While a few match-ups dotted the 8-man landscape last week, the season gets underway in earnest this week. Highlighting the slate are a pair of top-5 clashes, as well as the defending champions kicking off their run toward a potential third straight title.
Over the past two seasons, both of which culminated in championships, Sedgwick County racked up a 25-1 record. The top-ranked Cougars were scheduled to face Creek Valley, NE last week, but the Storm dropped to six-man in the offseason. Now, Sedgwick County will open on Friday against Yuma in an 11-man contest. The Indians have won a total of five games over the last three years, and lost last season’s game to the Cougars by a 48-0 count.
Back to lead the charge this season is Brennan Ehmke, who threw for 1806 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior. While not a huge threat with his legs, the first team all-stater added five rushing scores a year ago. He’ll have one of his big play receivers back at his disposal, with Cade McKinley ready for his senior season. McKinley, who missed several weeks after being injured in a hunting accident, caught nine passes for over 200 yards last year. The running game will be led by a trio of returning players, led by Layne Green, who rushed for 935 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Beau Parker (660 yards, 12 TDs) and Tyce Marquez (514 yards, 6 TDs) will join the junior in the ground attack. Marquez earned second team all-state honors last year after recording 100 tackles for the Cougars.
Second-ranked Akron picked up a 46-16 victory at Granada last Friday, jumping out to a 46-0 halftime lead. A pair of juniors led the Rams with big nights on the ground. Justin Traxler piled up 122 and three scores on six carries, and Derrick Poss gained 101 yards on 10 carries, with one touchdown. Seth Dorrenbacher, another junior, completed two of three passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in his first start at QB. The Rams also got a pick-6 from Carson Reese.
This Friday, the Rams will host #5 Dayspring Christian, a fellow Plains Division foe, in a non-league clash. The teams have met seven times over the previous five seasons, with the Eagles holding a 4-3 edge. Dayspring Christian does not have a player on the roster who completed a pass last year and the leading returning rusher from last season is junior Joey Cline, who gained 79 yards on 15 carries. Three of the top five receivers from 2016 are back, with the group being led by Jimmy Fargo. The senior caught 45 balls for 850 yards and 12 scores last season, leading the team in all three categories. Cline snagged 22 passes for 131 yards and Ben Morris hauled in 12 passes for 189 yards.
Defensively, Dayspring Christian brings back more experience. Seth Mondragon earned first team all-state honors last year after recording 159 tackles, with 5.5 sacks. Aaron Chandler was third on the squad in 2016 with 79 stops. Those two will be joined by Morris (65 tackles), Fargo (61), Zac Sides (51), Brandon Krehbiel (48), and Cline (40). In total, the Eagles return seven of their top nine tacklers from last season.
Another huge non-league tilt on the schedule this Friday has #3 Hoehne visiting #4 Sargent. Last year’s meeting, a 26-24 win by Sargent, was the first contest between the two squads of Farmers in over a decade. Hoehne held a 16-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. Sargent outgained Hoehne 432-328 in the game.
Hoehne returns second team all-stater Jacob Yates, who rushed for 1372 yards and 18 scores and threw for another 516 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. Trystan Moltrer will be a key weapon for the Farmers, as he finished third last year with 729 yards and nine touchdowns rushing, while also catching six passes for 135 yards and three TDs. Moltrer was also the team’s third leading tackler, finishing with 66 stops. Hoehne has won at least eight games in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and the Farmers have won two state titles and finished second once in that stretch.
Sargent has a 21-3 record over the last two seasons, with two of the losses coming in the semifinals. Last year it was a 33-32 heartbreaker to Akron and in 2015; it was a 50-8 decision to Sedgwick County. Looking to help get coach Trevan Pepper and the Farmers over the hump this year is Ryan Davis, an honorable mention all-state performer last year. Davis has thrown for 2808 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 2524 yards and 32 scores in his career. He’ll have help in the form of second team all-stater Christian Schaller. Schaller led the defense with 143 tackles last year, 49 more than anyone else on the squad.
The state’s second winningest coach, Chris Brown, leads his #6 West Grand Mustangs into a road clash with Sanford on Friday. Brown trails Kent Denver’s Scott Yates by one victory after the Sun Devils opened the season with a win last week. Brown has a solid duo to build around on offense, with Brady Gore and Luis Dominguez both returning. Gore led the Mustangs with 682 yards passing and was second with 553 on the ground. Dominguez was second in passing with 219 yards and he led the team with 1030 yards rushing.  The Mustangs return six players who rushed for over 100 yards last year, but lost their top two receivers, in terms of receptions. Luke Waterman (234 yards) and Jake Bentler (184 yards) were the top two on the team in receiving yards. Josh O’Hotto, who finished second with 106 tackles, is back to lead the defense.
