HESSTON — The Hesston Swathers are the lone area football team left standing.
The Swathers are making their first semifinal playoff appearance since 2003 when they host undefeated Hoisington on Friday in Class 3A action.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The Swathers advanced to the Final Four by handing Phillipsburg its first loss of the year last week, in Phillipsburg no less, 38-26.
Hoisington, which has won each of its 12 games by double figures except for one, threw up a dragnet against high-scoring Garden Plain last week with a surprising 49-8 rout. The Owls defeated Hesston 33-27 in Week 1.
The Swathers will be facing their toughest opponent to date. But they certainly tuned up for it in a big way.
“We needed big plays and turnovers to win last Friday,” said Hesston coach Clint Rider, whose team is 9-3 with eight wins in a row. “Zach Esau threw some big-time touchdowns to Cameron Cox and Tanner Bachman. Zach Vogt returned the opening kickoff of the second half to give us the lead. Zach Esau also returned a fumble forced by Zach Anderson for a touchdown to seal the game. Our team showed great resilience in the face of adversity to be able to pull out the win.”
Hoisington has been steamrolling all season, but the Swathers’ tough schedule has prepared them well.
“Hoisington is a great football team that is ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason,” Rider said. “They are an extremely talented, physical and disciplined team who has beaten a number of other good teams. We cannot afford to get caught up in the hype of the game or other things that distract our focus. We also need to play as if we belong in this game. If all of our focus is on how great Hoisington is, that doesn't leave any room for us to talk about the things that we can do well to give ourselves a chance to win the game. This week has been a lot of fun. There is great energy throughout the school and the community.”
It will be the Cardinals’ crushing ground game against the amazing offensive balance of the Swathers.
Hunter Henzlick has rushed for 1,438 yards for Hoisington, with Cameron Davis (1,318) right behind. Quarterback Taylor Specht is highly efficient, completing 33 of 57 passes for 439 yards as the Cardinals simply don’t have to throw it much because they run it so well.
Hesston has more nearly 2,500 yards through the air and just over 2,300 on the ground. It starts with Esau, who has thrown for 2,467 yards and 25 touchdowns and also has rushed for 917 yards, while Parker Roth is over 1,000 yards rushing at 1,083.
Vogt heads a quartet of receivers as he has 42 catches for 745 yards and 10 scores. Cameron Cox is right behind at 39 catches, 716 yards and five scores. Toss in Tanner Bachman (23, 457, 6) and Reese Nebel (20, 309, 3) and you have many options.
The winner of this game plays the winner of Rossville and Nemaha Central for the championship a week from Saturday.