Andover Central Jaguars football advances to the Class 4A State Championship for the second time in three years

Greg Williams
Butler County Times Gazette
Andover Central's Isaac Sheeran lifts the 4A sub-state trophy above his head and celebrates with his teammates on Friday, Nov. 19 at Buhler High School in Buhler, Kansas. Central beat Buhler, 42-21, to advance to the Class 4A state championship game on Saturday, Nov. 27 in Topeka, Kansas.

BUHLER, Kansas - In the first matchup between Andover Central and Buhler, it came down to the final minutes to decide the winner. 

That wasn't the case in the Class 4A Sub-State matchup as Andover Central won 42-21 and advanced to the championship to take on St. James Academy. 

This will be Andover Central's second appearance in the Class 4A State Championship in the last three years. The Jaguars made it in 2019 but lost to Bishop Miege 68-7.

"We're very excited," said Andover Central head coach Derek Tuttle. "This stuff doesn't happen very often and I'm proud of our seniors. We're going to be ready for next week."

Andover Central wasted no time getting on the board as senior quarterback Kai Kunz gave found the end zone on a 42-yard run in less than two minutes to begin the game.

The senior quarterback did everything for the Jaguars' offense with seven carries for 127 yards, 95 passing yards, and four total touchdowns. 

After taking a 7-0 lead, the Jaguars forced two turnovers but only capitalized on one of them. 

Senior running back Ashton Barkdull ran to the goal line but fumbled the ball, but luckily for the Jaguars, there was an Andover Central player there to recover the ball for a touchdown.

Buhler ended up cutting into the Jaguars 14-0 lead as Bradley Neill found Tanner Tustian for a five-yard touchdown.

On the first play for Andover Central after the Buhler touchdown, Kunz got the Crusaders' defense to bite on a fake handoff to Barkdull, and the quarterback ran it for a 78-yard touchdown. 

"I told our offensive that if we work hard, we can easily score on this," said Andover Central quarterback Kai Kunz. "We practiced it all week and the offensive line did the rest and all I had to do was execute the play."

Barkdull finished on 21 carries for 94 yards and one touchdown. He added one reception for 13 yards.

Then, on the kickoff, Buhler muffed the kick return and the Jaguars recovered it. Andover Central would eventually capitalize on the Buhler mistake with a 19-yard passing touchdown from Kunz to Brock Stupka. 

Stupka had three receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown.

Buhler wasn't going down without a fight as Neill connected on another touchdown to Tustian but this time for 50-yards. However, Andover Central has a response with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Kunz to Stupka to make it 35-14. 

Unlike the first half, the second half was quiet. Andover Central just wanted to run down the clock and Buhler couldn't do anything on the Jaguars' defense. 

The only score came from Barkdull on a 49-yard touchdown. Buhler almost had a chance to answer that, but they fumbled inside the Andover Central 10-yard line. This ended up being the fifth Buhler turnover.

Buhler ended up scoring a touchdown in the final minutes as Neill hit Bo Van Bruggen on a 12-yard reception. 

"Our coaches prepared us well and we came out firing," said Kunz. "They started to come back, but we never gave up. Next week, our coaches will prepare us and we'll be excited for it."

Andover Central will take on St. James Academy in the Class 4A State Championship at the Topeka-Hummer Sports Park Football Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27.

Andover Central 42, Buhler 21

Andover Central: 21;14;0;7 - 42

Buhler: 7;7;0;7 - 21

AC - 42-yard TD run by Kai Kunz (Isaac Saye kick).

AC - 17-yard TD run by Ashton Barkdull (Saye kick).

AC - 78-yard TD Run by Kunz (Saye kick).

B - 5-yard TD pass from Bradley Neill to Tanner Tustian (Jeffrey Neill kick).

AC - 15-yard TD pass from Kunz to Brock Stupka (Saye kick).

B - 50-yard TD pass from Neill to Tustian (Neill kick).

AC - 4-yard TD run from Barkdull (Saye kick).

AC - 1-yard TD run by Kunz (Saye kick).

AC - 49-yard TD run by Barkdull (Saye kick).

B - 12-yard TD pass from Neill to Bo Van Bruggen (Neill kick).

Rushing: Central — Barkdull 25-149; Kunz 8-127; Rees 3-1; Tabor 2-(-2) TOTAL: 38-275. Buhler — Elliott 17-116; Eddy 1-12; Campbell 1-5; Neill 5-4; Tustian 1-1 TOTAL 25-138.

PASSING (C-A-YDS-TD-I): Central — Kunz 6-12-109-1-0. Buhler — Neill 17-36-287-3-2 Elliott 0-1-0-0-0).

Receiving: Central — Stupka 3-78; Tabor 2-18; Barkdull 1-13. Buhler — Elliott 5-141; Tustian 4-66; Eddy 4-42; McCurdy 3-26; Van Bruggen 1-12.

Greg Williams has been the reporter for the Wellington Daily News and Butler County Times-Gazette since May 2021. You can reach him at GWilliams@gannett.com or on Twitter at @GregWilliams28.