Preps notebook: Tonganoxie football having best season in program history
photo by: Shawn F. Linenberger/Tonganoxie Mirror
Tonganoxie senior Cooper Cunningham realized that this season would be special back in early June.
During a football camp at the University of Kansas, the Chieftains held their own against some quality programs. The two-day event featured a number of 6A and 5A teams, including squads that are still alive in the 2019 postseason.
Cunningham, who was actually sidelined with an injury, saw enough from his team to give him complete faith.
“I knew we had some good things coming,” Cunningham said. “We were physical, that’s what helped us going against some of the bigger teams. Their size was bigger, but we just had to be physical. We basically had to fly around and make plays.”
Tonganoxie has turned in its best campaign in program history, recording a double-digit win season for the first time ever. THS (10-0) claimed a regional title with a 45-24 win over Spring Hill last week.
But, in a lot of ways, the Chieftains’ success in 2019 goes all the way back to how 2018 ended. Tonganoxie wasn’t physical enough in a 35-13 season-ending defeat to Paola, which ended a promising season. THS finished with a 7-3 record after rattling off seven wins in a row before its loss to Paola.
This year’s senior class, which includes Cunningham, Connor Searcy and Cole Sample, decided then that the 2019 team would be the more physical squad on a weekly basis. As a result, many members of the program made a commitment to getting stronger in the weight room during the offseason.
“They are just hungry,” THS head coach Al Troyer said. “They had high expectations last year and they brought that into this year.”
For 10 consecutive weeks, the Chieftains have been the more physical team. They have outscored their opponents by a 447-106 margin this year, including a 94-24 edge in two postseason contests.
Cunningham has paced Tonganoxie’s dominant ground game, piling up 2,006 yards and 25 scores off 227 carries.
Junior quarterback Blake Poje has been effective through the air, tossing 1,681 yards and 18 scores. Senior receiver Elijah Tyner has 572 yards off 31 grabs, while junior Dallas Bond has netted 648 yards off 34 catches.
Searcy, meanwhile, leads the team with an average of 8.7 tackles per game on the defensive side of the ball.
“We were one of the smaller teams growing up and we have just had to battle against it,” Searcy said. “Now we have some size. I feel like we have something to prove and we are going to punish them until they quit.”
But now Tonganoxie is slated for its toughest test yet.
Despite being the top seed in the Class 4A playoffs, THS is embracing an underdog mindset when it hosts Bishop Miege during sectionals at 7 p.m. Friday. Bishop Miege (8-2), which is the fourth seed in the Class 4A East, has won five consecutive state titles.
“This whole town loves seeing our football team win,” Cunningham said. “To beat Miege, it would be a great accomplishment. We have worked so hard for the last four years to do something great.”
Young Kaws growing up during postseason run
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Despite having to replace a ton of production from last year’s team, Perry-Lecompton has netted its third seven-win season in a row. The Kaws (7-3) now have a chance to win more than seven games for the first time since 2008 when they host Prairie View (10-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 3A sectionals.
It marks the first time that Perry-Lecompton has advanced this far in the postseason since 2008, when the team fell in the state championship game.
“We are growing up,” PLHS head coach Mike Paramore said. “We knew this was a pretty young group. We are starting a lot of juniors. We have played pretty good football and got a good thing going here.”
But the idea of this type of postseason run seemed unlikely earlier in the season. PLHS dropped two of its first three games of the season, scoring a combined 28 points in the two losses. It wasn’t until mid-October when things really started to change for the Kaws.
Perry-Lecompton outlasted Hayden, a team that is now 9-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, in a 21-20 overtime victory on Oct. 18. PLHS scored all 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Running back Thad Metcalfe had to come in for William Welch at quarterback, and he threw two touchdowns in the win.
“I think it was momentous for our season,” Metcalfe said. “It changed our whole season, it changed our perspective. It just showed that we can play with anybody in the state.”
The Kaws are now on a four-game win streak and appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. Over the last four games, PLHS has outscored opponents by a 151-68 margin. Many players are understanding their role within the team as well.
Welch is 133-for-199 this season for 1,835 yards and 20 scores as the team’s starting quarterback. Metcalfe has accumulated 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns on 197 carries. Junior Hayden Robb is leading the defense with 117 total tackles.
In order to finally hit the eight-win mark in over a decade, Perry-Lecompton will have to knock off an undefeated squad. The Buffaloes have allowed a total of 70 points through 10 games, notching five shutouts in the process.
“I always love a challenge,” Metcalfe said. “Going out and proving people wrong is something I love to do.”
photo by: Contributed photo
Local athletes sign letters of intent
Many area athletes made their collegiate plans official during the early signing period this week.
A few city standouts signed national letters of intent to Division I programs. Lawrence High’s Mayson Quartlebaum inked his plans to play basketball at Kennesaw State. Free State senior Kaitlyn Hamilton signed her letter of intent to play volleyball at Indiana State. Ainsley Krug of FSHS girls swim signed with Missouri State.
In addition, five other local seniors signed their respective letters of intent this week. Karly Johnson of LHS will be playing softball at Emporia State. FSHS seniors Bailey Culbertson (Ottawa University) and Haley Lockwood-Peterson (Cottey College) also signed for softball.
FSHS senior Kennedy Birk is slated to compete in golf at Friends University, while Caely Kesten is officially heading to Northwest Missouri State after finishing her career with Free State girls basketball.