Each week, the HDN will pick five games to highlight as the 2017 prep football season rolls on. Week 4 is highlighted in Hoxie as district play heats up for Atwood-Rawlins County and Hoxie, both unbeaten teams with playoffs in mind in Eight-Man Division I. With defending state runner-up St. Francis also in the same district and still unbeaten, Rawlins County vs. Hoxie could end up being for a playoff spot out of a loaded district.

Rawlins County (3-0) 
at Hoxie (3-0)

In 2016, Hoxie finished with three losses despite having a solid team in Eight-Man Division I, District 8. All three happened in consecutive weeks — 30-22 loss to Wallace County, a 46-12 loss to Rawlins County and a 50-0 loss to St. Francis. Those three losses were enough to keep Hoxie out of the playoffs.

With virtually all of its starters returning, Hoxie has been on a mission thus far. The Indians have yet to allow a score through a 3-0 start, including erasing last year’s loss with a 52-0 beating of Wallace County in Sharon Springs last week. Similarly, an improved Rawlins County team has put up 74-16, 46-0 and 48-0 wins through three weeks, including a win against Wallace County, a perennial power in Eight-Man Division II.

Arguably Hoxie’s two toughest games this season come in back-to-back weeks as the Indians will host Rawlins County, then travel to St. Francis in a two-week span that likely will decide Hoxie’s playoff fate.

The Indians have been dominant thus far, and have done so in the run game. Latham Schwarz has posted 292 rushing yards through six quarters of play with nine rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Jared Kennedy adds 133 rushing yards and two scores, while Chris Cox, a 225-pound transfer from Oakley, has 65 rushing yards and three scores. Seven different backs have carried the ball for the Indians, and have run behind arguably the most experienced line in the state, one that includes 335-pound senior Taye Washington.

Kennedy also has thrown for 146 yards on just nine completions, and has three passing touchdowns to one interception.

With the three shutouts, the Hoxie defense already has one more than it had all of last season.

Rawlins County has provided a mix of playmakers as well, highlighted by the play of quarterback Maverick Green. The senior has completed 18 of 27 passes for 354 yards with six touchdowns to one interception.

He also has rushed 29 times for 312 yards with eight scores. As a unit, the Buffaloes have 656 rushing yards and 11 scores. Eight different backs have carried the ball with three going over 100 yards for the season (Green, Braden Leitner and Will Crouse).

Norton (3-0) 
at Smith Center (2-1)

The game doesn’t mean anything as far as either team’s district or playoff fate is concerned. But throw all of that out the window when the MCL rivals meet up. Smith Center continues the gauntlet of Class 3A teams in the MCL, while Norton looks to continue its hot start.

The Redmen, similar to last season, are coming off a 61-14 blowout against Thomas More Prep-Marian, while the Bluejays blew out Oakley, 51-0, at home.

A 20-17 overtime win by the Redmen in Norton a year ago was part of a nine-game win streak a year ago for Smith Center, which didn’t end until a Class 2-1A sub-state championship loss to Plainville. The loss for the Bluejays was one of only four suffered by Norton.

The Bluejays head to Hubbard Stadium 3-0 behind the play of senior quarterback Jace Ruder, a University of North Carolina commit. Ruder has completed 36 of 67 passes for 429 yards with five touchdowns to one interception. He also has 385 rushing yards and six scores, bested only by senior running back Tevin Petrie. Petrie, following last week’s four rushing TD performance in the win against Oakley, has 424 yards on 63 touches with six scores.

Ruder has spread the ball around to eight different receivers, most notably to three in Kade Melvin (8 catches, 159 yards; Ryan Johnson, 10 catches, 116 yards and Hayden Wiltfong, 9 catches, 91 yards).

Wilftong also has been a force defensively. He leads the Bluejays with 25 tackles and three quarterback sacks.

