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Move the chains: Chris Duderstadt 10/25

I know that I’m far from alone with being very excited for the playoffs to get underway this week on the Kansas side. I’ve been fortunate to cover instant classics—Olathe North at Mill Valley and Bishop Miege at Blue Valley Northwest—the past two weeks that have felt like state title games. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if any of those teams win state titles, but there are several other teams that I can say the same thing about. Here’s my 4A-6A East playoff preview.

Class 4A
To say this is a wild bracket is an understatement. Back-to-back defending state champion St. James is the No. 10 seed and is playing a very good Basehor-Linwood squad in the first round. This should be a game that’s played a couple of weeks from now, but instead it will be one of the marquee matchups of the first round. And then the winner of that game will likely face an undefeated Atchison squad. I think St. James will make it through to the sectional round, but the Thunder will have to earn it.

Also, in the bottom half of the 4A East bracket is No. 6 seeded St. Thomas Aquinas. The Saints started off 3-0 before falling to St. James, 24-20, in Week 4. Aquinas then lost to Rockhurst before earning a comeback win over Miege (more on the Stags in a bit). The Saints finished 6-2 overall and 6-1 in Eastern Kansas League play.

I think the Saints will upend Paola in the first round and then likely go up against No. 3 seeded Louisburg. The Wildcats have had a stellar season and are on a seven-game winning streak. Their lone loss came to Rogers Heritage (Arkansas) in Week 1. Louisburg’s most thrilling game of the regular season was a 28-27 overtime win over Eudora in Week 5. They then shut out Tonganoxie and Ottawa before edging Spring Hill on Friday.

Louisburg against Aquinas would be a pretty fun second round game that also should be a round or two later. I’m giving a slight edge to the Saints, mainly due to being a little bit more battle tested in the EKL.

In the regular season matchup between the Saints and Thunder, Aquinas possessed the ball for 33:10 compared to just 10:13 for St. James. However, the Thunder won the turnover battle, 2-0. St. James will need to get off to a fast start in this one because trying to mount a comeback against the Saints can be extremely tough when they get the run game going. I feel like if the Saints and Thunder played 10 times that each time would win five. I’m taking Aquinas to win a close one, but if the Thunder can force a couple of turnovers again, I really like their chances.

There’s also an EKL team in the top half of the 4A East bracket in No. 5-seeded Miege. I like the Stags’ draw simply because they don’t have to see Aquinas or St. James until the sub-state round, but that doesn’t mean they have a cake walk ahead of them by any means. I think the Stags will get past Ottawa in the first round, but then they’ll likely get an extremely tough test against No. 4 seeded Eudora. That would be a rematch from the 2021 sectional round, which Miege won, 21-6.

Eudora’s lone loss was the overtime setback against Louisburg. The Cardinals have allowed 10 points or less in six of their games, so their defense has proven to be one of the best in the state. The same can also be said about Miege’s offense. Something will have to give. I’m taking Miege to advance, but the Cardinals will give the Stags all they want and then some.

Chanute is the top seed in the 4A East after finishing the regular season 8-0. I doubt Chanute will have much of an issue getting past Schlagle in the first round. The Blue Comets would then take on the winner of Piper and Tonganoxie. Chanute upended Tongie, 41-17, back in Week 3. I think Piper and Tongie will be a very tight No. 8/No. 9 matchup. I’m going to take Chanute to move on to the sectional round, but the Blue Comets can’t afford to look ahead to possibly playing a team like Miege or Eudora because Piper and Tongie are both good enough to make them pay for doing that.

I really think that Miege and Eudora should be at least a sectional round matchup because I like either team’s chances of handing Chanute its first loss. I’m going with a Miege vs. Aquinas sub-state showdown. Aquinas edged the Stags, 29-26, after overcoming a 20-0 deficit with a 22-point fourth quarter. This should be another good one, but I’m going with the Stags to make it to their first state title game since 2019. The Stags are my pick to win it all in 4A.

