Each week during the 2018 prep football season, The Hays Daily News will highlight five games of interest from the area. This week, the HDN heads to Smith Center as MCL foes Smith Center and Phillipsburg battle atop the league.

Phillipsburg (2-0) at Smith Center (2-0) (Game of the Week)

It should surprise no one the top two teams in the Mid-Continent League are 2-0 through the first two weeks of the season. Smith Center, the defending Class 2-1A state champion, has streamrolled its way now to 13 straight victories, including outscoring its first two opponents this season 85-0.

Phillipsburg, as usual, has ran out a multitude of players in blowouts the first two weeks, picking up a 52-12 win and a 31-3 win in its 2-0 start. The Panthers have won 30 of their last 32 games. That includes three straight against Smith Center. In fact, Phillipsburg has not lost in the series since 2011 when J.B. Covington’s Panthers finished 7-3. They opened that season with losses to Plainville (37-21) and Smith Center (46-17), then reeled off seven straight victories.

The Panthers are led this year in the backfield by the combination of quarterback Trey Sides, Cha’Ron Ellis and Treylan Gross. The Redmen counter with the wishbone attack as Smith Center has posted 549 rushing yards through two games from 11 different backs, most notably Ethan Peterson (181 yards, two TDs) and Colby Benoit (130 yards, 4 TDs).

In all likelihood, the winner of Friday’s 7 p.m. kick will earn the 2018 MCL championship. Phillipsburg has Norton (0-2) and TMP (1-1) remaining on its schedule. However, Smith Center still has yet to play Plainville (1-1), arguably the third best team this season on the MCL slate.

 Liberal (1-1) at Hays High (0-2)

Hays High is 0-2, but has played in two tight contests against Class 6A Junction City and WAC foe Great Bend. The Indians were close late in a shootout before falling 56-31 at Junction, then lost 15-7 at Great Bend, a team HHS led 7-6 at the break.

The Indians will take on a Liberal team capable of putting up big numbers, showcased by a 41-0 rout of Guymon (Okla.) in Week 1. The Redskins then came back down to Earth in a 13-6 Week 2 loss to Class 6A Wichita North.

Led by WAC-leader Palmer Hutchison, the Indians have posted 338 passing yards through two weeks. Hutchison, also the WAC’s rushing leader, has 162 yards through two games. The senior has four total touchdowns.

Liberal counters with Syris Dunlap, who has four passing TDs and 184 yards, while rushing for 122 yards and a pair of scores. Liberal’s run game leads the WAC with nearly 400 yards, most of which came in the Week 1 win. Friday’s kick at Lewis Field Stadium is also the 2018 home debut.

Southeast of Saline (2-0) at Russell (2-0)

Russell is 2-0 for the first time since 2004. That alone should be an indicator the program is on the rise. However, Russell’s 2-0 start has come against Class 1A and 2A teams. Friday night, the Broncos will get another shot at a 2A in 2-0 Southeast of Saline. The Trojans come in having knocked Salina-Sacred Heart 39-0 and Beloit 14-13.

Russell has got it done through the air and on the ground. Austin Price, the Broncos’ senior QB, has 256 passing yards with three touchdowns, connecting on 10 of 24 attempts. Most have gone to senior A.J. Oste, who has 215 receiving yards and two scores. Price also leads Russell’s rushing attack with 13 carries for 91 yards and a score. The Broncos have scored just twice in the run game.

 Hill City (1-1) at Thunder Ridge (2-0)

In terms of scoring, Hill City has been off the charts through its 1-1 start. After putting up 76 in a 12-point loss to Osborne, the Ringnecks captured their first win by putting up 48 against WaKeeney-Trego.

Conner Born has been stellar through two weeks, posting 491 rushing yards and eight scores, and passing for 241 yards and four more with no interceptions. Dalen Journigan got in on the rushing action last week and now has 208 yards with three scores on just 24 attempts.

Friday, the Ringnecks will travel to Kensington to take on a resurgent Thunder Ridge squad. The Longhorns haven’t been 2-0 since 2013, and hasn’t won more than two games in a single season since going 6-3 in 2014, the final year under former coach Jerry Voorhees. This year, former standout Joel Struckhoff, eight-man’s all-time leading rusher for Thunder Ridge, took over as head coach for Otis-Hendryx.

Thunder Ridge’s running duo of Brandon Grauerholz (204 yards, 2 TDs) and Colton Davis (25 carries, 285 yards, 3 TDs), has been solid, while sophomore quarterback Jacob Barnes has completed 7 of 8 passes for 190 yards and one score.

The defense, though, has been the story thus far for the Longhorns as they haven’t allowed a score, have four tackles for loss and 12 sacks through two games. Five of those sacks have come from junior Tyler Krueger.

 Norton (0-2) at Oakley (2-0)

Each of the MCL teams is a bit in unfamiliar territory as of late. The Plainsmen haven’t recorded a 2-0 start since going 8-2 under former coach Randall Rath in 2013. Norton, meanwhile, hasn’t been 0-2 since droppings its first two games of 2013 to Smith Center and Goodland. That season, Lucas Melvin’s club responded by winning five straight and finishing the season 5-4. Against MCL foes Plainville (31-14 loss) and Smith Center (40-0 loss), the Bluejays have yet to find an identity. Kade Melvin has 74 passing attempts for 153 yards, and has thrown three touchdowns. He also leads the run game with 43 carries for 113 yards and has scored both of Norton’s TDs. Oakley, under second year head coach Jeff Hennick, has seen a bevy of backs contribute. Three different runners have at least 124 rushing yards and Oakley has scored 11 times in the run game. When he has thrown the ball, Kade Hemmert has connected, hitting 6 of 8 attempts for 175 yards and two scores with one pick.