MISSOURI CLASS 6
Rockhurst (12-1) vs. Christian Brothers College (13-0), 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Offensive players to watch: The list certainly starts with Rockhurst quarterback T.J. Green, a player on the short list of Simone Award candidates. While Rockhurst isn’t necessarily a pass-first team, with Green throwing the ball fewer than 16 times per game, its aerial attack is extremely efficient.
Green has completed 65 percent of his passes this season, and nearly one out of every four completions turns into a touchdown. He is quick to credit much of his success to his quantity of capable receivers — a group that includes Lance Boehm, Will Bazzle and Nick Bosma.
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The emergence of tailback A.J. Taylor during the playoffs will certainly take some of the heat off the passing game Saturday. Taylor has scored six touchdowns over the last two weeks.
Defensive players to watch: Most of what Rockhurst does defensively revolves around senior linebacker Luke Ritter. While Ritter is praised for his baseball skills — he has signed to play baseball with Wichita State — he’s turned into a reliable playmaker in the middle of the Hawklets’ defense.
Ritter has 166 tackles this season, including 38 for loss and nine sacks.
Rockhurst is afforded more time to pressure the quarterback with a talented, fast defensive backfield — another unit that includes Taylor, who doubles as a shutdown corner.
Bottom line: CBC has a quick-striking offense that can expose defenses in a variety of ways. But much of Rockhurst’s attention will be turned toward limiting CBC tailback Calen Taylor’s touches in the open field. Taylor has scored 21 touchdowns this season — and he’s sat out the majority of fourth quarters.
That’s because CBC has won all but one game this season by at least 31 points, and that one exception was a two-touchdown victory against Rock Bridge.
Rockhurst coach Tony Severino said his team’s goal is to make CBC play a full four quarters, something it hasn’t had to do often this season.
To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SamMcDowell11.
KANSAS CLASS 6A
SM East (12-0) vs. Hutchinson (8-4), 1 p.m. Saturday
Offensive players to watch: Part of what has made Shawnee Mission East so successful this year has been its balance offensively. The Lancers’ most prolific performer on offense is Wyatt Edmisten, who rushed for 1,370 yards and 29 touchdowns in 228 carries. His counterpart in the passing game is Gunnar Englund who has completed 45 of 91 passes for 1,191 yards and 19 touchdowns. His top target is Alec Dean, who has 18 receptions for 513 yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensive players to watch: The biggest name on the Shawnee Mission East defense is senior Kyle Ball, who was the 2013 Sunflower League player of the year. He has a team-best 112 tackles, including 37 for loss and 10 sacks, with 12 hurries. There are three other Lancers who have 65 or more tackles — Jack Anderson, Sam Pottenger and Rider Terry. Together, they have created one of the state’s most staunch defenses, holding every opponent except Olathe North to 19 points or fewer.
Bottom line: The Lancers’ biggest strength going into this year’s state title game as compared to last year is experience. They worked out the jitters in the loss to Derby, when they made the program’s first appearance, and returned 16 hungry starters from that squad who posted a perfect record in the regular season. That should help even the playing field against Hutchinson, which has advanced in 10 of the last 12 years.
KANSAS CLASS 5A
St. Thomas Aquinas (9-3) vs. Bishop Carroll (12-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Offensive players to watch: The pride of the Aquinas offense has been the running game, which already shattered the school’s previous single-season record by nearly 1,495 yards. The Saints lost top rusher James Cosentino in the final week of district play, but still have plenty of options. Quarterback Karter Odermann needs just 24 yards to become the third-best rusher in program history. Kyle Bollig and Ben Ewing have added a bump in recent weeks and have a combined seven touchdowns.
Defensive players to watch: Another strong point for the Saints has been their ability to pressure the ball. They forced 20 turnovers this season – 13 interceptions and seven fumbles – and had 26 sacks for 117 yards. Ewing leads the attack with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Nick Gadwood has a team-best 105 tackles, followed by Ewing with 83 1/2 and Chris Bollig with 81 1/2. Gadwood and Bollig each have eight tackles for loss, and combined for another five sacks.
Bottom line: Even though they are playing without their top two fullbacks, the Saints have been able to piece together big victories the last three weeks. If they can get a few more players to step up offensively, and the defense stays aggressive, coach Randy Dreiling may have the right recipe for a state title. He brought the experience and confidence to lead them here, and now it is on the Saints to follow through.
KANSAS CLASS 4A DIVISION I
Bishop Miege (12-0) vs. Topeka Hayden (11-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
Offensive players to watch: The thing that makes the Miege offense most dangerous is the fact that it is so well-balanced. Kansas-bound quarterback and Eastern Kansas League offensive player of the year Ryan Willis is undoubtedly the face of the program. He has completed 165 of 262 passes for 2,683 yards and 32 touchdowns. His top targets are Jafar Armstrong and Danny Murphy, who each have seven touchdowns. Dawson Downing who has rushed for 1,808 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Defensive players to watch: While the offense gets a lot of credit, the defense is equally deserving. The Stags are led by linebacker and EKL defensive player of the year Mark Ogren, who leads the team with 116 tackles, including 15 for loss. He also has six sacks and an interception. He was one of three Stags to earn first-team honors, joining defensive lineman Kaelin Key and defensive back Keegan Wilson.
Bottom line: Expect this to be an intense defensive battle. After a flawless run to the EKL title, the Stags are performing on a whole other level in the playoffs. They have allowed just one touchdown in three games and outscored their opponents 172-7. Topeka Hayden has not been quite as dominant, but its defense has also been oppressive, holding opponents to 19 points or fewer in each game.
To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @kgier.