Class 5A
Some of the best football games I’ve covered in recent years have been the playoff showdowns between Mill Valley and Aquinas, most of which have been in the sub-state round. With Aquinas now in 4A, we unfortunately won’t get to see another great game between the Saints and Jaguars this postseason.

The Jaguars are three-time defending 5A state champions and the No. 1 seed in the 5A East. They finished the regular season at 7-1 with their lone loss coming to Olathe North. Mill Valley had control in that one until the Eagles had pick sixes on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter to edge the Jaguars, 20-16.

I think the path to a title in the 4A East is a bit tougher than in the 5A East, but let’s look at some of the other top contenders in 5A along with Mill Valley.

Mill Valley will play Harmon in the first round. I don’t think there will be any upset alerts in this one. The No. 8/No. 9 matchup has Shawnee Heights taking on Lansing. These two teams look very evenly matched on paper, but Mill Valley should take care of business against either team in the second round.

No. 5-seeded Pittsburg is the team I have Mill Valley playing in the sectional round. I believe that Pittsburg will defeat Washington before most likely taking down Sumner in the regional round. The Dragons opened the season with back-to-back losses against Emporia and Chanute but have now won five of their last six. Still, I think the Dragons’ playoff run will end against Mill Valley.

Highlighting the bottom of the 5A East bracket is the other USD 232 high school, De Soto. The Wildcats earned the No. 2 seed with a 7-1 record. De Soto is riding a six-game winning streak following their Week 2 28-21 loss to Washburn Rural. The Wildcats have also pushed Mill Valley to the brink in the postseason in recent years. Mill Valley edged De Soto, 16-13, in the 2020 sectionals and 18-7 in the 2019 sectionals. I think the odds are good that the Wildcats will get another chance at the Jaguars, but this time it will be with a trip to state on the line.

De Soto should make quick work of Turner before facing the winner of Spring Hill and Leavenworth in the regional round. I like Spring Hill in that No. 7/No. 10 matchup. The Broncos rattled off wins against Ottawa, Paola and Fort Scott in the second half of the regular season before losing to Louisburg by a field goal in Week 8. I think De Soto moves on with a win over Spring Hill, but they can’t afford to take the Broncos lightly.

The lone EKL team in 5A, Blue Valley Southwest, is also at the bottom of the 5A East bracket. The No. 11-seeded Timberwolves are 3-5, but they’ve made of a habit of making deep postseason runs the past few years. I think it could happen again in 2022 as well. I think Blue Valley Southwest will earn a road win over Topeka Seaman in Week 9 before likely taking on No. 3-seeded Topeka Highland Park. I think the Scots are easily one of the best stories of the 2022 season with their 6-2 record. Their season-opening win over Wyandotte snapped a 65-game losing streak that went by to 2014. If the Scots do upend Emporia in the first round, I think their historic season will come to an end in the regional round against Blue Valley Southwest.

That would pit Blue Valley Southwest and De Soto against each other in the sectional round. I’m surprised that the Timberwolves and Wildcats haven’t met in the playoffs since De Soto moved up to 5A in 2018. This has the making to be one of the best playoff games in the 5A East if it happens. I’m taking De Soto in a tight one to set up another matchup with Mill Valley.

The Jaguars are my pick to win the 5A East, but I think De Soto will make things interesting again. I think that Mill Valley will meet Maize in the 5A state title game. K-State commit and Maize quarterback Avery Johnson has had an incredible season, but I think Mill Valley’s defense will be up for the challenge. I’m picking the Jaguars to win their fourth straight state title.

Class 6A
The 6A East is extremely balanced, so this should be one of the most intriguing brackets to keep tabs on. For instance, No. 14-seeded Blue Valley North was 0-7 going into its regular season finale against St. James. The Mustangs edged the Thunder, 25-20, and will now get a playoff rematch against Olathe South in the first round. The Falcons upset the Mustangs, 17-13, in the first-round last year, so BV North will no doubt be looking for some revenge.

