Class 4A championship football preview: Andover Central vs. St. James Academy

By Blake Chadwick

Who: Andover Central (11-1) vs St. James Academy

When: 1 p.m., Saturday

Where: Hutchinson Community College 

Overview:

  • St. James looks to go back-to-back after last year’s win against Arkansas City in the championship.
  • With their second appearance in three years in the championship, Andover Central looks to get over the hump for its first title. 

Andover Central Jaguars

Coach Derek Tuttle

Key players

QB Kai Kunz, senior, 6-2, 182 pounds (1865 passing yards, 18 touchdowns/4 interceptions, 546 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns)

RB Ashton Barkdull, senior, 6-1, 184 pounds (186 rushes, 1143 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns)

WR Cooper Tabor, junior, 5-6, 146 pounds (55 receptions, 821 yards and 8 touchdowns)

WR Brock Stupka, senior, 6-1, 159 pounds (27 receptions, 507 yards and 6 touchdowns)

LB Kamden Wilson, senior, 5-11, 197 pounds (57 total tackles)

DE Isaac Sheeran, senior 6-4, 210 pounds (45 total tackles)

DB Noah Garcia, senior, 5-10, 161 pounds (61 total tackles)

What makes your team special?

“Our big guys up front on both sides of the ball have been prominent in our success this year. Also, we’ve put a huge priority on weekly improvement, and our team really bought into that. I credit our players for stepping up to the challenges, our seniors for their leadership, and our assistant coaches for preparing our kids very well.”

Who have been key players for you this season?

“Defense: Kamden Wilson, Isaac Sheeran, Drew Daniels, Dylan Savage, Noah Garcia. Offense: Kai Kunz, Ashton Barkdull, Cooper Tabor, Brock Stupka. Special teams: Kicker/punter Isaac Saye.”

Have any players been a surprise?

“Defense: Jackson Rees, Nate Peak (lots of tackles at LB), Mason White (really stepped up as a key DB), Brock Stupka (several INTs late in the year). Offense: Jackson Rees (did well at RB when Barkdull was injured), Evan Ek (solid job at WR). Special teams: Kyle Newsom.”

What got your team into the state championship game? 

“The players’ energy level and level of execution in the playoffs have been key for our team. We’re playing our best football in November, and that’s what we prepared to do.”

What does your team need to do in order to win the state championship game? 

“We must play better than last week. Our offense must consistently move the chains, and our defense must defend the passing game better than last week. SJA presents some tremendous challenges in all phases of the game. They are very well coached, and their kids are smart, tough players.”

 

St. James Academy Thunder

Coach Tom Radke

Key players

WR Tyler Claiborne, senior, 6-3, 191 pounds (78 receptions, 987 yards 13 receiving and 4 rushing touchdowns) 

WR John Niesen, junior, 6-3, 188 pounds (60 receptions for 1,222 yds and 8 touchdowns) 

QB Jackson House, junior, 6-1, 181 pounds (2,607 passing yards and 23 touchdowns/4 interceptions and 136 rushes for 737 yards)

RB Tiave Watts, senior, 5-9, 156 pounds (165 rushes for 872 yards and 11 touchdowns

OL Josh Bichelmeyer, senior, 6-3, 260 pounds

OL WIll Golomoski, junior, 6-3, 241 pounds

OL Spencer Schuetz, sophomore, 6-2, 272 pounds

K Macolm Russell, sophomore, 5-10, 174 pounds (44/47 PAT, 7/9/ FG, long of 41)

DL Wade Spencer, junior 6-0, 231 pounds (74 tackles, 58 solo. 21 TFL, 12.5 Sacks. 1 FF) 

ILB Aidan Janatello, senior, 5-10, 189 pounds (103 tackles, 68 solo, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PD)

FS Holden Artzer, senior, 5-10, 168 pounds (54 tackles, 45 solo, 3 TFL, 6 INT, 12 PD)

OLB Blake Boydston, junior, 6-0, 174 pounds (50 tackles, 35 solo, 5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR)

ILB Spencer Dohm, sophomore, 5-10, 209 pounds (83 tackles, 56 solo, 11 TFL, 8 sacks.)

DE Jayden Mabion, junior, 6-3, 191 pounds, (39 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR)

CB Tre’ Clark, senior 6-0, 161 pounds (69 tackles, 2 INT, 12 PD, 1 FR)

CB Josh Boone, junior, 5-8, 161 pounds (34 tackles, 4 PD)

What makes your team special?

