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Game of the Week: Hoxie, Wallace County matchup a good indicator

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Hoxie High School senior center/nose guard Mitchel Johnson has looked forward to playing Wallace County all year. Individually, Johnson has a rematch against Wildcat all-state senior center/nose guard Dalton Walker.

Overall, this Friday's contest in Hoxie provides two talented teams a good barometer entering district action. Game time is 7 p.m. in Hoxie.

"If we beat them, then we can probably beat anyone," Johnson said.

Week 2 marks the fourth straight season Wallace County and Hoxie match up in the regular season. Hoxie won the first meeting 44-0, while the Wildcats have delivered 30-22 and 20-6 victories the last two seasons. Last week, Wallace County opened with a 51-0 victory against a Dighton team capable of putting up big numbers, and Hoxie defeated Tribune-Greeley County 54-6.

"I think every coach will tell you, you want some difficult games in your non-district, your first two for most people," Wallace County coach Kevin Ayers said. "They are going to show some things that we need to definitely work on and maybe expose some weaknesses. That's good early in the season."

Wallace County has made the playoffs all seven seasons under Ayers, is 19-3 since the start of the 2011 season and is ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man Division II in the statewide media poll.

Hoxie, 20-9 since the '10 start, is receiving votes in Eight-Man Division I.

"It's good to get to play a good team pretty early in the season," Hoxie coach Lance Baar said. "Just kind of let you know where you are at. Sharon Springs is definitely a team that has a good track record. They have been good for quite some time. If we can play up with Sharon Springs, we should be able to play right up with the rest of our schedule."

Last Friday, Hoxie rushed 33 times for 254 yards and had three players record at least six carries, including 16 carries for 164 yards and three TDs from junior Connor Katt. Baar said Hoxie kept things "pretty simple" against a Greeley County squad that is 1-18 in the last 19 games and has a first-year coach.

Senior quarterback Chase Kennedy, the team's leader, completed 2 of 3 passes for 25 yards and a score and had one rush for four yards. Baar and Katt expect Kennedy -- last season's team leader in total offense -- to have a much bigger role this week.

"He is the one that you want out there," Katt said.

Defensively, Hoxie collected eight sacks, including 3.5 from junior defensive end Tyler Ewers.

"A lot of those plays came right to him," Baar said. "It was just like a present for him. He is just doing his job, coming off the ball and doing what he is coached to do."

Senior Chance Hoeting moved in from Rexford in the middle of last season. He suffered a concussion during fall camp and had to miss a lot of practice. Hoeting played on special teams, started on offense and came in at nose guard and linebacker on defense. He finished with three tackles and 1.5 sacks.

"He really surprised me," Baar said. "He brought a lot of energy that you don't necessarily see everyday in practice."

Wallace County, the classification's No. 1 scoring defense at 9.1 points per game allowed in 2012, limited Dighton to 41 total yards. The Hornets had some injuries, but had multiple returners, including explosive back Isaac Alinor returning from a team that averaged 39 points per contest.

Wallace County senior Cayden Daily had a 55-yard punt return early, a play that senior Kyle Gfeller called a "huge start."

"I was still pleased with how our kids got to the ball and stayed pretty assignment-sound," Ayers said. "For our first game, it was one that we felt pretty good about. We just have a lot of work to do. There was no major, glaring things that really popped out to us, but just so many little things."

Arguably the best matchup comes at the interior with Walker and Johnson. Last season, Johnson had 68 tackles and a team-high three sacks, while Walker had 40 tackles and a Wildcat-best eight tackles for loss. In 2012, Johnson had eight tackles and a sack, while Walker had seven tackles and one TFL in the matchup.

"Him and Dalton Walker went round and round last year," Baar said.

The 5-foot-8, 215-pound Walker is a state powerlifting champion, while Johnson is 6-4, 215. Johnson has gained 30 pounds in the last season and bumped his squat from 240 to 360-370 pounds. On Friday, Johnson, Walker and their teams will receive its first tests of a season that both hope stretch well into November.

"Dalton Walker is a good player and I want to try to play my best against him," Johnson said.