I’ll get back to the Mustangs and Falcons momentarily, but I want to start at the top of the bracket with No. 1-seeded Olathe North. The Eagles were 7-0 after rallying past Mill Valley, but Free State handed Olathe North its first loss of the season on Friday. Free State is the No. 9 seed in the 6A West, so that helps to show how deep the 6A West is as well.

The Eagles earned the No. 1 seed largely because of the play of their defense for most of the season. They allowed 16 points or less in six of their eight games but did give up 31 against Free State on Friday. Olathe North shouldn’t have any problem with getting back on track in the playoffs with a Week 9 matchup against Shawnee Mission West.

They would then face the winner of Blue Valley West and Shawnee Mission Northwest, which I think are both much better than their 3-5 records. Shawnee Mission Northwest scored the most points against Olathe North this season in a 49-35 loss back in Week 2. For Blue Valley West, three of their five losses have been by seven points or less. The Jaguars enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak, but I think they’ll be able to outlast the Cougars in a high-scoring affair. However, I think Olathe North’s defense will power the Eagles past the Jaguars or Cougars.

At 5-3, Gardner-Edgerton is the No. 2 seed. Two of the Trailblazers’ three losses came against top seeds (Mill Valley and Olathe North), and the other was a one-point loss to Olathe South last week. The Trailblazers have logged quality wins over Olathe West and Lawrence and should coast past Shawnee Mission East in the first round.

Gardner-Edgerton will likely go up against Blue Valley Northwest in the regional round (if the Huskies can handle Olathe East). The Huskies have won three straight, including the 28-21 thriller over Miege on Friday. Blue Valley Northwest and Gardner-Edgerton should be a great game as well. I’m going to give a very slight edge to the defending state champion Huskies.

That would set up a sectional matchup between Blue Valley Northwest and Olathe North that would have the making of one of the best games of the postseason. I expect this one to a be defensive battle that comes down to the wire. I’m going to take the Eagles, but this is another one where I think each time would win five times if they played 10 games.

Now, to the bottom half of the 6A East bracket. It begins with No. 2-seeded Olathe West taking on Shawnee Mission South. I think the Owls will roll past the Raiders and move on to play the winner of Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission North. SM North won its first two games before dropping its last six—two of which were in overtime. I think the Bison are better than their 2-6 record, but Blue Valley should advance.

I’m torn on who to pick between Blue Valley and Olathe West. It should be one of many great second round games in the 6A East. The Owls are on a five-game winning streak after starting 1-2. I think they’ll stay hot and earn a spot in the sectional round.

Now, let’s circle back to Olathe South against BV North. I think this could be another case of a rugged EKL schedule finally paying off in the playoffs. This should be one of the best first round matchups, and I’m going to take the Mustangs to pull off the upset.

The Mustangs would then play the winner of Olathe Northwest and Wyandotte. I’m taking the Ravens to push their winning streak to five with a victory over Wyandotte but have them falling to the Mustangs in the sectional round.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Mustangs’ Cinderella run continue with a win over Olathe West, but I’m taking the Owls in another tight one. That would pit the Owls against the Eagles in a rivalry matchup in 6A East sub-state title game. I think the stout defense of Olathe North will do enough to slow down the high-powered offense of Olathe West to send the Eagles to state for the second time in three years.

As I mentioned earlier, the 6A West is loaded as well. Manhattan is undefeated and owns the top seed, but I can’t imagine they’re thrilled about possibly having to face a red-hot Free State team in the second round.

Derby is the No. 2 seed and probably feels the same way about a potential second round matchup against Lawrence. I am going to take Derby to win the 6A West, though, which would mean a rematch of the 2020 title game. I’m picking Derby to win it all, but if I also thought Derby would beat BV Northwest in last year’s title game, which the Huskies won in dominant fashion.

That’s the best thing about sports is that none of my picks matter at all because anything can happen in the postseason. I was reminded of that in the spring when I picked Kentucky to win it all in March Madness and then lost in the first round to St. Peter’s. So, if I picked against your team, don’t take it personally because my Kansas playoff brackets could also very easily go up in flames. Either way, I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds and wish the best to every team as the postseason begins.