HOXIE — Though they certainly don’t tell the whole story of Friday night’s Eight-Man Division I, District 8 grudge match between the Hoxie and Atwood-Rawlins County High School football teams, three big plays certainly stand out.
Two of them happened within 20 seconds of each other in the second quarter.
And big plays proved to be the difference as the Indians picked up a 22-6 victory over the Buffaloes.
First, with Hoxie trailing 6-0 early in the second quarter, Hoxie senior Latham Schwarz snuck through the line on a punt attempt by the Buffs backed up near their end. The result was a block that rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety — Hoxie’s first points.
The next came when Schwarz, while seemingly stopped, took the first play after the free kick, broke four tackles, and rumbled 65 yards for Hoxie’s second score.
“He’s a hell of an athlete,” Indian junior Jarrod Dible said of Schwarz, who ended the game with 165 rushing yards on 25 carries. “He won’t quit on anything. He broke four tackles, maybe five tackles. He was running backwards for 5 yards and still scored. I don’t know how he did it. That’s just amazing.”
And the Indians from that point were in business, helped out by a third big play to start the third quarter when senior Taylor Burris ran down Rawlins County senior Braden Leitner on a long pass completion. He stopped him at the 9-yard line before scoring.
“We needed some momentum. We went and got it,” Schwarz said of the early blocked punt. “That set us in motion from there.”
The rest of the night was all about turnovers — for both teams — and defense, namely for Hoxie, albeit a dominant defensive unit gave up a touchdown for the first time in its 4-0 start.
But, the Indians contained one of the better playmaking quarterbacks in Rawlins County senior Maverick Green, a dual threat. Green threw two interceptions, and Rawlins County lost two fumbles.
Coming in, the senior QB had torched his first three opponents for 354 passing yards, six touchdowns and 312 rushing yards with eight scores. The Indians knew they just had to contain.
“He’s such a great athlete,” Hoxie coach Lance Baar said of Green, who Schwarz added was probably the best quarterback in the Northwest Kansas League. “Anytime they drop back to pass and sitting back there for 3 seconds, you’re starting to get worried, because you know he’s going to take off. He’s so patient.”
But Hoxie’s impressive defensive front, a rotation of Dible (5-11, 210), junior Taye Washington (6-5, 335), senior Chris Cox (5-10, 233) and junior Colton Heskett (6-2, 190), was in Green’s face all night. That was especially the case when it came time for Rawlins County to threaten Hoxie’s lead in goal-to-go situations. Cox had 11 tackles (five for loss), while Heskett had three tackles for loss, Dible two and Washington one. Cox (4), Heskett (2) and Dible (1) also combined for seven sacks.
“We were going to have to be smart with our pass rush,” Baar said. “Couldn’t just go hair on fire and get after it. Those guys did a good job. We just didn’t run in there and do something stupid.”
Penalties didn’t help the Buffaloes any either. After Burris’ TD-saving tackle in the third quarter, Rawlins County had first-and-goal, but eventually was backed up a bit and ended up failing on fourth-and-goal.
The Buffs had a similar situation later in the quarter when Green hit a receiver for a TD, but a holding call backed them up. Rawlins County (3-1) went from first-and-goal from the 5 to eventually facing fourth-and-goal from the 25, summing up a frustrating evening.
“We had our opportunities. The third quarter we controlled the clock and the line of scrimmage,” said Rawlins County coach Matt Smith. “We had a couple opportunities, we just couldn’t punch it in.
“We had a hell of a game between the 10-yard lines,” Smith added.
Rawlins County played the better game offensively in the second half, while Hoxie couldn’t muster much. The final score came from Cox, who plays on the offensive line and at fullback at times. He dove in from the 1-yard line with 2:29 left.
Before the game, Baar and the Hoxie coaching staff told their team to “play with heart, passion, great emotion, and they did that tonight,” he said. “That’s what won the game for us.”
And now, Hoxie has a chance to face last year’s state runner-up St. Francis on the road next week. It’s No. 3 on Hoxie’s list of losses from a season ago. The Indians were 7-3 last year and were kept out of the Division I playoffs with losses to St. Francis and Rawlins County.
“We’re definitely going for this third one,” Schwarz said.