Hoxie captures first state title; 54-14 over St. Paul

Hoxie team poses on the field after claiming the 8M-I state title. (Courtesy Sports In Kansas)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 25, 2017

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On the first day of school, Hoxie senior running back Latham Schwarz talked with coach Lance Baar.

“I said, ‘Honestly, if we don’t win a state championship this year, I am going to be disappointed,’” Schwarz said.

Baar agreed.

On Saturday, Hoxie, behind another big game from Schwarz and its dominant front, rolled over St. Paul, 54-14, to win the Eight-Man, Division I state championship.

“It’s what I have been saying all season long, this is a complete team,” Baar said. “You look for a star here and a star there. It could be anybody any week, and good football teams like that, they can come together. This is what they get.”

The Indians had no seniors off a 6-3 team last year and returned its squad virtually intact. Senior Chris Cox, a former Oakley standout, transferred and had a standout season at nose guard and fullback.

“We had a dream that we wanted to accomplish, and we got it done,” Cox said.

Hoxie finished 12-1 won its first state football crown in school annals. The Indians had previously taken second in ’78 and ’81 and had a semifinal finish in ’13.

“We have worked for a long time for this, and Hoxie as a town, as a community, has waited for this for long enough, and it was our time, and we got it done, so very, very proud,” Baar said.

Many of Hoxie’s current seniors had played significantly since they were younger due to no numbers in the class above them.

“We always kind of had a year of not being that great, and it kind of stayed that way all through junior high and high school,” Schwarz said. “We had virtually the same team from my sophomore year to now. We had three really good seniors my sophomore year, and they helped us a lot, and they taught us a lot, and then last year, we had no seniors for us.”

Since the semifinal run in ’13, Baar believed this season could make a deep run in the playoffs. Hoxie posted 5-4, 5-3, and 6-3 records the last three seasons with strong defenses.

This fall, though, Hoxie led Division I in scoring defense much of the year and permitted just nine points a game. Cox said no team scored more than six points in a second half against Hoxie all year.

“We had a couple attitude problems last year, and we got it all ironed out,” Schwarz said. “Last year, we could have done just as good. We weren’t mentally there yet. Physically and everything else, we were there.

“We just weren’t mentally there, and then going through the summer, we hit the weight room hard,” he added. “And we practiced a lot, and we kind of just knew at the beginning of this season, this has got to be the one, and we all believed from the beginning.”

Schwarz entered the game with 231 carries for 1,518 yards and 31 rushing scores. In the semifinals, he set career highs for carries (34) and yards (243).

“Schwarz has been the leader since I came to Hoxie,” Cox said. “I have noticed that. We have all followed his lead. He basically told me, ‘You just make the hole, and I will run through it.’ That kid is outstanding.”

In the championship, he had 33 carries, including 23 in the first half, for 204 yards and four rushing scores.

“I told people all week long, Hoxie has got a heck of a football team,” St. Paul coach Keith Wiatrak said. “They are big, and they are powerful, and they run downhill. That’s how you win in the playoffs. We tried everything. We threw everything at them.”

In the four playoff games, Schwarz exceeded 100 yards every game and had at least 20 carries in each contest. He scored at least one touchdown in every game but one in ’17.

“I love it,” the 166-pound Schwarz said of the heavy load. “This week it will be a Sunday, but every Saturday I don’t always love it, but Friday night and today, I love it. I love it a lot.”

Hoxie, with a significant size advantage up front, opened the game with an 11-play drive that finished on a three-yard Cox scoring run. In the second quarter, Hoxie ran often with Schwarz as the wildcat quarterback in shotgun. The Indians had used Schwarz in the wildcat in the playoffs but generally in the second half.

“It’s just kind of a feel,” Baar said. “Thought that they were stopping us a little bit, we weren’t getting as much in the run game, we weren’t getting as much in the run game as we liked. So that’s just another look just to kind of power it down their throats and kind of wear on them a little bit. Use our heavy run game.”

Schwarz finished another 11-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead with 8 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half.

“They are just so big, and (Schwarz) gets behind them, and you can’t find him, and he gets a head of steam going, and then the next thing you know, your DBs are trying to make the tackle,” Wiatrak said.

The Indians recovered a fumble, and then drove to the St. Paul 3-yard line. Schwarz fumbled at the 1, and St. Paul senior quarterback/defensive back Braven Born recovered.

Three plays after the fumble, Born, who eventually suffered a serious leg injury in the second half on a hit from Cox, quickly pulled St. Paul to within 14-8 with a 74-yard pass to senior Brenden Doherty.

Wiatrak learned the play from St. Francis coach Rodney Yates this week. St. Francis gave Hoxie its only loss, 16-8, in Week 5.

“I had to run a trick play to score, so that’s never a good sign,” Wiatrak said. “I have been doing this for awhile, and if you are in the first (half), and you are running trick plays already, then you are struggling.”

Three plays after the St. Paul score, junior quarterback Jared Kennedy found senior Taylor Burris for the first of two 48-yard receiving TDs. Hoxie tacked on a 2-yard run by Schwarz just before halftime for a 28-8 lead.

“I felt like the momentum was on our side pretty much the whole game,” Baar said.

Led by its front of Cox, senior Luke Schippers and juniors Taye Washington, Colton Heskett and Jarrod Dible, the Indians played well against St. Paul senior standout lineman Anthony Albertini.

Cox, Heskett and Dible were all in on at least one sack; all three players weigh at least 180. Hoxie permitted just 28 carries for 35 yards.

“Taye’s a big kid,” Cox said of the 335-pound Washington. “He can protect the run the best in the state. It gives him a break by letting me come in and do a pass rush every now and then, and I like sacking people, so it’s good for the both of us.”

St. Paul tried a variety of looks, including a four-front to open the second half.

“When you are a big team, defenses look for ways that they can stop you, and they will throw a lot of stuff at you, so I think that really prepared us for this run,” Baar said. “Sometimes in the regular season, we were a little confused and flustered. We couldn’t pick up blitzes, we couldn’t pick up stunts, but we’ve seen it all by this point.”

Hoxie led 42-6 after three quarters after a one-yard run from Schwarz and a 14-yard run from Jared Kennedy.

“That’s the way we’ve played all year long,” Schwarz said. “That’s the type of team we are. We are not just one guy that we’ve built around. It’s team, team. Everybody worked their butt off all four years now, and got us to where we are.”

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