There are few football districts in Class 3A as difficult as the one Hesston is in.
The Swathers took care of Hillsboro 49-20 last week, but now face undefeated Southeast of Saline on Friday, followed by another monster showdown against once-beaten Marion the final night of the season.
The Swathers make the trip to Gypsum on Friday with the district lead on line. Southeast handed Marion its first loss last week, so it’s a pair of 1-0 district teams matching up.
“Southeast of Saline is a quality opponent who has not lost a game this year,” said Hesston coach Clint Rider, whose team has reeled off three straight wins after a 1-3 start. “We have our hands full. They like to find a number of ways to get the ball in Ben Murray's hands, whether he is split out at wide receiver or in the backfield. Their quarterback has a good arm and is a big threat in the running game as well. They are a balanced team that can hurt you either on the ground or in the air.”
While the Trojans can score a lot of points, their defense can be stifling.
“Defensively, we would expect them to be in either a 3-4 or a 4-4,” Rider said. “Our offense has seen just about every front imaginable this year, so we feel comfortable in our adjustments. Saline has some beef up front and a quality secondary that will force us to be very balanced between run and pass.”
Hesston had it all going last week as it seemingly has gotten better every game.
“Last week was maybe the most complete game that we have played this season,” Rider said. “The offense scored seven touchdowns and the first-team offense scored on every possession. Defensively, beyond the first possession, our defense was lights-out. We held them to 7 total points until our first team was out late in the fourth quarter. Very happy with the discipline we played with on that side of the ball and had a big week from our secondary against a good passing attack from Hillsboro.”
Parker Roth had 150 yards rushing and two scores for Hesston, while Zach Esau threw for three scores and ran for two more. Tanner Bachman caught two of the scoring passes.
• Ellinwood at Little River — Going into last week, Little River coach Paul Dold thought his team had underachieved through six games.
It certainly achieved against Canton-Galva in Week 7.
The Redskins roared to a lopsided 54-8 victory as they took a huge step toward clinching a playoff spot. They are 2-1 in the district and 3-4 overall.
“Last Friday against Canton-Galva we demonstrated improvement in a couple areas,” Dold said. “Offensively our line did a better job of sticking on blocks and adjusting to the aggressiveness of Canton-Galva's defensive front. Defensively our secondary improved immensely with being disciplined and covering passes effectively without giving up the big play.”
Dold said Clay Zeller was immense on both sides of the ball as he quarterbacked efficiently and made some big stops on defense. Payton Harvey and Hunter Thomas have developed into quite a tandem at running back, with Harvey totaling six touchdowns against the Eagles — four on rushes and two on pass receptions.
While the Redskins should be able to control Ellinwood, the Eagles in Dold’s mind are capable.
“Our pass defense will really be tested as they are very accomplished and prolific with the short-passing game,” Dold said. “On offense we will probably face a 4-2 front with aggressive tackles and ends that will test our offensive linemen.”
The Eagles are winless in the district and 1-6 overall. They were point-ruled 60-12 last week by Central Plains. They also have lost by two points to both Goessel and St. John in district play.
• Goessel at Canton-Galva — The Eagles are coming off their first real clunker of the year, a disappointing 54-8 loss to Little River.
"Honestly, last week was the first time I have been disappointed in the boys," C-G coach Dustin Patee said. "Not because of the fact that we lost, but how we played. We opened up scared and then we just quit. I hope we can learn from this game that it is not winning or losing, but how you play and the effort put forth."
To have any hopes of making the playoffs, the Eagles must win Friday and win big.
"Goessel is our other rival, so they will come prepared to put it to us," Patee said. "They have two great athletes and a decent receiver, but lack in physicality. We will try to wear them down physically this week, we will do nothing fancy. We will go back to true football, the I-formation and running the ball. If we are the tougher team, we will win."
Goessel lost 64-30 to Little River so Friday's game should be competitive.
• Christ Prep at Inman — The Teutons, reeling from their stunning 58-35 loss to Remington last week, step out of district play to take on Christ Prep.
"We came out flat and could not recover," Inman coach Lance Sawyer said. "Turnovers were a major factor in the game. We had five turnovers inside their 20-yard line."
Inman was favored to win its third straight last week, but the Broncos could do no wrong.
The Teutons are 2-5 and host Sedgwick next week in the game that will determine their playoff fate.
"We still control our own destiny," Sawyer said. "It is nice to have a break to regroup with the injuries we had last week. We will need to work out some kinks to be ready for Sedgwick next week."
This is the first-ever meeting with Christ Prep, which comes out of the Kansas City area. It is 3-4 on the season and edged Medicine Lodge last week, a team the Teutons slipped by 10-7 earlier this season.
"They will run a spread offense and a 4-4 cover 3 defense," Sawyer said. "They have some really good athletes on both sides of the ball."
• Smoky Valley at Chapman — The Vikings can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Clay Center victory over Rock Creek, which would set up a district championship game showdown the following Friday in Lindsborg.
The Vikings are 5-2 overall and still have a chance to reverse their 2-7 record from a year ago as they are the area's most improved team.
Staying focused is the key. Chapman was slammed 47-0 last week by Clay Center.
"They have some good skill people that we will need to contain," Smoky Valley coach Tim Lambert said.
The Vikings pulled out a 36-29 victory over Rock Creek last week when Riley Odell scored with 9 seconds left in the game. He finished with 148 yards rushing, but Kyle Anderson had 184. They combined for all five touchdowns as the Vikes' ground game continues to be punishing.
• Moundridge at Medicine Lodge — For the Wildcats to have any semblance of hope of making the playoffs, they need a big win over the Chiefs.
The Wildcats played their best game of the season last week in defeat, losing 24-20 to district leader Sedgwick. The Wildcats had the ball at the 6-inch line inside a minute to go, only to fumble.
If the Wildcats win, they finish district play 2-2 and then it most likely comes down to points. The door was opened last week when Remington upset Inman.
Coach Jeremiah Meeks could not be reached for comment about this week's game.