Smith Center counters out of its wishbone attack and a bevy of ball carriers, but has put the ball in the air a bit more this season as well. Nine different backs have combined to post 719 rushing yards and nine rushing scores for the Redmen. They are led by 197 yards and three scores for Ethan Peterson, 125 yards and two scores for Jesse Staples and 179 yards and three scores for Trace Haven. In addition, quarterback Colton Hutchinson has 87 yards on the ground, and has completed 14 of 34 passes for 232 yards and a score.

Trego (2-1) 
at Wallace County (0-3)

Wallace County, in uncharted territory, is 0-3 following a tough run through a brutal early season schedule for the second straight year. The Wildcats have yet to find the end zone, and have played just six quarters in 46-0, 46-0 and 52-0 losses to St. Francis, Rawlins County and Hoxie. Trego also is in a similar position to last season. The Eagles are 2-1 with an overtime win against Stockton, a loss to South Gray and a 50-0 win in homecoming last week against Quinter.

A season ago, Trego was 3-0, but was derailed quickly by a 50-0 beating at the hands of Wallace County in Week 4.

Including the Week 4 win, Wallace County won eight of its final 10 games a year ago after the 0-2 start. The only losses after Week 2 for the Wildcats came at the hands of eventual Division II state runner-up Dighton.

Trego has got it done with a heavy dose of the passing game and junior quarterback Keagan Shubert. He has completed 43 of 77 passes for 431 yards with seven touchdowns, but does have six interceptions. Three of those were returned for touchdowns in a loss at home to South Gray.

Dallas Schneider leads the Golden Eagles’ run game with 140 yards and two touchdowns. Shubert’s favorite target has been Brendan Flax, a 5-foot-9 senior who has 13 catches for 137 yards.

Victoria (3-0) 
at Otis-Bison (2-1)

Both CPL teams have returned to solid form after Victoria’s rebuilding season a year ago. The Knights are rolling at 3-0 and have surrendered just 20 points through three games, while Otis-Bison faced its first test last week in a 36-12 loss to Claflin-Central Plains. Victoria defeated Central Plains in Week 1, 34-8, in a game that started Friday night but had to be halted until Saturday due to weather that week.

CPL foes, the Knights and Cougars, will meet in Otis on Friday.

The Cougars, who have just 14 players on the roster, are led by the quarterback/running back duo of Anton Foust and Blake Bahr. Foust has 158 rushing yards and three scores, and has completed 8 of 9 passes for 187 yards and four scores with no interceptions. Bahr has 20 carries for 264 yards and five scores. They play behind arguably one of the best lines in all of eight-man. While lacking depth, the Cougars feature senior Landon Hoopingarner (5-9, 285) and junior Luke Higgason (6-1, 225), who anchor a tough line.

Victoria has been led by Cooper Pfanenstiel, Collin Kisner and Cooper Windholz on offense. Kisner switched to running back after starting the year at QB. Through three games he has collected 347 rushing yards and seven scores, while Pfanenstiel has 220 yards and four scores. Taking over at QB, Windholz has completed 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards. In last week’s 50-0 win against Ellinwood, he threw three TD passes, two to Caden Oberle, the other to Kisner.

This will be the final game for each team before they enter district play next week. Victoria is part of a loaded district in Eight-Man Division I, that after Week 3 still features five undefeated teams — Osborne, Logan-Palco, Victoria, Solomon and Bennington.

Pawnee Heights (3-0) 
vs. Weskan (3-0)

In a rematch of last season’s six-man championship game, arguably the six-man league’s best teams meet up for the first time Friday. Weskan swept the two meetings a year ago, en route to an 8-0 record and six-man title. The games were won, 36-25 and 36-18 by the Coyotes.

Each team is 3-0. Weskan has put up 40-32, 53-6 and 59-10 wins against Cheylin, Natoma and six-man newcomer Fowler. Pawnee Heights only has played two games, but won 51-0 and 54-6 vs. Western Plains and Golden Plains. Last week, the Tigers were scheduled to play Natoma, but Natoma had to forfeit due to lack of numbers.