Sunday, 19 January 2020
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***BREAKING NEWS***    High School Basketball Postponements for Jan. 17    ***
Local Sports News
High School Football Season Preview: Big 7 League
By Justin Fluke

The 2019 high school foootball season is set to kickoff Friday evening and with that we at Kanzland Radio want to start our coverage this week with a preview of each league throughout Northeast Kansas beginning with the Big 7 League.

Back to back for the Bluejays and the Big 7 as Sabetha repeated and went undefeated to maintain the Class 3A State Championship in 2018. The Jays League title was their first since 2007. With the new playoff format and post-season starting in week nine, only one other Big 7 League team advanced in the bracket, and that was Perry Lecompton.  Yet, the Kaws got knocked out by the Jays after playing and suffering their fourth losing game in the last two years at Sabetha. Jeff West was knocked out in the first round by Sabetha, while Holton also fell in week nine and both Nemaha Central and Riverside were knocked out of the 2A bracket in their opening playoff game. This year, the format and districts stay the same and teams will face the same schedule with flip-flopping the home and away venue. 

Overall, it appears 2019 could have more parity in the Big 7 with no clear-cut favorite or dominating team. Sabetha certainly has earned the nod for the top spot until someone proves otherwise, but the Jays lost a highly talented class of 13 seniors and return less than half their starters on each side of the ball. No coach would argue that on paper, Jeff West has the most experience and talented team coming back, but the Tigers must convince everyone they are disciplined and focused enough to push through the schedule without allowing mistakes or inconsistency cost them a chance at a League title. Perry should also be considered in the mix for a Big 7 title, while Holton is on their way back up and Nemaha Central always has one of the biggest rosters with plenty of talent to put on the field. Royal Valley fits the “sleeper” role perfectly this year with a senior heavy roster that includes a third-year starting quarterback and a trio of linemen and couple backs with a couple varsity years under their belt. Hiawatha and Riverside have the two new head coaches in the League in 2019, but both are familiar faces at their respective school and program. Michael Downard is the third new coach in four years at Hiawatha while Bryce Paden takes over for Scot Koranda, who had coached the Cyclones the past eight seasons.    



SABETHA has a lot of holes to fill. But to be the best, you have to beat the best and the Bluejays have enough playmakers to continue a proud and productive tradition of excellence. Coach Garrett Michael enters his 11th season as head coach with a team that is always disciplined and won't beat themselves. And, one of the best players in the Big 7 will have the ball in his hands to start every play with quarterback, Gabe Garber. Sabetha has won 20 straight games and will get better as the season progresses. But they start this year having to replace 8 of their top 11 tacklers and their top five runningbacks from a year ago.        


JEFF WEST started last year 4-0 before faltering down the stretch. The Tigers return eight starters on ofense and nine on defense as Coach Steve Johnson begins his 14th season in Meriden. 14 players return with starting experience among 18 letter-winners, which is by far more than anyone else in the League. One change is the loss of quarterback Cade Ross and his father Pat, who was the offensive coordinator. This could mean a more run heavy approach and challenges of philosophy, especially with a group of very strong and dominate lineman (including three Sauli brothers) and three-year starters Quinn Neuenswander and Bryce Clements in the backfield. If there was a year for Jeff West to win the Big 7 and make a deep football playoff run, now is the time. 


PERRY LECOMPTON can certainly make a case of being one of the top five teams in 3A the past two years, but unfortunately had four road games at State Champ Sabetha they couldn't quite break through.  The Kaws lost some really good seniors, and have a small senior class this fall. But, they return two of the best defensive players in the Big 7 in Hayden Robb and Grant Roush and have a really deep and talented junior class for 19th year Head Coach Mike Paramore. William Welch will be one of the best QB in the League, but Perry only returns three players that have started more than three varsity games making them a difficult team to predict entering 2019.


HOLTON had a losing season for the first time in two decades last year.  Look at little deeper and the Wildcats had second half leads before falling by two points to Jeff West and seven points at Wamego, while also losing a 6-0 contest against Marysville. Coach Brooks Barta enters year 24 with only five returning starters and their best lineman and only returning starters on the line of scrimmage (Noah Woltje) had ACL surgery and will miss his senior year. Konnor Tannahill burst on the scene as one of the best fullbacks in his sophomore campaign a year ago and the backfield appears to be the strength for Holton with a terrific mix of athletes to tote the football in the wishbone. Holton will have to have players make some big strides and limit mistakes to improve the win total this fall.  


NEMAHA CENTRAL is also coming off their toughest year in five season as the Thunder. A five-point loss at Holton, left Nemaha Central with only two League wins in 2018 against Hiawatha and Riverside. Because they are now Class 2A, Nemaha does not get to face Jeff West, Perry Lecompton or Royal Valley. Coach  Warren Seitz embarks on his ninth season with the Thunder and returns only four starters on offense but seven on defense, including leading tackler Bryce Uphaus at linebacker. Yet, the Thunder have no returning all league players back for 2019 and must fill some key positions among another large roster that no doubt has some talent.   


ROYAL VALLEY could surprise some teams this year, but have had just one winning football season since 2011 and haven't made the playoffs since 2005 and 2006. Ten seniors return with starting experience, including some third-year starters like dual-threat QB Gavin Cumpton and key lineman: Komesh Spoonhunter, Jaiden Wamego and Greg Koon – who have all earned post season kudos. The Panthers also return two of their top three runningbacks, led by Chance Lyming and their leading receiver is back as well among seven returning starters on both sides of the ball.  To be a spoiler, defense is where Royal Valley must make huge strides after allowing 47 points an outing last season against a tough schedule.


HIAWATHA won their first and last games of the year a season ago, but lost by at least 16 points or more in every other game. The Redhawks have a new coach for the third time in four years as Michael Downard takes over and was on staff previously. Like Royal Valley, Hiawatha does return at least seven starters on both sides of the football and has some varsity veterans like quarterback Tyler Brockoff and receiver Michael Moreno that can really put up some numbers. They need depth, especially in the backfield and some continuity while also making bigger strides on defense after surrendering nearly 40 points per game last season. 


RIVERSIDE has struggled to compete in the Big 7 winning just seven League games the last four years combined and none in 2018. After eight years, Scot Koranda is out and assistant Bryce Paden takes over in his first season as a varsity football head coach.  The Cyclones return a handful of starters on each side of the ball, but many athletes are changing positions this fall. Riverside is due for a healthy campaign and must find four new starters on the offensive line. The JV went 4-0 last year and a sophomore is the likely varsity starter at QB.        

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