“I would say our team chemistry. After starting 0-4, our eight seniors, who have become great leaders, could have cashed it in, but they believed in the coaches, the program and each other. They had faith that we had a good team, young, but a good team that had to grow through the early struggles. We talk about it often, “Keep the Main Thing (God), the Main Thing.” We aren’t just chasing victories, we are chasing and working on getting each other to heaven! That is what makes this team, school and this program special.  We have a bunch of hard working, dedicated, smart young men who believe in each other, believe in their coaches and believe in our mission as a school.”

Who have been key players for you this season?

“On offense, I have to start with senior WR Ty Claiborne. He is the glue to this offense. He has pushed everyone on this team to be better versions of themselves and especially football players. Junior John Niesen has had a tremendous season with great numbers and is a great athlete, but Ty is the one who has shaped his work ethic and raised his standard for excellence. Ty and John together with the receiving core of Callahan Huston, Finn Burritt and Ben Wheeler have had a great season due to the emergence of junior Jackson House (who’s dad is the KC Chiefs LB coach). Every day Jackson brings energy to the offense and is extremely accurate. He is a tenacious worker and is always striving for perfection. The offensive line has been huge for us all year, led by senior Josh Bichelmeyer. We have a young crew up front but Coach Pekarek has molded that group into a cohesive team. Josh’s younger brother Jack, junior Will Golomski, junior J.P. Conley and sophomore Spencer Schutz round out the boys up front. 

“On defense, when we moved senior Aiden Janatello to LB our season turned around. Aiden started the year at SS, and played there last year, but his speed and awareness of the game helped transform our defense mid year. His ability to cover multiple gaps has really helped sophomore rising star ILB Spencer Dohm (SJA basketball coach’s kid) settle into his position. And on the outside we have been saved many times by the cool, smart play of junior Blake Boydston. He doesn’t always make flashy plays, but he always does his job. Junior Wade Spencer has been a force to reckon with all year, and most teams have not slowed him down. He has tremendous energy and will to get to the ball. On the back end senior Holden Artzer with his 7 INT’s this year has been a tremendous leader along with senior corner Tre Clark. Holden is a great communicator and sees that game at a different level. Along with Holden and Tre, juniors Josh Boone and Andrew Holton have proven to be good young defenders.”

Have any players been a surprise?

“The big surprise of the season has got to be senior running back Tiave Watts. You can’t replace a player like Jimmy White (4A player of the year in 2020), but Tiave has been the piece that has made this offense go this year. He may not be the biggest back, but he is so quick, fast and slippery that he has made many tacklers miss this year. I am really proud of Tiave! Also, the emergence of John Niesen at receiver has been tremendous. He is long, has great hands and is a great competitor. Our junior kicker Malcolm Russel has to be mentioned in the surprises of the season. He stepped up in this role and has made some HUGE kicks for us this season. He is a quiet kid, but his calm demeanor has proven to be a great asset to him and our team this year.  On defense the emergence of senior DE Charlie Reece and juniors Nick McDermet and Jayden Mabion on the line have been a big reason why our defense has had a great second half of the season. But you can’t talk about our DL without talking about our farm boy sophomore Braxton Guetterman who has been a problem for many teams this year. “

What got your team into the state championship game?

“What has gotten this team to the state championship game is our balance and depth. We don’t have anyone going both ways and when we go best on best in practice it is like watching a game on Friday night. These boys compete hard, all the time. When you play in the EKL you need to bring it every single play. Because of the way we practice, when we get to Friday night we are ready to take on anyone. On offense we have good balance with the big play capability from Claiborne and Niesen complimented with the run game from Watts and House. We have a relentless defense that compliments itself with good tackling and creating turnovers. Our special teams have been consistent and have come up big in many of our games.”

What does your team need to do in order to win the state championship game?

“A lot of the same old coach speak is what is going to help us win the state championship for the second year in a row. We need to win the turnover battle, we need to put pressure on their offense by putting points on the board early. We need to continue to be great tacklers and force them into third and long situations. But, mainly we just need to focus on ourselves. We need to focus on being who we are and not worry about what or who we are going against. We have said it many times this season: we are playing nameless faceless opponents. Just be St. James Academy and hit hard, play fast and finish.”