Sanford’s defense stood tall last week in a 6-0 loss to McClave. The Indians allowed a touchdown early in the second quarter, but did not break for the rest of the contest. That unit recorded three takeaways, but the offense struggled to keep drives going, losing three fumbles and failing to convert of downs several other times. After consecutive 3-6 seasons, the Indians returning players accounted for all but 19 yards of their offense in 2016. Guy Larsen led the squad with 931 total yards, followed by Chase Holman with 804 and Dalton Gartrell with 708. The defense is equally experienced, with current players making all but 13 tackles last year.
Eighth-ranked Norwood will kick things off on Friday with a home game against Soroco. The Mavericks have had Soroco’s number recently, winning the last five meetings, including a 36-6 decision last year. Norwood held Jace Logan to just 24 yards on six carries in that contest, while amassing 361 rushing yards as a team. This year’s squad will have a different look, as the returning rusher from that contest is Will Gabriel, who ran the ball three times for 25 yards.
Gabriel, along with DJ Snow and Hunter Brier, are the current players who were the most productive on offense last year. Gabriel threw for 161 yards and two TDs, and rushed for 126 yards and two more scores. Snow is the leading returning rusher after gaining 209 yards last year. Brier was the team’s leading receiver in 2016, recording 12 catches for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Cord Colson leads a good defense following his 70 tackle performance last season. Twelve of those stops were for a loss.
Logan, who rushed for 1858 yards and 21 scores last year, put the Rams on his back last Saturday. The junior set new career highs in rushing yards (337) and touchdowns (seven), and had a career-long 97 yard scamper. As a team, Soroco chewed up 474 yards on the ground in the 48-36 victory over Caliche. On the defensive side of the ball, Sky Carlson (13 tackles, 3 TFL) and Jesse Amrein (10 tackles) led the effort. That unit also came up with four takeaways.
For the fourth straight year, #9 Haxtun and Simla meet in an early season non-league game. Haxtun has won the last two, 46-20 two years ago and 42-0 last year. Simla won the 2014 meeting, 44-6. Last year, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead and then cruised to the victory. Drew Coffin returns to the Haxtun lineup after rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown in that contest.
Coffin is the top returning offensive threat for the Bulldogs, having thrown for 88 yards, rushed for 402, and caught 38 passes for another 490. Braden Anderson was responsible for 304 receiving yards, while Jaxon Brown added 128 rushing and 98 receiving.  Four of the top five tacklers are back for this season, led by Brown, who registered 72 stops. Coffin and Delray Mayhew each recorded 52 tackles last year, and Alex Bornhoft was in on 50.
After posting nine win seasons in 2013 and 2014, Simla has recorded back-to-back 4-5 seasons the last two years. The Cubs were shut out in three of their first four games last season and scored a total of 32 points in their five losses. Four of those five losses came to playoff teams.
Pikes Peak Christian (#10) made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2006, finishing the campaign at 8-2 after losing to Haxtun in the opening round, 29-18. The Eagles once again open the season against McClave, this time at home on Friday. Last year, McClave rolled up over 400 yards on the ground in a 34-24 victory over the Eagles. Pikes Peak Christian, who returns the versatile Tommy Harmon, went on to win their next eight games.
McClave won its first three games in 2016, but could not string together consecutive wins the rest of the season. The Cardinals alternated losses and wins over the final six weeks of the regular season, but still made the playoffs. They were eliminated by Sedgwick County in the opening round, 50-0. Gone are three of the top four rushers from last year, including 2000-yard gainer Jake Trujillo. Ken Cox is back after gaining 417 yards on the ground last season. Ian Beckett was a game-breaker as a receiver last year, averaging better than 40 yards a catch, and scoring four times on six receptions. Outside of those two, the rest of the current squad accounted for a total of 28 total yards.
Seventh-ranked Merino has to wait until Saturday to face Gilpin County on the road. The Rams, who shut the Eagles out last year (50-0), downed Lake County 26-7 last Saturday, also on the road. Last season, the Rams held Gilpin County to just nine total yards of offense. Remmington Canfield racked up 1345 rushing yards (14 TDs) and 117 tackles, on his way to earning second team all-state honors as a junior last year.
After recording a total of nine wins in a 10-year span (four came in one season), Gilpin County posted its third straight winning season in 2016. The Eagles went 5-4, just missing out on a playoff spot. They relied on the ground game, quite heavily, only attempting 48 passes all season. Austin Boulter completed four of six attempts for a team-best 117 yards. Heading into his senior season, he is the leading rusher on the roster, having gained 608 yards last year. Jack Ball added 281 yards on the ground and 64 through the air. Josh Trujillo led an aggressive defensive unit last season with 110 tackles, including 13 for loss. He had 19 total stops in his first two years.