Sedgwick County has toppled Akron each of the last two years in the state championship game and the Cougars and Rams are ranked one-two to open the 2017 season so a third meeting is not out of the picture.  The state finals of course are off in the distant future but both clubs begin the quest to get there here in zero week.
Both teams were scheduled to open the 2017 campaign on the road but only Akron will be in action.  Sedgwick County opened last season with a 58-0 blowout of Creek Valley Nebraska and was slated to face them again in zero week this year, but the opponent dropped into the six man division in the middle of the cycle.  That move leaves the two-time defending state champions with only eight games on their schedule at this point.  The bye week is set for week two.
Akron is 20-6 over the past two years and has not lost a game to a non-conference rival in that stretch.  Two of the losses are in non-league play but they came against Dayspring Christian as the two rivals have played each other twice in regular season play the last two years.  The remaining four losses are to Sedgwick County including the two state championship battles.
The Rams finished 2016 with three 1,000-yard rushers and two of them return in Derrick Poss (1,159) and Tyler Wylie (1,083) who combined for 17 touchdowns.  Not returning though is three-year starting QB Levi Basler who totaled over 2,000 yards and 27 TD’s as a senior.  Replacing him is crucial for the Rams chances at reaching a third consecutive title game.
Wylie and Poss are more than just running threats.  Wylie caught 20 passes for 494 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago while Poss led the Rams in tackles with 92.  Another player to watch is Justin Traxler who picked off four passes as a junior.
Granada rebounded from the difficult 59-0 zero week decision to finish the regular season 7-2 before a first round loss to Merino (35-6) ended the Bobcats 2016 campaign.  The Bobcats are in a bit of rebuild mode as their top passer and two top rushers from that team graduated.  Returning for the 2017 season though are Isaiah McGee (13) and Josh Baca (11) who combined for 24 receptions with each scoring four times.
McClave and Soroco are two teams that finished 6-4 season with first round playoff losses last season and both teams return to the field this week.  McClave plays host to Sanford on Friday and Soroco is home to Caliche the next afternoon.
Of the two teams, Soroco seems to have more key players returning including Jace Logan.  The Rams junior is the top returning rusher in the division after totaling 1,858 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.  That tremendous season opened with a career best 324 yards and four TD’s in a 54-28 zero week win over Caliche last August.  It was one of three 300-yard games for Logan but he was held to just 20 and 24 yards in losses to Sargent and Norwood respectively.
Soroco must find a new QB to help take some pressure off Logan.  Isaac Jones was the starter a year ago and compiled over 15-hundred yards and 19 TD’s.  Jones will also be missed on defense where he intercepted seven passes.  Sky Carlson is the top defender back on the roster.  He led the team with 88 tackles and Logan was second with 80.
Caliche suffered through a winless season but did not have a senior on the roster so they’ll be a year older and stronger in 2017.  Austin Zink led the Buffs with 1,163 yards and five touchdowns last season and is one of four top rushers back on the roster.  Zink also topped the defense with 101 tackles while classmate Caleb Roth chipped in 59.
McClave topped Sanford 58-22 in zero week last season.  Their season concluded with a 58-0 loss to eventual state champion Sedgwick County in the playoffs.  The Cards lost 2,000 yard rusher Jake Trujillo so many of his carries may be turned over to Ken Cox who was second last year with 417 yards.  He’s also the top returning tackler with 77.
Sanford opened 2016 with five straight losses but bounced back to win three of their final four.  The Indians should be better this year as QB Guy Larsen (727 yards passing — 9 TD’s) and RB Dalton Gartrell (655 yards rushing) both return.  Four receivers with at least 13 catches last season also return to the lineup including Thad Jackson (22) and Chase Holman (6 TD’s).
While the full schedule in six man football has not been finalized, we believe the lone game in the division this week finds Fleming on the road to North Park.  And the focus is well deserved as the battle is a league game inside the rugged Northern conference.  Fleming is the defending league champion and battled past North Park 46-22 a year ago.  North Park recovered to make the playoffs before a lopsided loss to Cheyenne Wells in round one ended their year.
Two big losses hit the Fleming camp after last season when Jaxon King and Alex Vandenbark played their last game in a 38-32 loss to Flagler in the state semifinals.  King threw for 1,502 yards and 25 TD’s as a senior and Vandenbark was the second leading rusher with 962.  Without either in the lineup, Eric Resendiz and Kolton Dickinson become very important to the Wildcats.  Dickinson led the team with 1,122 yards and 14 TD’s last season but could get even more carries this year.  Resendiz attempted just ten passes as a freshman but could be the QB starter when the game opens on Saturday.
Other players to watch for Fleming are Matthew Tanner (38 receptions) and Paul Asfeld (18).  They combined for 15 touchdowns through the air.
North Park should be set at QB as Austin Berton returns.  He tossed 11 touchdown passes last season and ended the year with 510 yards.  Blayden Fletcher, who was second in rushing last year with 765 yards and 10 TD’s also returns but Noel Pizana (899) and Rogelio Meza (257) graduated.  Meza also caught 25 passes and will leave a big hole on the defensive side of the ball.
Nic Martin led the Wildcats with 81 tackles last year while Fletcher contributed 53 tackles, 10.5 sacks and eight fumble recoveries.  Bryce Carlstrom picked up 51 tackles and the Wildcats also welcome in a nice freshman class to help fill some of the holes.
Kerry Sherman will again be our six and eight man football contributor this year.  He will start his coverage this week with season previews and then provide weekly updates throughout the regular season and playoffs.