Class 1A First Round Playoff Preview

The old adage of “time flies when you are having fun” must really apply to this high school football season. It seems that just a few weeks ago we were previewing local teams heading into the 2018 campaign. However, eight weeks later and the dust has finally settled on the regular season as we prepare for postseason play.

With the recent change KSHSAA has made to football districts as well as the playoff format, Class 1A will look slightly different than in years past. After the realignment of many teams into different districts, it was decided that because the Class 1A pool of teams was so small that every team would qualify for postseason play. Due to this, Bi-Districts have been replaced by a new “Week 9.” While every team qualified for the Class 1A postseason, district play still mattered as it determined who you compete against and where you would play.

There are five local teams, St. Mary’s Colgan, Pleasanton, Yates Center, Leon-Bluestem, and Uniontown, that are competing in this season’s Class 1A playoffs. So without further ado, let’s dive into the week nine match-ups.

[District 2 Seed #4] Leon-Bluestem (1-7) @ [District 1 Seed #1 ] St. Mary’s Colgan (6-2) 

Leon-Bluestem opened their season with three losses by 14 points or less to Eureka, Cherryvale, and Fredonia. In week five, Bluestem earned head coach Jeremiah Fiscus’ first win with the Lions after they defeated Yates Center 30-27. The Lions dropped their final three contests of the season to fall to 1-7 overall. Leon-Bluestem drew a tough playoff match-up with the Panthers.

Following an impressive run all the way to the Class 2-1A championship game in 2017, St. Mary’s Colgan opened up the season looking like the prohibitive favorite to win district 1. The Panthers did little to erase that feeling, beating Columbus, Frontenac, and Baxter Springs to open the season. Colgan has leaned on its ground game throughout the season, averaging over 250-yards per game. Quarterback Cade Simmons and classmates Matthew Lomshek and Kash Marietta have all experienced exceptional years on offense. The Panther defense has been no joke either, only giving up an average of 9.8 points per game. Playing such a difficult schedule always prepares Colgan for postseason play, and this year is no different. Colgan’s ground attack and salty defense will most likely be too much for Leon-Bluestem to overcome.

[District 1 Seed #3] Yates Center (2-6) @ [District 2 Seed #2] Hillsboro (6-2)

Yates Center is better known for being a basketball school, but head coach Ryan Panko is doing his best to change that narrative. Following a three win campaign in 2017, the Wildcats took a small step back, only winning two games. Yates Center defeated Northeast in week two, pushed Leon-Bluestem before falling by three points in week five, and finally defeated Uniontown in a defensive battle during week seven. Senior running back Thayne Smith and freshman Kendrick Jones are the Wildcats’ biggest assets on their offense. An inspired performance will be needed for Yates Center to finish the season on a high note.

Hillsboro has had a fine season thus far, sporting a 6-2 overall record. The Trojans turned many heads in week one when they nearly upset Hesston before falling, 42-36. Despite dropping their first and last games of the season, the Trojans sandwiched a six-game winning streak in between. Behind a breakout season from quarterback Jorge Hanschu, Hillsboro’s offense is humming to the tune of 34.6 points per game. In fact, the Trojans have won as many games this season as they did in the last four seasons combined. I would expect the upstart Trojans to continue their breakout season in week nine against Yates Center.

[District 1 Seed #4] Uniontown (1-7) @ [District 2 Seed #1] Olpe (8-0) 

Uniontown finished the regular season with their worst overall record since 1980. To say that this season has been disappointing would be an understatement. The Eagles entered the season with high hopes. After all, they had just finished 2017 with a 4-5 record and brought back many core players. The Eagles were even picked to finish second overall in the Three Rivers League preseason poll. The lack of consistency in their offense combined with a tough schedule has Uniontown entering this week’s rematch with Olpe not having won a game since September 14 against winless Northeast. Losses to Pleasanton, Yates Center, and Colgan resulted in the Eagles finishing 0-3 overall in their district and falling to the fourth seed. Uniontown will need to put forth their most complete performance of the season and hope for a few breaks in order to keep this game close.

Despite playing a challenging schedule, traditional small school powerhouse Olpe finished the regular season a spotless 8-0 overall. Ople entered 2018 with high expectations after returning nearly all of their key skill-position players from a team that played in the Class 2-1A semi-finals a season ago. All-state running back Blaine Hinrichs and Kynden Robert form a two-headed monster in the Olpe backfield, while quarterback Colby Hoelting pilots the Eagle offense along with his brother, wide receiver Camden Hoelting. Olpe is currently ranked second in numerous Class 1A football rankings and look to continue their perfect season on Friday. This contest is a rematch of week four, when Olpe traveled to Uniontown and won 48-6. If Olpe executes as it has all season, expect for them to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

[District 2 Seed #3] Marion (2-6) @ [District 1 Seed #2] Pleasanton (7-1) 

Long time head coach Grant Thierolf retired after guiding the Warriors to 37 wins over the past five seasons, including a second round playoff appearance in the Class 3A playoffs a season ago. This season Marion has struggled to put up wins. The Marion defense went through a rough path mid-way into the season, giving up 50, 62, and 51 points in three consecutive games. The Warriors two wins this season came against Leon-Bluestem and Sterling. Marion drew a first round match-up with a high flying offense, so unless the Warrior’s defense can stiffen, it could be a  long night.

The Blu-Jays have been one of the highlights in Class 1A this season. Fresh off of reaching the 8-man playoffs a season ago for the first time in eight years, the Blu-Jays made the jump to 11-man football. Pleasanton won their first six games of the season before falling to Colgan. Their six game winning streak included an upset victory over three time defending Three Rivers League champion Jayhawk-Linn. Head coach Dustin Johnson’s air-raid offense has translated its 8-man success to the 11-man scene. Big play quarterback Kaden McKee leads the Blu-Jays on offense along with his brother, receiver Kasen McKee. Pleasanton also received a boost on offense when running back Blake Pohlmeier transferred to the program. The Blu-Jays have already won the TRL title this season, and look to continue their magical 2018 run into the postseason during their inaugural 11-man season. Look for Pleasanton to put more than enough points to earn a trip to Regionals.

(Photo by Lori Ann Spachek)