By Joanna Chadwick
The Wichita Eagle
I had a tough decision to make this week, namely, which season opener would I go to on Friday night?
Would it be Heights (No. 5 in 6A) at Carroll (No. 2 in 5A) or Salina South (No. 1 in 5A) at Derby (No. 1 in 6A) or Andale (No. 2 in 4A) at Collegiate?
Decisions, decisions. But I can’t go wrong, right?
All three matchups are outstanding.
Let’s break them down a bit.
Heights at Carroll
This is one of those matchups you have to love. The last four meetings have been blowouts. Carroll beat Heights 47-16 in 2012, en route to the Class 6A title. Heights beat Carroll 45-14 in 2011 on its way to its third straight trip to the 6A title game. Heights beat Carroll 21-0 in 2010 and went on to win the 6A title. Carroll won 28-0 in 2009, Heights won 24-21 in 2008, Carroll won 28-21 in double OT in 2007.
I’m banking on a closer game this season. That Carroll team of 2012 was special: talented and experienced. I do think Carroll will just reload and will rely heavily on its backs, Tory Smith and Denzel Goolsby. But Heights is much improved over 2012′s 7-3 season, with an experienced cast that includes Aderio Ammons defensively, and Curtis Whitten and Tre King on offense.
I’ll take Carroll by 3.
Salina South at Derby
These are two special teams right here. To me, Salina South looks to have the kind of team that it lost to in the 5A semifinals in 2012, Bishop Carroll. There’s 15 starters back, including QB Justin Stonebraker (873 passing yards,. 806 rushing) and RB Mike Jones (1,781 rushing, 17 TDs). Cade Calvert (103 tackles, 6 INTs), Dalton Harman (98 tackles, 7 for loss) also are back.
This is a team with big offensive lines and defensive lines.
But Derby is a special team, too. There is so much talent here, starting with TE DeAndre Goolsby, who is highly recruited, and DB Travis Young, RB Tyler West, OL Cole Hansen (Air Force commit), OL Tanner Anderson, DE Caleb Arnold (transfer from Garden Plain), LB Jose Delgado. All have or should get D-1 offers.
Derby is more than a team with a lot of college talent. This team is experienced. First-year starting QB Jeremy Dunham played in key games as a sophomore due to injuries. Many of the Panthers were keys as sophomores. And Derby has played in the past two 6A semifinals and four of the past five.
I’ll take Derby by 7.
Andale at Collegiate
It’s difficult to imagine an Andale team that has struggled in recent seasons, but Andale was 5-6 in 2011 before returning to form (9-2) last season. The last time Andale had only won five games was 2001.
Andale is a team to beat once again with QB Jared Smarsh and RB Hunter Knoblauch the players to watch. The thing about Andale is, they’re consistent, well-coached, tough and deep. This team won’t be about a few players. It’s about the offensive line that includes Trevor Buckner, Ben Walther, Mike Maus, Nathan Bergkamp. It’s about a defense that includes most of those same guys, and Logan Horsch.
But Collegiate is a formidable opponent, as well, even though it took a hit with the graduation of key players, including Markus Phox. Back is QB Landon Root, who at 6-3, 200 and a Northern Illinois commit, is tough to stop on the run and on the pass. Throw in the late transfer of Bret Waddell at wide receiver, and that offense is even tougher. The defense will be tough, as well, with Mitch Copeland, Seth Carder and Kyler Ehm.
I’ll take Andale by 3.