Teams currently in the Plains Division have been a dominant force over the last two decades and the preseason polls show that this year could continue the trend. Over the past 20 seasons, the championship game has had two representatives from the Plains nine times and at least one representative another eight times. That division has claimed 14 championships over that span, including the last four.
Two-time state champion Sedgwick County opens the year atop the rankings, behind returning first team all-state quarterback Brennan Ehmke, who threw for over 1800 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He will be joined by Tyce Marquez, who earned second team honors last year, primarily for his defense. Marquez registered 100 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, while also finishing third on the Cougars with 514 rushing yards. Layne Green rushed for 935 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore and Cade McKinley, who missed seven games during the season after being injured in a hunting accident, is the leading returning receiver. The senior caught nine passes for just over 200 yards. They will be looking to fill in some of the gaps left by the departure of Chad Mikelson, who was the classification’s player of the year.
Akron, the team that has finished second to Sedgwick County the last two seasons, begins this campaign right behind the Cougars. Jerome Weers won coach of the year honors in the class last year and he’ll have some big holes to fill if the Rams are to make it back to a third straight title game. Chief among those is at quarterback, where two-year starter Levi Basler has moved on. Over the last two seasons, Basler threw for 1715 yards (23 TD) and rushed for 2260 (30 TD). Prior to that, he was a receiver, racking up close to 1000 yards. The cupboard is far from bare, with two of the top three rushers returning. Derrick Poss led the team with 1159 yards on the ground as a sophomore, and Tyler Wylie added 1083 yards and a team-high 17 touchdowns as a junior.
One of the few teams from outside of the Plains to claim championship hardware in recent times is Hoehne. The Farmers are #3 in the initial rankings and are looking to return to their form from 2010-12, when they played in three consecutive title games, winning two. Last year, Hoehne fell to Sedgwick County (27-8) in the semifinals. Gabe Dasko will have a second team all-state performer returning to his backfield, as Jacob Yates will try to build on an impressive junior season. Yates rushed for 1371 yards and 18 touchdowns, posting six 100 yard games, while also leading the Farmers with 516 yards and nine scores through the air. Trystan Moltrer could be in line for a larger role on offense after finishing his sophomore campaign with 729 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, and 135 yards receiving and three more scores.
Opening at #4 this season is Sargent, who nearly beat Akron in the semis last year, falling 33-32. This group of Farmers brings back second team defender Christian Schaller, who led the team with 143 tackles last season, and was third in rushing with 370 yards. Also back for coach Trevan Pepper is one of the top dual-threat QBs in the class, Ryan Davis. As a junior, Davis threw for 1108 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1049 yards and 15 more scores. As a three-year starter, he has 2808 yards and 39 touchdowns through the air and 2524 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground.
Fifth-ranked Dayspring Christian is looking to rebound from what was a down year by its standards. The Eagles were rolling midway through the 2016 season, taking a 5-0 record into their game with Caliche. John Schwartz would see his squad pick up a lopsided win over the Buffs, but he lost his Swiss Army Knife, Caleb Urwiller, to a broken collarbone in the contest. Urwiller would miss the rest of the season, but still led the squad in all-purpose yards with 1777. The team would finish 6-4. First team all-stater Seth Mondragon returns to lead the defense after recording 159 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a junior. Jimmy Fargo, a fellow senior, is the top returnee on offense, following a junior season which saw him lead the team with 45 catches, 850 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
West Grand enters the 2017 season ranked #6, but head coach Chris Brown is tied for #1 in the state in career coaching victories with Kent Denver’s Scott Yates at 315. The Mustangs had three players receive postseason honors, but all three are gone this year. However, Brown will have many of his top skill position players back, led by quarterback Brady Gore. As a junior, Gore threw for 682 yards and rushed for another 553. Joining him in the backfield is Luis Dominguez, who tallied 1030 yards on the ground and 219 passing. Tom Henderhan and Junior Fletes both rushed for over 380 yards, while Luke Waterman and Jake Bentler were two of the top receiving threats last year.
The fourth Plains Division team in the preseason rankings, Merino, checks in at #7. The Rams reached the quarterfinals last season, falling to eventual champion Sedgwick County. Back to lead the attack once again is Remington Canfield, a second team all-state performer, who rushed for 1345 and 14 touchdowns as a junior. Canfield was also one of four players with 100 or more tackles, registering 117 stops, but is the only one returning. Merino is tied for the sixth most state titles with eight, but has not won or played for one since 2009.
For just the second time in the last eight seasons, Norwood failed to win at least 10 games last year. Still, the Mavericks, who begin 2017 ranked #8, posted a 9-2 mark, making it to the quarterfinals in David Close’s first year at the helm. The Mavs lost a pair of 1100 yard rushers in Devyn Rummel and Trenton Armintrout, meaning much of the offensive load could fall on the shoulders of DJ Snow and Will Gabriel, the only returning players who gained more than 100 yards last season. Gabriel, who threw for 161 yards last year, will have the team’s leading receiver, Hunter Brier (12/263) back. Cord Colson is also back after finishing second on the squad in tackles.
Haxtun finished fifth in the Plains last season, but made it to the quarterfinals before being downed by Akron. The Bulldogs come in ninth this season, one spot ahead of Pikes Peak Christian, the team they beat in the opening round of the playoffs. One of the few 8-man teams that relied more on the passing game than the ground attack, Haxtun will be without the services of Bo Soukup and his nearly 2500 aerial yards. In his career, Soukup threw 37 touchdowns to go with his 3110 yards. Versatile junior, Drew Coffin, will be back to lead the offense. Last season, caught 38 passes for 490 yards, rushed for 402 yards, and passed for 88.
Pikes Peak Christian lost its opener last year before reeling off eight straight wins to make the playoffs. The Eagles dug an early hole in their first round game against Haxtun and could not recover. For a program that had not won more than five games in any of its previous 12 seasons, the 8-2 mark has raised expectations going forward. Junior Tommy Harmon’s versatility will be a key to continued success.