Harlan Obioha’s catch leads to Hoxie win
LA CROSSE, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hoxie was at the La Crosse 23-yard line with 7.5 seconds remaining in the first half. The Indians, down two, called timeout. The players brought ideas to coach Lance Baar. Junior quarterback Ashton Dowell wanted 6-foot-11, 305-pound senior lineman Harlan Obioha on the outside at wide receiver.
Obioha, ranked as Kansas' ninth-best player in the Class of 2021, had never played outside. However, Baar said Obioha, who holds Division I offers in football and basketball, might have the team’s “best hands.”
Hoxie came out in the formation with Obioha single covered on the right. La Crosse then called timeout, though still elected to again guard Obioha with one defender. Dowell lofted a pass to Obioha, who caught it around the five-yard line. La Crosse 6-foot, 146-pound sophomore defensive back Bryce Conner had Obioha in his grasp.
Obioha reached for the end zone and crossed the goal line with .3 seconds left. The play gave Hoxie its first lead at 18-14. The Indians scored 18 unanswered second half points and won 36-14 in a key Eight-Man, Division I non-conference road game Friday. It marked the team’s first meeting since ’01, according to the Kansas Football History database.
“I am a pretty lengthy kid, so I thought I could stretch it out and get there,” Obioha said.
Led by its seniors and depth, Hoxie, ranked eighth in Division I, improved to 1-1. La Crosse, in its first season of eight-man football and tenth ranked in Division I, dropped to 0-2 with a pair of losses to ranked teams.
La Crosse ran 23 more plays and outgained Hoxie, 277-190. Junior running back Colby Stull rushed for a pair of scores. Coach Jon Webster said his team’s effort improved “so much” from Week 1.
The Leopards switched quarterbacks late from Conner to freshman Caden Morgan. Conner missed Week 1 because of COVID-19 concerns. Webster said both are likely to play going forward.
“We came out swinging and we battled for four quarters,” Webster said. "And the last play of the game where we have got a kid who runs from across the field and saves a touchdown shows how much pride and effort we played with tonight.
“We still lost by 22 points, but we took a big step,” he added. “We had a lot of mental mistakes, blocking assignments, formations, alignment, those things that we have to clean up. We’ve got to a better job of coaching the kids up, and our kids got to do a better job of just relaxing.”
The Indians were plus-3 in turnover margin and delivered multiple big plays. Senior Caden White scored on a 52-yard pass in the first quarter. Senior Gavin Tremblay had a first half kickoff 52 yards for a TD.
“Ball came up in the middle, and I just kind of grabbed it,” Tremblay said. “And it was a return in the middle, so I kind of just saw the middle, and then there was an open hole, and my guys blocked it perfectly.”
He picked off two passes. The first one came with 33.5 seconds before intermission and eventually led to Obioha’s TD. Tremblay saw the quarterback’s eyes go straight to the receiver on the left, a trend he picked up on film.
“I blame myself for what happened,” Webster said. “I should’ve taken the knee before the half. But we have got some kids who can break some plays. Let’s give them a shot.”
In the second half, Tremblay returned an interception to the Leopard 1-yard line. Sophomore Brady Jones scored on the next snap for a 30-14 lead.
Sophomore Derek Johnson tallied the first TD of the second half on a three-yard run, and senior Aidan Baalman delivered the game’s last score on a 15-yard catch.
“Even starting this summer, those are guys that have stepped up to the plate as leaders in the weight room,” Baar said. “The weight room attendance has been great, and that has carried over to football. … They are bought in, and they are all in for their senior year, and they are wanting to make the most of it.”
Dowell completed 7 of 19 passes for 143 yards and three scores. The game shifted on Obioha’s catch.
“The quarterback threw a great ball,” Webster said. “And he’s an athletic dude for his size, and he made a great play.”
La Crosse started from its own five with 1:26 remaining in the first half. Two plays later, Tremblay had his interception.
“We really wanted to capitalize and get our momentum going into halftime,” Tremblay said.
Obioha has earned national attention for his size – and is the tallest prospect in recent Kansas history. Of the 250-plus Kansas football players who signed to play in college last year, none were taller than 6-foot-7.
He is ranked as the No. 139 offensive line prospect nationally. Obioha is the tallest among the top-190 OL prospects.
He’s picked up football offers from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa State, Ole Miss and Texas State, according to recruiting service 247 Sports. Last year, Obioha had a well-publicized pick-six for a score.
A first team Class 2A all-state basketball player, Obioha has collected basketball offers from Grambling State and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, among others.
Once La Crosse called timeout, Hoxie believed La Crosse was going to bracket Obioha.
“Looking back, we should have jammed him at the line,” Webster said. “Not get him a free release to get his momentum going and getting his feet set and be able to jump up. We should have maybe bracket coveraged him a little bit, because we knew (they) were going to him.”
Hoxie put White in the slot, a place he never plays. Hoxie would have likely thrown to White if Obioha was double covered. Instead, La Crosse remained 1-on-1 and brought pressure.
"I told my quarterback, “If they have one guy on me, throw it to me,'” Obioha said. “'He’s not going to be able to jump with me.'”
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