Each week, the HDN will pick five games to highlight as the 2017 prep football season rolls on. In Week 1, a rematch of last season’s 2-1A sub-state title game takes center stage as Smith Center plays host to Plainville in Mid-Continent League action.
Plainville at Smith Center
During the past two seasons, a storied football program at Smith Center High School has been among the favorites to return to their home-away-from-home at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays — the site of the Class 2-1A state championship game.
Just two teams, though, have been a thorn in the side the past two seasons for the Redmen.
One is Phillipsburg, recently the top-tier team in the Mid-Continent League, and arguably the best team this season. The other is Plainville. Smith Center has five losses the last two seasons. All have come to either Phillipsburg or Plainville. Two of those losses have ended the season one game short of Lewis Field Stadium.
Friday night’s matchup at Hubbard Stadium in Smith Center is a rematch of the latter as the Redmen not only look to get their title-hopeful campaign started with a win, but get a little retribution for the 14-0 defeat they suffered in Plainville a season ago in sub-state.
Plainville, on the other hand, could be out to prove last season’s 11-2 mark and runner-up showing in 2-1A is no fluke. Plainville defeated Smith Center twice a year ago — 20-16 in the season-opener then again in the semifinal round.
That sets the tone for Friday’s matchup. With Smith Center returning an abundance of players from a 9-3 campaign a year ago, Plainville is looking to retool and build around the likes of senior Hayden Gillum, sophomore Jared Casey and new sophomore quarterback Jordan Finnessy.
Smith Center on the other hand is loaded up with seniors in Colton Hutchinson at quarterback, Avery Hawkins at tight end, Jesse Staples at running back and arguably one of the best lineman in all of 2-1A in Dalton Kuhn.
After the loss to Plainville a year ago, Smith Center went into Week 2 and lost to Phillipsburg, which eventually finished 11-1 and lost in the quarterfinals in Class 3A.
After the 0-2 start, the Redmen didn’t lose again until falling to Plainville in the sub-state round. The Redmen get both of those teams at home to start the year.
St. Francis at Sharon Springs-Wallace County
Wallace County has proven itself to be among the elite of western Kansas eight-man football, qualifying for the playoffs every year since 2006 with a title in 2007 and a runner-up showing in that same time — along with several sub-state appearances, including the last three. St. Francis, since switching to eight-man, quickly has stated its case to be among the elite. Since switching to eight-man in 2014, the Indians have gone 5-4, 10-1 and 11-1, making the school’s first state championship last fall in an eventual loss.
That run included a narrow 22-20 victory against Wallace County in the season opener. It was part of an 0-2 start for the Wildcats before they won eight of the next nine games and eventually fell to Dighton in the sub-state title round.
Friday’s opener will be a return to head coaching for veteran eight-man coach Kevin Ayers. The longtime coach at Jetmore-Hodgeman County and Wallace County had served as an assistant a year ago to Jeff Hennick, a former Wildcat player, now the new head coach at Oakley. Ayers coached the Wildcats to the 2007 title, then stepped away from coaching three years ago only to return as an assistant and now back to head coaching.
The Wildcats lost a bit to graduation, but return Seth and Luke Johnson, along with Carlin Springsteel, all key components of last season’s run.
The Indians, while they lost all-state quarterback Quinten Cravens and running back Taylor Rogers, return one of the best linemen in Trayton Doyle, along with receiver Tate Busse (28 catches, 588 yards) and running back Jordan Raby (21 carries, 137 yards). Brady Dinkel, a junior, takes over at quarterback for Cravens.
Victoria at Central Plains
One of the most unexperienced varsity teams under Victoria coach Doug Oberle had a somewhat difficult season — by Victoria standards – a year ago. The Knights finished 5-4 and missed the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons.
The Knights, though, took their lumps and look to get back on track just two seasons after winning back-to-back state championships in Eight-Man Division II.
They’ll go up against an Eight-Man Division I powerhouse Claflin-Central Plains, a quarterfinalist a year ago. Last season, Central Plains handed the Knights a 48-22 loss to open the season in Victoria. The Central Prairie League foes have split the previous four meetings — three of them happening in a Week 1 showdown. Central Plains is coming off a 10-1 season that ended with a quarterfinal loss to Spearville in Eight-Man I. The Oilers have just five losses since 2013, and made a 13-0 run to the state title in 2014.
Trego at Stockton
Trego and Stockton got off to exact opposite starts to the 2016 campaign. Then had exact opposite finishes. The Golden Eagles defeated Stockton 52-20 in the season opener, part of three straight wins for Trego to open the season. Then, the Golden Eagles hit the wall in a loaded district and lost their final six games.
Stockton, on the other hand, started 0-5, then won four straight and for the first time made the playoffs as an eight-man program, the first postseason showing for the school since 2002. The season ended with a 48-18 loss to Wallace County, the same team that ended Trego’s 3-0 start with a 50-0 shellacking in the Golden Eagles’ homecoming.
On Friday, Trego and Stockton meet in Stockton with the host Tigers looking to carry the momentum of their playoff appearance and get off to a good start. Trego, which was a young group a season ago, looks for another hot start before running into what is once again a loaded district in Eight-Man Division I.
Scott City at Hays High
Hays High School had just two wins a season ago in the second year under head coach Randall Rath. But the Indians still managed to have a shot at the Class 4A Division I playoffs due to a loaded schedule the Indians play in the Western Athletic Conference.
The first win, though, came in last season’s opener, a 31-21 win on the road against Scott City, a Beaver club that went on to finish 7-3 and lose to Holcomb in the first round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs. Scott City’s three losses were to Hays High and Holcomb.
Friday, the Indians kick off the third season for Rath and the final season for quarterback Hunter Brown, who stepped in at QB last year and will make the start for Game 1.
The Indians have just four wins combined the last two seasons after going 7-2 in 2014 before graduating a big senior class.