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Six-Player State Championship Preview

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By: KSHSAA COVERED STAFF

 

SIX-PLAYER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

CUNNINGHAM (11-1) VS. CHEYLIN (12-0)

Noon Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Dodge City

 

CHEYLIN AIMS FOR FIRST KSHSAA TITLE IN SCHOOL HISTORY

Three years ago, Cheylin capped an undefeated season by winning the Wild West Bowl, which served as the championship for six-man football before it was sanctioned by KSHSAA starting last year.

Cheylin coach Chris Walden expects his players to be just as fired up to go for a championship as his squad was back in 2020, but for Walden and the community, the opportunity to win a title this time around means even more.

“For our school and our community and for me personally, I’m a little more excited about this one than I was the one back in 2020 – mainly for our school,” Walden said. “We’ve never won a state championship in any KSHSAA-sanctioned sport or activity. Having that opportunity to go and try to win one now is a big deal for me as a Cheylin alum.

“From what I can tell the buzz is a little bit bigger this time and people are a little bit more excited about going to watch this one than they were in 2020.”

To make school history, the Cougars (12-0) will have to go through the reigning champs in Cunningham (11-1). Kickoff for the Six-Player championship has been moved up to noon on Saturday at Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.

Cheylin secured its spot in the title game with a 66-27 win over Ashland in the semifinals, beating the Blue Jays, state runners-up last year, for the second time this season.

Cheylin led Ashland 22-14 at halftime before pulling away in the second half behind big plays in the passing game.

“We stuck to our game plan and stuck to our guns,” Walden said.  “We were pretty sure that we were going to be able to throw the ball on them eventually, and that was what came to fruition in the second half. We wore them down with enough different looks out of our passing attack that we were able to start breaking some stuff deep.”

Logan McCarty, who was a freshman on the Cougars’ 2020 championship team along with other current seniors, threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the Ashland win. He’s completing just under 70% of passes and has thrown for 1,923 yards and 37 touchdowns with just one interception.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Walden said. “He’s really putting an emphasis on taking care of the ball and managing the game for us.”

Seniors Pablo Bermudez and Brady Ketzner are McCarty’s top targets. Bermudez has 32 catches for 852 yards and 18 touchdowns while Ketzner has made 29 grabs for 593 yards and eight touchdowns.

The toughest part of Cheylin’s schedule occurred early with back-to-back games against Ashland and Northern Valley in Week 3 and 4. The Cougars handled those tests and continued to cruise.

“We knew the first four games were going to be tough and they were going to be very important to get,” Walden said. “After that, our schedule really got easier and that’s where we started stressing to the kids: You need to be locked in and stay focused.”

Cunningham lost to Ashland 32-22 in the season opener and rematch of last year’s title game, but the Wildcats have dominated every game since. They responded to the loss by shutting out their next eight opponents and allowed just one touchdown each in playoff wins against Pawnee Heights and Tescott.

“They’ve very athletic,” Walden said of the Wildcats. “They run a lot of the same stuff we do, a lot of spread stuff. They’re going to get their playmakers the ball in the backfield and let them run or throw. Defensively, their pursuit to the ball is crazy.

“The one thing that really stands out is the culture that coach (Lance) McGuire has going on there. They’re pretty confident in what they’re doing and to get to this point in the season you have to be. I feel like he’s got them convinced that they’re the team to beat, and, in my opinion, they still are.

“They have the best defense in that state so we’re going to have to really be on our A game to execute and take care of the ball. That will be the main difference.”

CHEYLIN COUGARS (12-0)

COACH: Chris Walden (7th year, 55-20)

STATE FINALS HISTORY: 1 state title – 2020 (6M)*

2023 RESULTS

W,50-0 Cheyenne Wells, Colo.
W,47-0 at Weskan
W,62-32 at Ashland
W,54-6 Northern Valley
W,68-0 at Tribune-Greeley County
W,84-0 Western Plains
W,66-0 at Triplains-Brewster
W,72-6 Golden Plains
Playoff bye
W,80-0 Tribune-Greeley County (P)
W,54-8 at Ingalls (P)
W,66-27 Ashland (P)

2023 STATISTICS

TEAM

Points scored: 703 (63.9 per game)

Points allowed: 79 (7.2 per game)

Total offense: 3,940 yards (358.2 per game)

Rushing: 1,799 yards (163.5 yards per game), 42 TDs

Passing: 2,141 yards (194.6 yards per game), 40 TDs, 1 INT

INDIVIDUAL

Rushing: Logan McCarty (sr.) 82 carries, 930 yards, 17 TDs; Pablo Bermudez (sr.) 59 carries, 605 yards, 16 TDs; Brady Ketzner (sr.) 16 carries, 138 yards, 5 TDs.

