State Champ Natoma Part of Newly-Expanded 6-Man Football Division
WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - For the first time ever, the state of Kansas will crown a 6-man state football champion. Well, sort of. Natoma won last year’s Wild West Bowl in Dodge City to become the non-KSHSAA 6-man state champion. Last September, the Kansas State High School Activities Association voted to move 6-man football under its umbrella. This fall, 26 schools will duke it out for the first ever KSHSAA-sanctioned title.
To qualify for 6-man football, enrollment for grades 9-11 at those schools must fall between 19 and 55 students. Last year, 14 teams played in the non-KSHSAA competitions. Twelve more schools, all from last year’s 8-man ranks, join the classification this fall, many after forfeiting games or playing 6-man games due to low numbers.
Ingalls and Burrton are the only two schools with more than 50 students in grades 9-11 enrolled. Five of the schools have fewer than 30 students enrolled, including Rolla, the smallest with just 23 students in those classes.
Natoma is one of those smaller schools, but the Tigers took an unbeaten record into last year’s championship game against unbeaten Cunningham, beating the Wildcats 60-12. If one or two players can make a difference in the 8-man game, a star or two is all the difference in the 6-man game.
Natoma loses quarterback Kayden Martinez, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 37 touchdowns, and threw for 450 yards and five more scores. Derek George and Tracen Frye also graduated after putting up big numbers.
Senior Javon Letsch returns after catching 16 balls for 303 yards and five scores.
Cunningham becomes a favorite to make it back to the title game after graduating no seniors. Prior to the title game, the Wildcats had allowed more than 20 points in the high-scoring 6-man game just twice. The offense, meanwhile, piled up at least 55 points in seven of its 10 games on the season.
Senior Trey DeWeese and junior Luke McGuire split quarterbacking duties last year, each throwing for more than 700 yards and splitting 37 touchdowns. McGuire did it with his feet as well, rushing for 690 yards and 11 scores. Sophomore Lucas Hageman also returns as a threat out of the backfield.
Rozel’s Pawnee Heights has been a mainstay in the 6-man playoff bracket, winning the title in 2017. Last year the Tigers went just 3-6 but three of those losses came against Cunningham, Natoma, and Moscow, another perennial power, in the final four weeks of the season.
Heights used three quarterbacks in 2021, and two of those players have graduated, including big-man Braden Colglazier, who put up more than 1,100 yards of total offense. Senior Alec Carlson returns as one of 6-man’s top athletes.
Up in the northwest corner of the state, Bird City’s Cheylin Cougars made the title games in 2019 and 2020, winning it all in 2020. The Cougars also get back one of 6-man’s top athletes in junior quarterback Logan McCarty, who accounted for nearly 1,900 yards of offense last year. Most of that damage came in the air. He gets back all of his receivers, including five with at least 12 catches and 160 yards in 2021.
Ashland and Almena’s Northern Valley were the other two semifinalists last year. Ashland defeated the Huskies 39-38 in the third-place game in Dodge City. Northern Valley will look to remain competitive after posting seven wins.
Ashland should remain in the mix with junior Britt Grigsby back in the mix. The Blue Jay threw for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore and rushed for more than 250 yards. Ashland gets back plenty of experience in the backfield, led by junior Landen McPhail, who rushed for 700 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior Jose Amaya, junior Kale Harris, and sophomore Lathan McPhail each rushed for more than 200 yards.
Chase moves down to the 6-man game. After back-to-back 9-0 regular seasons in 2014 and 2015, the Kats fell under harder times in more recent seasons with just one win over the past two autumns.
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