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.
Plainville (8-3) at Smith Center (10-1), 7 p.m.
The Mid-Continent League foes will meet up for the fourth time in two seasons, and for the second straight year they will face off for the sub-state championship game. Each of the last three contests have been close. Last year, Plainville won 20-16 to start the year, then won 14-0 in the sub-state title game, making the school’s first state title appearance in more than 30 years.
The Cardinals eventually fell to Troy after a late touchdown in the 2-1A title game at Lewis Field Stadium.
This season, Smith Center took the opener, 16-7, in a game marred with penalties and miscues for both teams.
Each team then went on to lose to Phillipsburg, but Smith Center beat Norton handily while the Cardinals fell to the Bluejays as part of an 0-3 start. Since, then, both teams have been on a tear. Outside of last week’s barnburning OT win by Plainville at Ell-Saline, neither of these teams has had a close game since Week 3. In fact, other than the OT game, the 16-7 win by Smith Center in Week 1 is the closest game either has played.
Smith Center has taken that to a different level, however. The Redmen have won their previous eight contests 488-27, giving up just four touchdowns in that span and seemingly returning to the dominant form that won the program five and nearly six straight 2-1A titles from 2004 to 2009.
Plainville also has won handily since Week 3. The 20 points allowed in last week’s 27-20 road win was the most the Cardinals have given up since losing 41-0 to Phillipsburg, and Plainville has averaged 38 points per game in its eight wins.
The Smith Center run game features multiple threats that has led to an average of 318 rushing yards per contest. Jesse Staples leads the charge with 76 carries for 1,033 yards and 22 scores, while Ethan Peterson has 601 yards and seven scores.
On defense, Avery Hawkins fuels a dominant Redmen front with 89 tackles and 14 tackles for loss. Collegiate hopeful Dalton Kuhn has 80 tackles with 15 for loss.
For the Cardinals, converted linemen Hayden Gillum and Jared Casey each have spent time in the backfield, supplementing the play of sophomore quarterback Jordan Finnesy. Finnesy has completed 16 of 131 passes for 1,601 yards with 10 touchdowns, while rushing the ball 232 times for 1,302 yards and 13 scores.
The winner of Friday’s contest will take on either Pittsburg/St. Mary’s-Colgan (9-2) or Olpe (9-2) in the state final next week at Lewis Field Stadium, a 7 p.m. start in Hays.
Marysville (11-1) at Phillipsburg (12-0), 7 p.m.
Few teams have turned in the dominance like what Phillipsburg has in 2017. Already the Panthers have set a school record with 12 wins and has enjoyed a successful stretch that included a 2-1A state title just two seasons ago. They nearly matched that in 3A a season ago, but went 11-1 with a loss to Hesston in the 3A sub-state title round.
The Panthers have allowed just a little more than 8 points per game this year, which leads Class 3A, and have scored 52, the second best in the classification
The Phillipsburg run game runs behind a dominant line that includes two seniors in Chris VanKooten and Nate Tedford. The top two rushers, senior Kirk Coomes and junior Treylan Gross each have collected more than 1,000 yards rushing this year with senior John Gower close behind in a three-headed rushing attack, helping the Panthers average more than 300 rushing yards per contest.
Marysville is looking for its third trip to a state title game, but the first since the 2009 season. The Bulldogs like to pass the ball, headlined by Jack Blumer’s 2,040 passing yards with 25 touchdowns. He also leads the team with nearly 700 rushing yards and 12 scores. Among his favorite targets is Gabe Pieschl, who has 1,004 receiving yards and 12 scores.
The winner advances to Hutchinson next week to face either Silver Lake (12-0) or Sabetha (11-1) for the 3A crown.
Eight-Man Division I
Hoxie (10-1) at Spearville (11-0), 6 p.m.
Back in a sub-state title round for the first time since 2013, the Hoxie Indians are looking for their first trip to a state title game since 1981. A win Friday also would mark the school’s first state title game appearances in eight-man. It won’t be easy, however, going against a program that has become a mainstay in the eight-man playoffs.
Spearville is playing in its third straight sub-state championship game, and won an undefeated state championship in 2015 before falling to St. Francis in last year’s sub-state round.
Hoxie has enjoyed a big turnaround this season, returning the bulk of a team that finished with six wins a year ago. The Indians won Eight-Man Division I, District 8 after a three-way tie was broken by scoring margin. The Indians have got it done with their defense, leading the classification with just 83 points allowed.
Last week’s 30-25 win was the second-most points given up by the Indians this season, and Hoxie was down 19-6 to start the game, facing a Coldwater-South Central team that threw a completely new offense out for the sectional round.
Hoxie will have a distinct size advantage in the game up front. Taye Washington checks in at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds, and Chris Cox 5-10, 233. The two have been a dominant force in the middle on defense. Washington has 67 tackles with 7.5 for loss and Cox has 56 tackles with 22 for loss. In all, Hoxie has 97 tackles for loss this season with 29.5 sacks for a loss of 155 yards.
The Indian offense is fueled by the play of Latham Schwarz. The senior spent time in the wildcat formation a week ago and threw a touchdown pass, but his explosive running makes the offense go. His speed and ability to break tackles has led to 1,275 rushing yards and 28 scores, while the next top rusher is Wylie Weems, a sophomore with 405 yards and eight scores.
When Hoxie does pass, quarterback Jared Kennedy has found a favorite target in Taylor Burris, who has nine catches for 305 yards and five scores.
Spearville needed a last-second touchdown last week to take out recent playoff rival Claflin-Central Plains. Spearville drove 65 yards and scored with one second left to make it back to this round for the third straight season. Bailey Sites has 1,081 rushing yards and 26 scores, while quarterback Kolby Stein has 877 passing yards with 13 scores and has yet to throw an interception.
The winner will face either Burlingame (11-0) or St. Paul (10-1) next week in Newton.
Eight-Man Division II
Otis-Bison (10-1) at Hodgeman County (9-2), 7 p.m.
Friday’s contest will be a rematch of a district contest won handily 58-26 by Otis-Bison to claim the district championship in Week 9. In that game, Otis-Bison amassed more than 500 yards on the ground en route to the victory.
It’s the third time the Cougars have reached the sub-state round under coach Travis Starr. The Cougars went to state in 2010, and made the sub-state round again in 2011.
Outside of a Week 3 loss to Central Plains, the Cougars have put up big wins, outscoring opponents 564-154.
Anton Foust has 823 passing yards and 20 scores with two interceptions, while carrying the ball 115 times for 1,051 yards. Blake Bahr, who has missed the two playoff games, could return Friday. He has 998 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Hodgeman County is made up of Hanston and Jetmore, two dominant powers in eight-man in their own right as separate programs. Outside of the loss to Otis-Bison in Week 9, the Longhorns also fell by 30 points to Eight-Man Division I semifinalist Spearville. Hodgeman County also has had one other close contest, a three-point win against Coldwater-South Central.
A win Friday will pit either team against either defending state champion Hanover (11-0) or Pike Valley (11-0) next week in Newton.