Each week, the HDN will pick five games to highlight as the 2017 prep football season rolls on. This week several district championships will be decided and some second playoff spots are up for grabs in the final games of the regular season.
Hodgeman County (7-1, 4-0) at Otis-Bison (7-1, 4-0)
The Otis-Bison High School football team narrowly missed the playoffs in 2016, navigating a tough non-district and district slate to a 6-3 record. A narrow loss at Dighton essentially ended the Cougars’ hope of returning to the playoffs.
This year is a different story. The Cougars already are in the playoffs. Now, Otis-Bison is playing for a district championship, and a guaranteed home playoff game for the first time since 2012.
The Cougars, winners of five straight, will take on perennial eight-man contender Jetmore-Hodgeman County in a 7 p.m. showdown Thursday. Both already are in the playoffs, so a first-round home game is what’s on the line.
The Cougars haven’t lost since a 36-12 loss to Eight-Man Division I Central Plains. Otis-Bison’s only close contest in the current stretch was a 22-20 home win versus potential Eight-Man I qualifier Victoria. Since then, Otis-Bison has strung together 70-24, 50-, 54-8 and 64-0 wins in a district that last season produced a sub-state runner-up and a state runner-up. The tables flipped this season as Hodgeman County and Otis-Bison — two solid non-qualifiers a year ago — earned the district’s spots.
Running behind one of the best lines in eight-man football, the Cougars have got it done with a heavy dose of quarterback Anton Foust and running back Blake Bahr. Foust has racked up 587 rushing yards and 11 scores to go along with 32 pass completions for 579 yards and 12 scores to just one interception.
The Cougars have scored in a variety of ways, including five interceptions returned for scores along with two punt returns for scores.
Bahr has rushed 56 times for a team-high 752 yards and 16 scores, while Daniel Scott also has got his blows in, carrying 18 times for 189 yards and three scores.
Hodgeman County has won six straight in similar fashion to the Cougars. The Longhorns have not lost since a 64-34 loss to unbeaten Spearville.
The winner Thursday will play host to Sylvan-Lucas in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday, while the loser will travel to Almena-Northern Valley.
Victoria (6-2, 3-1) at Solomon (5-3, 2-2)
Despite a solid team in 2016, the Victoria Knights missed the playoffs. It ended a stretch of 14 straight playoff appearances in eight-man, then the longest active streak among eight-man teams.
It happened by just one point as three teams finished with the same district mark in Eight-Man Division I, District 4. It just so happened that Solomon was the team that earned the nod, despite losing to the Knights 54-6 in the regular season finale.
This time around, though, it’s simple for Victoria. If the Knights win, they don’t have to worry about what happens elsewhere. Lose, though, and a three-loss Victoria team could again miss the playoffs.
Here’s the situation. If Victoria wins, the Knights make it back to the playoffs and will play on the road in the first round against Burlingame. If Solomon wins, however, the playoff qualifier would be determined by the Logan-Palco vs. Bennington matchup, though those two teams already have been eliminated.
Solomon can get in with a win, but would need Logan-Palco to lose. If Solomon wins and Logan-Palco wins, Victoria gets the playoff spot, based on points in the tiebreaker.
TMP-Marian (3-5, 1-1) at Norton (6-2, 1-1)
The TMP-Marian Monarchs have struggled through a tough MCL slate that includes Smith Center and Phillipsburg — teams a combined 15-1 — but now the Monarchs find themselves in position to make the 3A playoffs for the first time since 2002.
However, it’s a daunting task. The Monarchs will travel to Travis Field in Norton to take on the Bluejays, a team led by seniors Jace Ruder, a University of North Carolina commit and the MCL’s all-time passing leader, and Tevin Petrie, a collegiate hopeful running back.
The two teams have suffered similar fates against the MCL slate. Norton’s two losses have come at the hands of Smith Center and Phillipsburg. In those two contests, the Bluejays were shutout and outscored 99-0. TMP lost to the same two teams 142-47.
The other common opponents have been Russell, who both teams beat to put themselves in this position, Oakley, routs for both teams, and Plainville, which defeated TMP but lost to Norton.
La Crosse (6-2, 2-0) at Plainville (5-3, 2-0) (Friday)
La Crosse and Plainville ride similar streaks into their Class 2-1A, District 7 championship game Friday night. The Leopards, after a rough start, have won six straight to put themselves in this position, while Plainville has won five straight after an 0-3 start.
The two teams will decide which team will travel and which will be at home for the first round in 2-1A.
Plainville has won the last two meetings in the series, including a 46-12 win last season in La Crosse.
Each team blew by Oakley and Ellis this season to set up Friday’s title tilt. Both are completely new teams from a year ago, and each has relied heavily on the play of newbie quarterbacks — La Crosse with sophomore Hunter Morgan and Plainville with sophomore Jordan Finnesy.
Morgan leads the Leopards with 858 passing yards and 10 touchdowns to two interceptions and is the Leopards’ third-leading rusher with 300 yards and six TDs. Morgan has completed 47 of 79 passes this season, averaging 107.3 yards per contest. When it’s not in his hands, senior Zak Brown has carried 86 times for 573 yards and 11 scores with junior Christian Suppes adding 80 carries for 500 yards and six scores.
Plainville counters with Finnesy, who has 790 passing yards with eight TDs to six interceptions, and 948 rushing yards with 10 TDs. The Cardinals also have turned to a pair of linemen — arguably two of the best athletes on their team — to help carry the load in the run game as well. Both sophomore Jared Casey at 6 feet, 205 pounds and senior Hayden Gillum at 6-3, 250 have spent time running the ball. Gillum has 308 yards on 44 carries with three TDs and Casey has 214 yards with five scores.
Wamego (4-4, 1-1) at Hays High (3-5, 1-1) (Friday)
The Indians face the exact situation they were in a season ago. Hays High navigated a tough WAC slate, was blown out by McPherson, then picked up a win against Abilene. It all came down a year ago to a matchup with Wamego, a game on paper the Indians were favored but suffered a 30-13 loss.
Each team is in the same boat Friday night when the Indians play host to the Red Raiders at Lewis Field Stadium. The winner gets into the 4A Division I playoffs behind McPherson, while the loser ends its season.
Hays High hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, but the three wins this year already is one more than Hays High had the previous two seasons.
Wamego put itself in this position by beating Abilene by one point in overtime at home, then was shutout 47-0 at McPherson.