Throughout 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.
at Hesston (8-3), 6 p.m.
With Friday’s Class 3A quarterfinal, unbeaten Phillipsburg gets a shot at redemption against the team that halted its undefeated run a season ago. The Panthers fell 38-26 in Phillipsburg to the Swathers last season, ending the Panthers’ title hopeful campaign at 11-1.
The only difference for this year’s game is the location. Hesston came away with a huge 45-42 victory against previously unbeaten Conway Springs in Conway Springs. The Swathers defeated Hutchinson-Trinity in the first round.
Phillipsburg hasn’t been touched in recent weeks, rolling to a 48-13 victory in the first round of the playoffs against Riley-Riley County, and 35-6 last week at Hoisington, a perennial playoff qualifier.
The Panthers feature a four-headed monster out of the backfield in Kirk Coomes, John Gower, Treylan Gross and Trey Sides. Through the regular season, that foursome combined for 2,432 rushing yards and 42 rushing scores.
The winner of Friday’s game will play either Marysville (10-1) or Cheney (9-2) for the right to advance to the 3A state title game.
at Ell-Saline (8-1), 6 p.m.
Since starting the season 0-3, the Plainville Cardinals now have reeled off seven straight wins to make the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
The Cardinals captured a 21-0 victory last week against playoff mainstay Meade to open the postseason.
Ell-Saline’s lone loss came in district play to Plainville’s MCL rival Smith Center, a 54-0 loss at home in Brookville.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Finnesy has been a driving force for Plainville in its run. He now has 1,035 passing yards, 1,161 rushing yards and 21 combined touchdowns. He has completed 55 of 120 passes with six interceptions with 10 touchdowns, six going to the hands of senior Chandler Cellmer, who has 430 receiving yards. In addition, the linemen duo of Hayden Gillum and Jared Casey have split some time at fullback, combining for 565 yards and nine rushing scores.
On defense is where the Cardinals have shined. Plainville has allowed just 32 points in its seven wins after surrendering 97 in the first three games against Smith Center (9-1), Norton (7-3) and Phillipsburg (11-0).
The winner of Friday’s game will face either Smith Center or Elkhart in the sub-state title round.
Smith Center (9-1) at Elkhart (8-2), 5:30 p.m.
The Redmen have not been touched since losing 23-0 in Week 2 to unbeaten Phillipsburg, and Smith Center has rolled to a season-best 84 points in a playoff-opening blowout against Medicine Lodge.
The Redmen run game has amassed 2,937 yards from 16 different players who have received a carry. Jesse Staples leads the way with 774 yards on 63 carries with four 100-yard games. He also leads the Redmen wishbone attack with 18 rushing scores. Trace Haven is second-best in that category with 10 scores on 56 carries for 488 yards.
Last’s week’s blowout win against La Crosse was the first time since 1993 the Wildcats won a first-round playoff game.
Eight-Man Division I
Osborne (9-1) at St. Paul (9-1), 5:30 p.m.
Picking up a 64-14 victory against St. Paul, the defending Eight-Man Division I Champion Bulldogs now have back-to-back blowouts ahead of Friday’s showdown with St. Paul, which is in the playoffs for the second straight year after a five-year hiatus. St. Paul rolled to a 56-6 win against Burden-Central in the first round.
The Indians’ run a year ago came to a halt at 9-2 with a 58-12 loss to Burlingame, which then went to Osborne and suffered a loss to the eventual state champs.
Osborne, which has made the playoffs six times since switching to eight-man in 2010 has won two state titles in that span with five appearances in the sub-state title round.
Last week, Denton Schurr pushed his season rushing total to 1,266 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns, while the Holloway brother combination of Darnell and Darrien combines for 1,577 yards and 28 scores. Darnell also has passed for 644 yards and 10 scores with just four interceptions under center.
Osborne’s defense is fueled by solid line play, especially out of senior Roxton Brown, who has 91 tackles (11 for loss) and three sacks. In addition, junior Kade MIller has 56 tackles with 12 of them going for loss and a sack.
The winner will face either Burlingame (10-0) or West Elk (10-0) in the sub-state title round.
Coldwater-South Central (9-1) at Hoxie (9-1), 6 p.m.
South Central, a combination of Coldwater and Protection, is in the playoffs for the 10th time, and made it to the quarterfinal run a year ago for the first time since 2007.
The Timberwolves fell to St. Francis a year ago, 48-0, and the Indians went on to lose to Osborne in the state championship game.
Hoxie, in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, already made it farther than it did that season with last week’s first-round blowout against Ness City. Hoxie last made a sub-state title round in 2013, when they lost to Jetmore-Hodgeman County. South Central’s lone loss this season also came at the hands of Hodgeman County.
The Indians have got it done with a solid run game and a stellar defense. Hoxie has given up more than six points just twice, a 16-8 loss to St. Francis and a 66-30 win against WaKeeney-Trego. The Indians have recorded shutouts six times, including their last two contests.
Latham Schwarz has 1,140 rushing yards and 26 scores to lead the Hoxie offense with Chris Cox and Wylie Weems have combined for upwards of 700 yards and 17 scores.
Defensively, Hoxie is solid across the front with Jarod Dible (40 tackles, 13.5 for loss) and Colton Heskett (60 tackles, 22 for loss) and Chox (50 tackles, 20.5 for loss).
Eight-Man Division II
Ingalls (8-2) at Otis-Bison (9-1), 7 p.m.
Making its first playoff appearance since 2015, the Cougars fell behind against Sylvan-Lucas last week, but rallied for a 60-26 blowout to set up Frdiay’s quarterfinal round. The Cougars have a variety of ways to scores, most of which comes out of a powerful run game running behind a solid line. Blake Bahr has 998 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns with quarterback Anton Foust adding 966 yards and 18 scores. Foust also has completed 36 passes for 710 yards (19.7 per completion) with 15 scores and two interceptions. The Cougars also have five interceptions returned for scores and a pair of punt returns — both from Bahr — going the distance. Bahr also has two interceptions returned for scores.
Ingalls is in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, but has yet to make it past the quarterfinal round. Ingalls has not made it past this round since winning a state championship in 1984.
The Cougars’ deepest run came twice — both state runner-up finishes in 1987 and 2010.