It almost seemed inevitable that Sedgwick County (11-1) and Akron (10-2) would meet up in the state finals for a second straight year. The two teams began the season ranked #1 and #2, respectively, and both were highly ranked for the entire campaign. Many challengers rose up during the season, but the two Plains Division rivals are the last teams standing. They meet on Saturday in Julesburg for all the marbles.
Sedgwick County enters the game on a nine-game winning streak, and the Cougars have only allowed a total of 41 points during that stretch. They surrendered just 27 points in five divisional games, and 75 points overall. Six players have recorded at least 65 tackles on the season, with sophomore Layne Green leading the way. His 99 tackles are just seven more than Tyce Marquez, and 10 ahead of Jake Garnas. Cade Rober is fourth with 85 stops. Garnas has half of the team’s 12 sacks.
Takeaways have been huge for the Cougars, as they’ve recorded 18 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. Michael Nein has been involved in eight of them, with five picks and three recoveries. Chad Mikelson has three of each, while Garnas has a team-leading four recoveries. Seven of the takeaways have been immediately turned into points. Mikelson has also been a weapon on special teams, scoring on a kick return and a pair of punt returns.
Brennan Ehmke leads an efficient passing attack with 1691 yards and 25 touchdowns against only one interception. The junior is completing just short of 60% of his passing attempts. Two players dominate the receiving numbers, led by Mikelson with 44 catches, 1022 yards and 19 touchdowns. Nein is second in every category, posting 23 receptions for 500 yards and six scores. Green is the leading rushing threat with 824 yards and 12 touchdowns. Beau Parker, a freshman, is next with 630 yards and a dozen touchdowns of his own.
Sedgwick County has won three straight meetings with Akron, including last year’s title game, 36-6. In their regular season match-up this year, the Cougars pulled away for a 46-8 victory after being tied at 8-all after the first quarter. The only loss of the season for Sedgwick County came against Perkins County, NE on September 16. Perkins County was the #1 team in Nebraska at the time and spent much of the season in that top spot before being upset in the playoffs. The Cougars trailed big before making a fourth quarter rally that came up short, falling 34-28.
Since their loss to the Cougars on September 30, the Rams have put seven straight wins on the board. But, unlike the relatively uneventful path for Sedgwick County, Akron has had plenty of dramatics along the way. Two weeks after that loss, the Rams were in a dogfight with Dayspring Christian before pulling out a 37-27 victory over the Eagles. The next week, they needed a Hail Mary to defeat Haxtun 48-43. Haxtun would again push the Rams in the quarterfinals, but Akron won 33-20. Finally, last week’s 33-32 victory over Sargent in the semifinals came down to a missed conversion.
With 220 points allowed and only 22 takeaways, Akron’s defense hasn’t been as impressive as Sedgwick County’s, but they have made plays at the right times. Levi Basler leads the team with five interceptions, while Justin Traxler (4) and Brock Benson (3) are close behind. Benson leads the unit with three fumble recoveries. Raul Alvarez gives the Rams a strong kicking game, as the junior has converted 20 of 22 PAT kicks, and is a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 41-yarder in the quarterfinals.
Basler is a dual-threat at quarterback for the Rams, having thrown for 832 yards and rushed for another 1055. He’s one of three backs from Akron in the 1000 yard club this season, joined by Derrick Poss (1107) and Tyler Wylie (1034). Akron has 51 touchdowns on the ground, 17 by Wylie and 15 by Basler. Wylie is the only player in double figures for receptions with 20. He’s gained close to 500 yards and has eight touchdowns.
Outside of Akron’s loss to the Cougars, its only other defeat came against Dayspring Christian in week one, 32-23, in a non-league game. They have scored a total of 17 points in their last three games against Sedgwick County.
While last year’s championship was the first for the Sedgwick County program, the two schools that make up the co-op are no strangers to success. Julesburg won four titles between 1963 and 1970, and Revere has nine championship trophies in its case, winning six between 1989 and 1997, including back-to-back titles at the end of that run. Overall, the two schools and the co-op are 14-3 in championship games. Akron owns six state championships, including three straight in 1A from 2006-08. The Rams also have seven runners-up finishes to their credit. This is their 11th championship game appearance since 1999, and they have gone 5-5 in the previous ten.