Dowell, improved passing game lead Hoxie to big win
HOXIE, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Last season, Hoxie’s Ashton Dowell was named starting quarterback in Week 1. Dowell, then a sophomore, had an up-and-down year. He completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,244 yards, though tossed nine touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Dowell also lost three fumbles.
Hoxie finished 4-5, its first losing season since ’09, the program’s last year of 11-man football. During the summer, Dowell spent significant time on reading and analyzing defenses. Dowell specifically went back and watched performances where he had turnovers.
The study, coupled with Hoxie’s new spread concepts, has led to a sizable turnaround. On Friday, Dowell continued his big season with a 50-0 home victory versus Montezuma-South Gray in an Eight-Man, Division I Round of 16 playoff matchup.
“That’s helped me a lot this year,” Dowell said. “Watching the linebackers and watching the DBs is a big, big factor. And being able to stay in the pocket is big, compared to last year, I feel like I have improved so much on that from last year.”
Dowell rushed for a pair of one-yard scores, and delivered passing TDs of 35, 34 and 24 yards. The game was called with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left in the fourth quarter because of the 45-point mercy rule. SG offensive coordinator Jeff Blattner was out all week with sickness.
Rebel running back Aaron Skidmore rushed for more than 1,300 yards this season, though was slowed by a stress fracture in his foot suffered last week. Defensively, Hoxie senior 6-foot-10, 325-pound senior lineman Harlan Obioha delivered a sack, quarterback hurry and batted pass in the second half.
“We didn’t match their physicality at all,” South Gray coach Grant Salmans said. “I mean, they were just physical from the word go. We didn’t ever pick it up. We have had games like that where we have come out like that, but we have straightened it out. And tonight we just never straightened it out.”
Senior Caden White caught a score, and senior Aidan Baalman delivered two great TD catches. SG generally featured one safety, which allowed Hoxie to have open players. White, a solid blocker, split out for the first time. Hoxie took advantage of crossing and drag routes.
“This week, they manned up,” Dowell said. “And so I struggle against zone. Man, I usually do pretty well, so far this season. Zone, I am just a little late on reading the zones. But this week, man I was pretty confident coming into this game.”
Dowell cleared 130 passing yards Friday and carries a 20/3 TD/INT ratio this fall. He has thrown for more than 1,350 yards and lost just two fumbles.
“I didn’t tell him to do that,” Hoxie coach Lance Baar said of Dowell’s summer work. “He’s a good kid and he loves football, and he obviously wants to be the best that he can be.”
Hoxie captured its eighth straight win and has doubled its win total from last year. The 8-1 Indians will face Goessel (5-3) in next week’s quarterfinals. South Gray, which won its first playoff game since ’11, finished 8-2. The game was considered one of Kansas' marquee matchups during the week. Baar “absolutely” did not expect a blowout.
“From watching them on film, seeing what they had done throughout the season, everything pointed to this being a dogfight to the very end, and just was one of those nerve-wracking games,” Baar said. “We just came out different than we had all year. Our guys took it up a notch for sure.”
However, SG turned the ball over on the first play, which eventually led to a Hoxie score. The Indians led 16-0 after the first quarter and 30-0 at halftime and finished with its fourth shutout this year. Hoxie’s only loss is a 54-20 defeat to No. 2-ranked Leoti-Wichita County in the season opener for WC’s closest game. The squads could match up in the West state semifinals. Leoti has beaten both SG and Hoxie.
“(Hoxie) and Leoti are the two best on this side,” Salmans said. “But I think Leoti’s probably clearly the top in class right now, but you never know. You get a ding here or there, (Hoxie) could step up and beat anybody.”
Hoxie moved into the quarterfinals for the fourth time under Baar (80-37 record with the Indians). Hoxie, generally known for its running game and defense, won the state title in ’17, went to the semifinals in ’13 and quarterfinals two years ago.
Baar attends two Glazier Clinics, generally in Kansas City and Denver, and picked up new plays from several sources, including longtime college offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Mainly known for his time at Arizona and Arizona State, Mazzone runs a quarterback-friendly spread. In the summer, Baar said Hoxie implemented “a few more” pass concepts and “repped them a lot more.” Hoxie changed from double tight end power to more spread.
“Our playbook has gotten so much bigger from last year,” Dowell said.
Additionally, Baar credited veteran assistant J.R. Kaiser for working with the quarterbacks on fundamentals.
“I didn’t really read the defense, I was picking out one guy, just trying to get it to him,” Dowell said. “Unfortunately, I turned the ball over quite a few times last year, and I spent a lot of time this summer I feel like on the defense analyzing the defense and starting to read the defense.”
Dowell and Baar frequently talked during summer weights and planned for a season despite COVID-19 concerns. Dowell played summer basketball. estimated he spent about two hours a week watching football film, often on the road traveling to games. Four of the ’19 losses came against squads with a combined 44-4 record. Dowell especially viewed the games where he “turned the ball over the most.”
“That’s where I got most of my correction from,” Dowell said. “Seeing where I made the mistakes the most.”
The 6-foot, 165-poun Dowell, who cleared 70 rushing yards, extended multiple plays with his feet and broke several tackles. Baar said Dowell has most improved on his scrambling.
“He’s not an extremely fast kid, but he knows how to make people miss, and he knows how to buy time usually,” Baar said.
Junior Cade Gourley rushed for two TDs, including the game’s first score from six yards out. In the second quarter, Dowell hit White on a quick route across the middle, who cut to the left sideline for a 35-yard TD run. Dowell scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the final seconds of the first half for a 30-0 lead.
With 6:43 left in the third quarter, Dowell found Baalman on an incredible catch. Baalman, in 1-on-1 coverage, ran across the field from right to left. He outstretched, caught the pass on the fingertips, and turned to score just inside the pylon.
“I thought I dropped it,” Baalman said. “I closed my eyes, and it just landed in my hands. I just caught it. I about tripped though when I caught it.”
Gourley tacked on a 24-yard TD run, and then Baalman ended the game on a 25-yard TD pass with a catch across the middle. The play features three receivers to one came off double crossing routes.
“Baalman is really fast,” Dowell said. “Caden White is just behind him. Most of the time, they make some big plays catching-wise.”
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