Through this season, the HDN has picked five weekly games to highlight, and this is the Drive for Five: Playoff Edition. Each week, we will highlight all of the area teams remaining in the run for a state championship.
Medicine Lodge (4-5) at Smith Center (8-1)
Smith Center is a program synonymous with the postseason. This year marks Smith Center’s 28th playoff appearance and the Redmen’s third straight. Only three out of the previous 27 appearances have resulted in first-round losses, the most recent coming when the Redmen lost to Sterling in 2012. On the other side, Medicine Lodge is making the school’s 15th playoff appearance, but the first since 2011 when the Indians were in Class 3A.
Smith Center has reeled off seven straight wins since a 23-0 loss to Phillipsburg in Week 2. None of the previous seven games have been close. The Redmen have outscored opponents 401-27 with four shutouts, including 78-0, 70-0 and 54-0 wins the previous three weeks in district play.
The Redmen’s well-known wishbone rushing attack has resulted in 2,592 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns coming from 16 different ball carriers.
The most notable of those are Jesse Staples (746 yards), Trace Haven (469), Ethan Peterson (478) and quarterback Colton Hutchinson (368). Hutchinson also has passed for 434 yards and five scores with just two interceptions.
The Redmen made it to the sub-state round a season ago, suffering a loss to Plainville, which went on to fall to Troy in the 2-1A finale. If Smith Center can make it back to Hays this season it would be the first state appearance since the Redmen saw their string of five straight titles end just short of six in the 2009 title game against Centralia.
La Crosse (7-2) at Elkhart (7-2)
Two seasons ago, the La Crosse Leopards saw their run of 11 straight playoff appearances come to an end with a sub-.500 record. The Leopards, though, now have made back-to-back appearances and won on the road in the first round last season. The Leopards knocked off perennial contender Meade before losing at home to Smith Center in the second round.
La Crosse started this season 0-2 before surging for six straight wins to make the playoffs. But La Crosse fell 49-6 at Plainville last week in the district championship game to force a first-round road contest.
Elkhart is in the playoffs for the fourth time in the past five years, with the previous three resulting in first-round losses. The Wildcats’ deepest run came in 1993, a sub-state runner-up showing.
La Crosse has got it done this year with a heavy dose of quarterback Hunter Morgan and running backs Zak Brown and Christian Suppes. Morgan, a sophomore, has 908 passing yards, 10 touchdowns to go along with 300 rushing yards and six scores. Suppes has matched the latter stat with six scores on 551 rushing yards. Brown is the team’s rushing leader with 612 yards and 11 scores.
Meade (5-4) at Plainville (6-3)
Last season, Plainville made its deepest run in the playoffs in three decades when it lost to Troy in the Class 2-1A state title game. Friday will mark Plainville’s 18th playoff appearance in school history, while Meade is in the playoffs for the 12th straight season. .
Meade is in the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, but has suffered first-round exits two out of the last three, and a second round exit in the other. Meade won state titles in 2010 and 2012. Plainville enjoyed its best season in three decades a season ago, making it all the way to a runner-up showing in the 2-1A, the first trip to the state title game since 1985. This is Plainville’s 18th playoff appearance in school history.
The Cardinals’ offense runs through sophomore quarterback Jordan Finnesy, who now has 907 yards passing with nine scores and 1,048 yards rushing with 11 scores. Plainville also uses a pair of linemen in the backfield on occasion, moving senior Hayden Gillum back as well as sophomore Jared Casey, along with senior Chandler Cellmer. Cellmer is the team’s second-best rusher with 314 yards and four scores while Casey and Gillum have combined for better than 500 yards and nine rushing scores.
The two also anchor Plainville’s defense. Gillum has 12 tackles for loss with Casey collecting 6.5 for loss. In addition, senior Jaron Rathbun has 9.5 tackles for loss.
Eight-Man Division I
Victoria (7-2) at Burlingame (9-0)
Last season, the Victoria Knights saw their state-best streak of 14 straight playoff appearances come to an end when they took third in the district by just one point, leaving the Knights sitting at home in November. This time around, Victoria left little doubt in its final regular season game, rolling to a mercy-rule victory on the road at Solomon.
Victoria, however, lost to Osborne a week earlier, and finished second and will have to take on state title hopeful Burlingame in the first round. The Bearcats are making just the school’s ninth playoff appearance, but the last two seasons have resulted in appearances in the sub-state title round.
Prior to those two years, Burlingame hadn’t made the playoffs since 2004, and has one state championship in school history coming in 1972 as an 11-man program.
The Knights, on the other hand, will make their 23rd playoff appearance overall and the 15th as an eight-man program.
Clifton-Clyde (8-1) at Osborne (8-1)
Osborne once again is riding a strong run game to the state playoffs, a place the Bulldogs have become comfortable since switching to eight-man in 2010. The Bulldogs will make their sixth playoff appearance in that same time span with five of them resulting in trips to the sub-state round, and two of them resulting in state championships, including last year’s thriller against St. Francis in the Division I title game.
This is the second straight year Clifton-Clyde and Osborne will meet in the first round, as Osborne rolled to a 64-16 last season in Osborne. Clifton-Clyde is set to make its ninth playoff appearance since 2005. As separate schools, Clifton and Clyde combined for seven playoff appearances and a pair of state titles. Clifton won a crown in 1969 and Clyde in 1977.
Osborne this year boasts solid line play that has paved the way for 2,672 rushing yards and 46 rushing scores. Denton Schurr leads the way with 1,111 yards and 19 scores, while the junior/sophomore brother combination of Darnell and Darrien Holloway has 25 combined rushing scores, and nearly 1,400 rushing yards. Darnell Holloway, the team’s quarterback, has 490 passing yards and eight scores to four interceptions. Junior Kade Miller is among his favorite targets with 219 yards on 15 receptions with four scores.
