It was at this point last year when the Hesston Swathers started to take off.
They were saddled with a 1-3 record heading into their game with Smoky Valley.
A solid 35-0 victory proved to be the firestarter to a nine-game winning streak that carried the Swathers into the Class 3A state title game.
Hesston and Smoky Valley again meet in Week 5 of the season, this time on Friday in Lindsborg. And the Swathers are 2-2 instead of 1-3, but they're hoping this game provides the same impetus as last year.
"This week is yet another tough opponent for us in Smoky Valley," Hesston coach Tyson Baurele said. "They have a very experienced and talented senior class that loves to play football. It will be another heavy-run team against our defense."
The Swather defense has been put to the test so far and last week had a tough time in the 47-21 loss to Nickerson. But it wasn't all on the defense, Bauerle said.
"We were off on many facets of the game, which made it very tough against a very big and very fast Nickerson team," he said. "This will be an important bounce-back week for us."
Despite the loss, Hesston's Mitchell Martin was a standout.
"It was great to see senior Mitchell Martin give us sparks throughout the night defensively," Bauerle said. "That was a great sign of leadership on his part. He had a scoop-and-score in the third quarter and also showed great effort in blocking a PAT early in the third quarter when it was still a tight ball game."
As for the Vikings, they are looking to improve to 4-1. They are coming off a 50-14 rout of Hillsboro as Kyle Anderson ran for 246 yards, while Tim Lambert added 77 and Cort Elliott finished 62. The Vikings threw it only two times as they pounded away with their impressive ground game.
"We played well against a hard-fighting Hillsboro team," Smoky Valley coach Tim Lambert said.
The third-year Viking coach knows his team will have to match Hesston's intensity as he believes they'll come out focused after losing last week.
"They will be hungry after losing to Nickerson last Friday," he said.
• Little River at Goessel — Little River is smoking hot, coming off an impressive 50-26 win over previously undefeated Solomon to move to 3-1 on the season.
“I really thought as a team our players made adjustments early in the game that helped us come away with a victory,” Little River coach Chad Lafferty said. “After going 3-and-out on our first two possessions, I think our line realized the angles they needed to take to block and the backs hit the holes hard and made the cuts when needed and our offense started to do some good things then. Defensively, they had a lot of weapons to defend and the kids did really well at not letting the big play happen too often. Teams have been outgaining us and have run a lot more plays than us, but I think it's because our defense will give up yards but it's in chunks of 3-4 yards and eventually the defense makes a big play, the whole bend but don't break mentality.”
Little River, which routed Goessel 64-30 last year, will be a hefty favorite but Lafferty said his team won’t be overlooking the Bluebirds.
“Goessel is a very good team whose record (0-4) really isn’t a true representation of their abilities and they have played some really tough teams so far,” Lafferty said. “They can run the ball with their read plays and then exploit your defense in the passing game if you stay in zone by hitting the holes that are vacated by the linebackers when covering backs out of the backfield. This will be both teams’ first district game so I'm sure each team will be fired up and ready to go.”
Little River’s success figures to be greatly influenced by the play of Peyton Harvey and Hunter Thomas.
“I think Peyton Harvey and Hunter Thomas had really good games for us last week,” Lafferty said. “I thought Peyton blocked extremely well and ran really hard when he had the ball in his hands. Hunter had a very good game, he was seeing the holes and the cutback lanes and was able to reach the end zone many (five) times. They both had good games and a lot of that had to do with the line blocking as well.”
Goessel is coming off a 44-38 loss to Peabody, but before that it had lost three games by the 46-point rule.
• Claflin at Canton-Galva — The Eagles were hoping to win last week against Wakefield to build momentum heading into this week, but it was a game film they would just as soon throw in the trash after a 52-26 loss left them at 2-2 on the season.
“Last Friday was one of those nights you dread as a coach,” C-G’s Shelby Hoppes said. “Getting off the bus my staff and I had concerns about our energy levels and focus. It continued into pregame and so on. What followed was a game full of penalties, mental mistakes, turnovers, and lack of execution. With all that said, we had multiple opportunities to make it a dogfight till the end and couldn't capitalize. To start the second half we came out and stopped them on their opening possession and then scored to make it a 6-point game, but couldn't ever get over the hump. We talked about it Saturday at film and again on Monday and the players, staff and myself understand that the overall performance last Friday is unacceptable. Now we have to learn from it and move on.”
Central Plains has a legendary program and blanked the Eagles last year 50-0. Hoppes knows the challenge is monumental, but his team won’t back down.
“They are one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state and are very well coached,” Hoppes said. “Coach (Chris) Steiner has great numbers out again this year with lots of experience.”
Since opening the season with a 34-8 loss to powerhouse Victoria, the Wildcats have sailed through the last three weeks. They overwhelmed Kinsley 68-0 last week.
• Moundridge at Remington — The Wildcats will be favored to win for the first time after starting the season with four losses against quality competition.
The Wildcats, for the first time this year, were not in their game last week with Sterling, losing 42-7.
“We did not play very well, we came out flat and slow and that hurts us,” Moundridge coach Jeremiah Meeks said. “We got down in a hole early with some turnovers and couldn't overcome that against a good team.”
The Wildcats will be facing a Remington team they defeated 34-30 last year and like Moundridge is looking for its first win of the season.
“They are a good team that will cause some problems with the style of offense that they run,” Meeks said. “They will sling it around a little bit and put their athletes in some space. They have a big defense that will fly around. We will need to control both sides of the offensive line to be successful.”
Remington has had a hard time putting points on the board. After playing Sterling competitively in Week 1, losing 34-20, the Broncos have been outscored 113-13 over the last three games with losses to Ell-Saline, Trinity Catholic and Marion.
• Medicine Lodge at Inman — The Teutons are still looking for their first win after playing mostly top teams through the first four weeks.
This is a game the Teutons won 10-7 last year and traditionally the two teams play low-scoring affairs.
"Medicine Lodge is a team that is very similar to us," Inman coach Lance Sawyer said. "Not real big up front, but have some solid skill position players. They are fast and play an up-tempo offense. We will need to stop their running game to compete."
Last week's game with Ell-Saline got away from the Teutons, who lost team leader Jaxon Eddy to a broken foot. "He will leave a huge hole on both the offensive and defensive end," Sawyer said.
Yet, Sawyer took away a lot of positives.
"I think we took great strides in getting back to the team we want to be against Ell-Saline," he said. "Defensively we played pretty well. Other than two long runs we played much better against the run. We tackled better and looked to be more aggressive. Offensively, we struggled. We were unable to run the ball which put us in a lot of third-and-long situations. We played against the wind the first quarter and were unable to get it out of our half of the field."
Jordan Friesen came up with 14 tackles to lead the Teutons, while Sawyer said Mason Thiessen is transitioning well into the wide receiver position.