Passing: Logan McCarty (sr.) 88 of 130, 1,923 yards, 37 TDs, 1 INT.

Receiving: Pablo Bermudez (sr.) 32 catches, 852 yards, 18 TDs; Brady Ketzner (sr.) 29 catches, 593 yards, 8 TDs; Harley McPherson (jr.) 11 catches, 219 yards, 5 TDs; John Paul Sabatka (jr.) 6 catches, 137 yards, 5 TDs; Victor Hernandez (sr.) 8 catches, 131 yards, 2 TDs.

Tackles: Brady Ketzner (sr.) 83 tackles (58 solo), 12 tackles for loss; Logan McCarty (sr.) 74 tackles (58 solo), 15 tackles for loss, 3 sacks; Pablo Bermudez (sr.) 65 tackles (48 solo), 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks; John Paul Sabatka (jr.) 52 tackles (35 solo), 5 tackles for loss,2 sacks; Harley McPherson (jr.) 42 tackles (22 solo), 2 tackles for loss; Eduardo Baca (sr.) 32 tackles (9 solo), 3 tackles for loss.

Takeaways: Logan McCarty (sr.) 6 INTs (1 TD), 3 fumble recoveries (1 TD); Pablo Bermudez (sr.) 8 fumble recoveries (4 TDs), 1 INT (1 TD); Harley McPherson (jr.) 3 INTs (1 TD), 2 fumble recoveries; Eduardo Baca (sr.) 6 fumble recoveries (1 TD); Brady Ketzner (sr.) 3 fumble recoveries, 1 INT (1 TD); Victor Hernandez (sr.) 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery.

Kicking: Logan McCarty (sr.) 59 of 78 PATs.

 

SHUTDOWN DEFENSE HELPS FUELS CUNNINGHAM’S REPEAT BID 

After dropping its season opener to Ashland in a rematch of last year’s Six-Player championship game, Cunningham responded by putting together a streak of shutouts that lasted for over two months of the season.

The Wildcats blanked eight straight opponents – Moscow, Chase, Tescott, Pawnee Heights, Southern Coffey County, Burrton, Southern Cloud and Centre – before seeing the streak finally end in a 70-6 win against Pawnee Heights two weeks ago when the Tigers took a kickoff to the house.

“We had subbed one or two guys on kickoff,” Cunningham coach Lance McGuire said. “Some of those younger guys, their heads were hanging like we lost the game. They knew what that meant, but the older guys didn’t jump on them and we figured with the last couple of games here it probably wouldn’t have lasted anyways.”

Indeed, Cunningham’s defense surrendered a touchdown in last week’s 45-6 semifinal win over Tescott.

Still, the reigning-champion Wildcats took immense pride in maintaining the remarkable scoreless streak for as long as they did.

“It mattered a lot,” McGuire said. “Defense matters to our guys. We’re a little bit old school.”

Cunningham (11-1) will look to defend its state championship against Cheylin (12-0) at noon on Saturday at Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.

The Wildcats have outscored opponents by a 586-44 margin, with 32 of the points coming in the season-opening 10-point loss to Ashland.

“We didn’t play bad, we just didn’t play good enough, and Ashland is a good team,” McGuire said. “I feel like we’ve gotten better (at correcting) those little things, those sloppy things like turnovers. We’ve jelled better as this season has gone on.”

Cunningham had to adjust to losing a couple key pieces off last year’s title team, including quarterback Trey Deweese and top receiver Lane Halderson.

But the Wildcats brought back plenty of offensive production. Will Wegerer (794 passing yards, 20 touchdowns) and Luke McGuire (503 yards, 10 touchdowns) are Cunningham’s top two passers. Luke Albers has made a team-high 32 catches for 476 yards and nine touchdowns.

Cunningham also has a weapon in the kicking game with Dagim Reed (2 of 2 field goals, 34 of 41 PATs).

On defense, six different players have recorded interceptions, with Albers coming away with seven picks and McGuire five. The Wildcats’ leading tacklers are Trent Schnittker (50), Dylan Halderson (49) and Jack Ruckle (49).

