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Four Left in Heart of America Playoff Weekend

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Four Left in Heart of America Playoff Weekend

Kansas vs Kansas State from earlier in the season. Griff Hastings photo.

The Heart of America crowns its champion this weekend with a two-game weekend in Lawrence, Kansas.

Teams from two states take each other on, as Kansas plays Iowa in one semifinal, and Iowa State plays Kansas State in the other. All four will play on Sunday in the conference final and the 3rd-4th game.

The Heart of America went back to this North-v-South, two-game weekend format after adding Arkansas and Minnesota in the 2021-2022 season to  cut down on travel stresses. 

Kansas leads the way from the South having beaten Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Missouri, all in pretty convincing style. Meanwhile, Iowa lost to Iowa State but beat Nebraska and Minnesota. These teams did meet in the spring, however, in a game that Iowa won. Still, led by their superb hooker Trevor Lister and with scrumhalf Luke Connor having a very strong year, the Jayhawks defend very well and can find different ways to beat you. Those players are augmented by a young cadre of standouts including Conor Sexton, Mitchell Campbell, and Trace Eslinger in the forwards.

"We are feeling prepared," said Lister. "We got a few players back from injury who are excited to play again. We know what we need to do; now it's all about executing step-by-step, and playing with maximum effort the entire game."

Sexton is one of those returning played, as is inside center Cael Kuhn.

Iowa is one of those teams where they have found a way to win the games they should win, but struggled getting to the next step. Led by captained Tanner Tewes at No. 8 and Conor Hutchison at flyhalf, they did indeed beat Kansas in a non-conference game last spring, and will need to feed off that energy on Saturday.

Iowa State and Kansas State have not met since 2019, when ISU beat them. The Cyclones are the defending conference champions and understand what it takes to succeed in this cauldron. Alex Geisert is a massive leader at lock for ISU with center Drew Guinn holding the line in the midfield—both can score. Zach English has been a very nice breakout performer for the Cyclones at flanker while Aiden Lewis and Justin Johnson form a very useful halfback combination. Most definitely their strength lies in playing fast.

For Kansas State, their lone conference loss, 34-12 to rivals Kansas, was somewhat humbling but they bounced back and bring power and hard work to the fore. Captains Quinn Tiley and Mitchel Stedry lead the side but keep an eye on their deep three including Gabriel Louw, and Jonathan Hutcherson, who will punish wayward kicking