By Joanna Chadwick
Derby’s defense gave up fewer than eight points a game in 2018 en route to the Class 6A championship. The Panthers only allowed more than 13 points twice.
Could the Panthers repeat such defensive feats?
Derby has given up 8.5 points per game and is 11-0 heading into Friday’s Class 6A semifinal game against visiting Topeka.
“We knew we would be pretty solid on defense,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said. “We thought it would take a lot of the season to get those guys ready for game speed. They stepped up by Game 1.
“In the first two weeks of preseason, kids were getting more and more comfortable with each other, trusting each other.”
Derby gave up 19 points to Garden City in the season opener, shut out Salina Central and Bishop Carroll in the regular season and then shut out Manhattan in the quarterfinals.
The Panthers give up an average of 65 rushing yards a game and have forced 30 turnovers.
The defense starts with senior Tyler Dorsey in the middle of the defensive line.
“There’s not too many centers in Kansas high school football that can block him one on one,” Clark said. “He’s demanded double and triple teams, which frees up the backers.”
Dorsey has a team-high 24 tackles for loss, has forced five fumbles and he and Seth Smith have seven sacks apiece. Dan Archer, Jack Hileman and Luke Stewart each have 11 tackles for loss.
There’s also Coleson Syring and Stewart on the edge who are fast, aggressive and fundamentally sound, Clark said.
“(Jack) Hileman in the middle reads the offensive line better than any linebacker we’ve had,” Clark said. “He’s in position before the play gets there.”
Brecken Kooser and Terry Ginyard shut down receivers at cornerback, while Tanner Knox is in the middle of the secondary focusing on the shutting down opponents’ run games.
Ginyard and Knox have three interceptions each.
“We put (Ginyard) on the No. 1 receiver every game,” Clark said. “He has matured so much, become a leader and he’s special for us on special teams. He’s one of our most improved players in all aspects of the game of football. He’s very key for us to have success.”
The offense has had its own stellar season.
The Panthers have scored 575 points (52.3 per game). They average 146 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 298.8 rushing yards with 52 touchdowns. They have 16 turnovers.
Senior running back Tre Washington has 1,334 rushing yards on 152 carries with 20 touchdowns. He rarely plays into the third quarter.
“He would probably have the most yards in the whole state if he wasn’t playing two quarters of ball, averaging about nine yards per carry — and a lot of teams are keying on him, too,” Clark said.
Junior Lem Wash, who has played at running back and wide receiver, is starting at quarterback in place of injured senior Grant Adler. Wash has 818 rushing yards on 70 carries with 637 passing yards. He has 30 total touchdowns.
“I’ve told everybody since the summer that I think we have two of the best quarterbacks in the state of Kansas,” Clark said. “We’ve found different spots for Lem … it’s not like he was taking his first varsity snaps when Grant went down. Each week he’s getting better, getting more confident with his reads and the game plan.”
It helps that Derby has a strong offensive line that includes Alex Conn, who committed to Nebraska.
Then there’s Kevin Washington at center.
“He’s one of the best offensive linemen that we’ve ever had at Derby,” Clark said. “He’s smart, he’s the leader on the offensive line, and he does a great job. He goes to battle every day against Tyler Dorsey.”