opening game to Washington County, the Wildcats rattled off four straight wins. They outscored their opponents 242-70 on the season.
However, Frankfort’s season was put on hold when there was a coronavirus case reported within the football program ahead of the Wildcats’ week six game. Frankfort was forced to miss the following week’s game as well and finished the season on an off week.
Who they face: Frankfort will face a challenging opponent in Downs-Lakeside.
The Knights showcase a powerful offense, as they score an average of 48 points per game. However, defense has been almost equally problematic, as Downs-Lakeside gives up an average of 32.625 points.
However, the Knights have not earned a win over a team with a winning record this season. On the opposite side, Frankfort demolished 6-2 Axtell 36-14 in the final game of its regular season.
Key stat: 3
Frankfort has been off for three straight weeks, two of which due to the coronavirus. That’s a long time off heading into the playoffs against a solid opponent.
The Wildcats will need to be wary of any rust the time off could have caused.
X-Factor: Ethan Armstrong
It may seem strange to put the main cog in Frankfort’s offense as the team’s X-Factor, but it’s what he did prior to the team’s layoff that makes him interesting.
Armstrong seemed to be coming into his own before the layoff. His rushing yards totals improved steadily through each game. He finished the regular season with 573 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns despite playing just five games.