HOXIE — Going for it on fourth down inside its own 20-yard line on the first possession of the game and failing didn’t help matters much.
But the Hoxie High School football team was a bit befuddled by what visiting Coldwater-South Central put on the field Friday night in the quarterfinal round of the Eight-Man Division I playoffs.
Facing adversity, though, and a big hole to start the game just makes what happened during the final two-and-a-half quarters that much sweeter.
Rallying from a 19-6 deficit on their home field, the Indians captured a 30-25 thrilling victory, and now are in the sub-state round for the first time since 2013. It’s just the fourth time in the school’s history they will play in the semifinal round.
“We got down. We just knew we had to keep pounding, keep grinding,” said Hoxie senior Luke Schippers. “We just had to hit them as hard as we could every single play, and we knew eventually we could get the ball to bounce our way.”
That confidence, though, was shaken early. Hoxie (10-1) got the ball first, and faced fourth-and-long. A penalty moved the ball a little closer to the marker, and the Indians opted to go for it. After a failed conversion, that set up South Central (9-2) deep in Hoxie territory. It didn’t take long for the Timberwolves to take a 7-0 lead.
And they did it with a spread look Hoxie had not seen in any film study. It threw the host Indians off for the better part of the first half and helped the visitors jump out to a 13-0 lead.
“They came out and did something we weren’t ready for,” said Hoxie coach Lance Baar.
His team, though, did a good job of “learning on the fly, and just picking it up.”
For the Hoxie fans, though, waiting until nearly the end of the first half was probably a bit long. South Central seemingly could do no wrong as it led 19-6 after a 12-yard pass with 7 minutes to play before halftime.
Hoxie’s only real positive came when running back Latham Schwarz — operating out of the wildcat — hit Taylor Burris for a deep catch and run that pulled Hoxie within 13-6.
South Central was moving the ball at will, taking advantage of several halfback passes and deep routes against a Hoxie defense that had allowed just one touchdown in its previous three games.
“All the film we had on them, they had not run that offense yet,” Schippers said. “We had no idea what to expect out of it.”
Finally, though, Hoxie was able to seize some momentum. It came on the final play of the first half. The Timberwolves drove the field — aided by a pair of Hoxie penalties — and were set up at the goal line with seconds remaining. South Central got a play off, but the Hoxie defense stood up South Central quarterback Chayde Snyder at the goal line.
“Excitement and a little bit of anger,” Schippers said of the halftime break. “We really wanted to keep playing and not take a break right there.”
But that intermission gave Hoxie some time to figure things out, and it showed in the second half. The teams exchanged possessions to start the third quarter, and Hoxie finally found a break. After South Central recovered a punt touched by a Hoxie blocker, the Timberwolves fumbled their first play in Hoxie territory.
On the ensuing drive, Hoxie quarterback Jared Kennedy hit Schippers from 3 yards to make it 19-14.
“I challenged them at halftime,” Baar said of his team. “I told them, ‘We’re down two scores. What are we going to do? You want to lay down and get beat or you want to go out there and fight?’ ”
The Hoxie offense the rest of the way fed off its defense. That, and the play of Schwarz, who Baar said was determined to win.
“As soon as we made a couple stops, that’s the main thing,” Baar said. “Once we flipped the field, we got it rolling a little bit.”
After being held in check most of the way, Hoxie’s star running back broke loose. With 11:53 left, he busted up the middle for 35 yards, breaking a few tackles at the line of scrimmage. That gave Hoxie its first lead after he also ran in the two-point conversion. The play epitomized what Schwarz has done all season.
“He was dead to rights. He had nowhere to go,” Baar said. “He found some inner strength and popped free. He’s a great athlete, great determined kid.”
Schippers twice identified Schwarz as “MVP” during postgame chats.
“He’s definitely the heart and soul of our offense,” Schippers said. “He could play any position on the field if he had to.”
South Central, though, didn’t go quietly despite the momentum shift. Dalton Morehead, who was among the quarterbacks for South Central for the night, hit Jonny Robles from 61 yards to put the Timberwolves back on top with just more than 6 minutes to play.
It was short-lived, however, and Schwarz made sure of that.
He again broke free from 30 yards, and a Kennedy two-point pass to Schippers stretched the lead to five. Wylie Weems got an interception, then Hoxie was able to run out the clock from there.
Schwarz finished with 135 of Hoxie’s 149 rushing yards, pushing his season total to 1,275. He also completed the 60-yard TD pass out of the wildcat formation.
The Indians earned a date with perennial Eight-Man I power Spearville (11-0), which scored in the final seconds to beat Claflin-Central Plains on Friday.