St. Francis (7-1) at Spearville (9-0)
The first-round matchup features a rematch of last year’s Eight-Man Division I sub-state championship game won by St. Francis. The Indians picked up a 36-30 victory in St. Francis to advance to the school’s first state championship game where it lost to Osborne in thrilling fashion.
The Indians haven’t been as dominant as they were a season ago, finishing second in a loaded Eight-Man Division I, District 8 after a loss to Atwood-Rawlins County at home. However, St. Francis did defeat Hoxie, the district’s champion by points, to force a three-way tie. The Indians enter the playoffs after edging Rawlins County on point differential for the second spot.
Friday will mark St. Francis’ third straight playoff appearance as an eight-man program, where they’ve played for four years. Prior to that, St. Francis made four appearances in the sub-state title game in Class 2-1A between 2000 and 2007, and Friday will mark the school’s 15th playoff appearance.
Spearville won a Division I crown two seasons ago, and is making its fifth straight playoff appearance and the school’s 18th overall.
In its current stretch, Spearville has lost just one time in the first round, coming to Hoxie in 2013. That win helped Hoxie reach the sub-state championship game.
Ness City (5-4) at Hoxie (8-1)
Ness City forced at three-way tie for second place by scoring 52 unanswered points to collect an 80-50 win against Satanta in Week 8. The Eagles suffered two district losses, but beat out Satanta and South Gray, despite a 32-24 loss to the Rebels in Week 6.
Since switching to eight-man in 2010, this is Ness City’s sixth playoff appearance and the Eagles made a record-setting run to a state championship in 2012. Three of those playoff appearances, however, have resulted in first-round losses, including last season when the Eagles lost 54-0 at St. Francis.
Hoxie, also switching in 2010, made three straight playoff appearances from 2012 to 14 with its deepest run coming in 2013, a sub-state round loss to Hodgeman County. The other two Hoxie visits to the postseason in eight-man resulted in first-round losses to Hodgeman County and Victoria.
Hoxie rides a strong run game and a stingy run defense. Latham Schwarz leads the team with 933 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Hoxie defense has recorded five shutouts this season, and gave up more than 16 points just one time in a 36-point win. The lone loss was a 16-8 setback against St. Francis, which eventually forced a three-way tie. Hoxie ended up the district champion on point differential. The Indians averaged 45 points per game through the regular season.
Eight-Man Division II
Hodgeman County (7-2) at Northern Valley (7-2)
Northern Valley is no newbie to the playoff scene, however none of the school’s appearances have been recent. The Huskies will go up against a program formed from arguably two of the most dominant teams in eight-man playoff history in Jetmore and Hanston.
The Huskies are making the school’s 20th playoff appearance, but the first since they made three straight appearances ending in 2005. All three of those resulted in first-round losses by Northern Valley. The Huskies won one of the weaker districts in Eight-Man Division II by handing Sylvan-Lucas its lone loss for the district championship.
Hodgeman County enters Friday’s contest with its fifth playoff appearance since Hanston and Jetmore combined. The Longhorns have a state runner-up showing in that span coming in 2013, and 2010 and 12 produced showings in the sub-state round. As separate programs, Jetmore and Hanston combined for 36 playoff appearances and eight state titles, with Hanston collecting six of those.
Northern Valley is fueled by the play of senior Caden Kinderknecht on offense. The quarterback has 1,392 rushing yards and 22 scores to go along with 532 passing yards and nine scores, but he also has five interceptions. After that, junior Nick Stutsman provides a second punch with 858 rushing yards and 15 scores.
Sylvan-Lucas (8-1) at Otis-Bison (8-1)
Last season, statistically, Sylvan-Lucas was the best team in Eight-Man Division II, District 5, but ended up missing the playoffs with losses to Lakeside and Northern Valley. The Mustangs rolled through the district, sans a loss to the Huskies, to make the school’s first playoff appearance as Sylvan-Lucas, a combination of Sylvan Unified and Lucas-Luray. This is the second playoff appearance for either school since Sylvan-Lucas qualified in 2014. The Mustangs won three state championships in the 1990s. The best finish for Lucas came when it was runner-up in 1969. Lucas-Luray made a sub-state appearance in 1982.
Otis-Bison will make its 14th playoff appearance after just missing last season in a loaded district slate that produced the sub-state matchup along with the state runner-up in Eight-Man II. The Cougars’ deepest run in the playoffs came in 2010 when they finished runner-up, the school’s second trip to a state title game with the previous coming in 1987.
This is the school’s sixth playoff appearance since 2009 and the eighth since 2002.
The Cougars will host a playoff game for the first time since 2012. Running behind one of the best lines in eight-man, the Cougars have amassed 2,273 rushing yards and 40 rushing scores, while quarterback Anton Foust, used minimally as a passer, has 613 yards and 13 scores on just 54 attempts. The Cougars also have made a habit of scoring defensively and in special teams with seven combined from those two aspects. Blake Bahr, the team’s leading rusher with 998 yards and 19 scores, also has two interceptions and two punt returns for touchdowns.
Phillipsburg 48, Riley County 13
The host Panthers already put their name on the 2017 playoffs, scoring 34 points in the first half Tuesday en route to the blowout victory to move to 10-0. Phillipsburg next will take on Hoisington (7-3) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Hoisington. Norton ended its season at 7-3 after a 62-21 road loss Tuesday in Marysville.