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Hoxie up for another challenge

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Hoxie High School football team lost to Wallace County, undefeated in Eight Man Division II, 36-28, in the season's second contest. Then, the Indians rolled off six straight wins and faced modest challenges from just two teams, Dighton and Ness City.

In Week 9, Hoxie faced rival and then undefeated-Atwood. The Indians led just 6-0 after the first quarter, but opened it up to a 54-28 victory. Hoxie rushed for 339 yards, 47 more than the Buffs, had an 82-3 edge in passing yards.

"We never got down," Hoxie coach Lance Baar said. "We were always ready to fight and ready to keep going."

The following week, Hoxie played Spearville in the first round of the Division I playoffs. The Indians fumbled, the Lancers picked the ball up and scored. But Hoxie didn't flinch. Spearville held a 30-28 lead entering the fourth quarter and the Indians rallied for a 44-38 victory. At that point, Baar knew his team could accomplish something special. His squad had overcome adversity and delivered quality wins, traits that form deep playoff runs.

"You know that they are going to be tight games," Baar said.

Last week, Hoxie built its resume further and continued a remarkable turnaround in Baar's five-year tenure. Hoxie defeated Kiowa County 38-8, moved to 10-1 and into this Friday's sub-state championship game against Jetmore-Hodgeman County (11-0). Game time is 6 p.m. in Jetmore.

Eight-Man Division I has had several surprise state game participants the last two years with Mankato-Rock Hills and Montezuma-South Gray. Neither Hoxie nor Hodgeman County were ranked in the preseason or during the regular season. The Longhorns have outscored teams 530-132 and rank No. 1 in scoring defense.

"They stack their defense in there," Baar said. "They have five, six guys right up there, right around that line of scrimmage. They definitely want to stop that inside run game, and be tough and physical up front."

Hoxie has played the No. 8 strength of schedule and has a collective score of 502-170, according to preppowerindex.com. Senior quarterback Chase Kennedy has 928 rushing yards and 609 passing yards. Junior running back Connor Katt has 1,905 all-purpose yards (1,516 rushing) and 26 rushing scores.

"He runs harder and harder every game," Kennedy said.

Hoxie has enjoyed the third-best season in school annals; the Indians earned runner-up finishes in 1978 and '81.

"I think that's just the mental toughness and just believing in themselves and knowing that they are never out of a ballgame as long as they keep fighting as hard as they can," Baar said.

Baar, in his first head coaching job, came to Hoxie after a 1-8 season. The Indians finished 2-7 in the program's last year of 11-man football. Then, Hoxie finished 6-3, 6-3 and 7-3 with a first round 50-12 loss to Hodgeman County last year. Baar is proud of his players for the turnaround, hard work and a changed mentality. Even in his second and third seasons, if Hoxie didn't score early, the game turned.

"You would just feel it," Baar said. "All of the air in our guys is out. At that point, we were pretty much defeated. We don't have that anymore. Once we get down, we have our battle gear on, and we are ready to go. We want to do whatever it takes to get back into the ball game."

Against Kiowa County, the Indians' defense corralled Maverick senior quarterback Trever Powell and held him to 37 carries for 194 yards. Powell has rushed for 2,474 yards this season. On film, Baar noticed opponents playing aggressive with Powell.

Opponents rushed Powell hard and took themselves out of the play. Instead, Hoxie focused on containment. If a lineman pulled, Hoxie stayed close. That allowed Powell to come to Hoxie. Then, the linebackers and defensive backs flowed well.

"Just kind of slow played it," Baar said.

Senior Chance Hoeting had missed several games with a concussion, but responded with a game-high 12 tackles and two sacks. Hoeting starts at linebacker and goes to the line when Hoxie plays a four-front. Senior Mitchel Johnson has played well at nose guard (team-high 85 tackles) and juniors Tanner Smith (Indian-best nine tackles for loss) and Tyler Ewers are at defensive end. Senior Tyler Kaus moved back to linebacker and Katt sometimes comes down from safety to play linebacker.

"They are all physical, tough kids who have a lot of fight in them," Baar said. "That's what it takes to be in the trenches there. I have been really proud of them, and I have been telling them all week at practice that we have got another challenge this week."