The defense has done its part in putting up points as well, scoring 13 total touchdowns, including 11 pick sixes. In fact, Cunningham’s defense has outscored the Wildcats’ opponents’ offenses this season.

McGuire said he’s been pleased with how the Wildcats have responded to the high expectations after last year’s title.

“I was concerned that we might lose a little bit of an edge, and I don’t think we did,” he said.

McGuire said he doesn’t see many weaknesses in Cheylin, led by the trio of Logan McCarty, Pablo Bermudez and Brady Ketzner.

“They’re the real deal,” he said of the Cougars. “They are going to be the best team we’ve seen all year. They just do everything right. They’re in the right place. Every corner of the field is open for them on offense and they just don’t give up much on defense. Everything is a battle.”

Counting the 2021 runner-up showing in the Wild West Bowl, the Wildcats have appeared in three straight title games.

“The fan base and the school is very, very excited about this, being back (in the title game),” McGuire said. “It’s not lost on me that this just doesn’t happen very often.”

 

CUNNINGHAM WILDCATS (11-1)

COACH: Lance McGuire (18th year, 64-64 in 13 non-co-op seasons)

STATE FINALS HISTORY: 1 state title – 2022 (6M); 1 runner-up finish – 2021 (6M)*

2023 RESULTS

L,32-22 Ashland
W,53-0 at Moscow
W,48-0 at Chase
W,50-0 Tescott
W,52-0 Pawnee Heights
W,52-0 at Southern Coffey County
W,68-0 at Burrton
W,60-0 Southern Cloud
Playoff bye
W,66-0 Centre (P)
W,70-6 Pawnee Heights (P)
W,52-6 Tescott (P)

2023 STATISTICS

TEAM

Points scored: 592 (53.8 per game)

Points allowed: 44 (4.0 per game)

Total offense: 2,007 yards (182.5 per game)

Rushing: 686 yards (62.4 per game), 26 TDs

Passing: 1,321 yards (120.1 per game) 30 TDs, 1 INT

INDIVIDUAL

Rushing: Layne Green (fr.) 32 carries, 246 yards, 11 TDs; Luke McGuire (sr.) 18 carries, 145 yards, 2 TDs; Kollin Fischer (fr.) 24 carries, 133 yards, 2 TDs; Jack Ruckle (sr.) 15 carries, 103 yards, 8 TDs.

Passing: Will Wegerer (jr.) 40 of 56, 794 yards, 20 TDs, 0 INT; Luke McGuire (sr.) 34 of 55, 503 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT.

Receiving: Luke Albers (jr.) 32 catches, 476 yards, 9 TDs; Skyler Thimesch (so.) 12 catches, 199 yards, 6 TDs; Luke McGuire (sr.) 5 catches, 124 yards, 4 TDs; Trent Schnittker (jr.) 4 catches, 90 yards, 2 TDs; Dylan Halderson (so.) 4 catches, 83 yards, 4 TDs.

Tackles: Trent Schnittker (jr.) 50 tackles (16 solo), 3 tackles for loss; Dylan Halderson (so.) 49 tackles (24 solo), 2 tackles for loss; Jack Ruckle (sr.) 49 tackles (18 solo), 5 tackles for loss; Skyler Kerschen (fr.) 29 tackles (19 solo); Dagim Reed (jr.) 29 tackles (16 solo), 2 tackles for loss; Luke Albers (28 tackles (19 solo), 2 tackles for loss; Skyler Thimesch (so.) 25 tackles (13 solo); Luke McGuire (sr.) 22 tackles (13 solo).

Takeaways: Luke Albers (jr.) 7 INTs (4 TDs); Luke McGuire (sr.) 5 INTs (2 TDs), 1 fumble recovery; Dagim Reed (jr.) 2 INTS, 1 fumble recovery; Dylan Halderson (so.) 2 INTs (2 TDs), 1 fumble recovery (1 TD); Skyler Kerschen (fr.) 2 fumble recoveries, 1 INT (1 TD); Skyler Thimesch (so.) 2 fumble recoveries (1 TD), 1 INT (1 TD); Trent Schnittker (jr.) 2 fumble recoveries.

Kicking: Dagim Reed (jr.) 2 of 2 FGs, 34 of 41 PATs; Layne Green (fr.) 14 of 19 PATs.

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