Archive for Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Smith Center steamrolling opponents again

Kansas school chasing records, third straight title

November 14, 2007

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— The final seconds wound down in a game that would have seemed competitive had the scoreboard not been there.

St. John had given Smith Center its toughest game of the season, pounding the Redmen with teeth-rattling hits and forcing eight fumbles, yet still found itself trailing by eight touchdowns.

Most of the St. John players put aside their frustrations by the end of the third quarter, reluctantly accepting the season would come to a disappointing, lopsided end.

One player apparently hadn't.

With the Redmen driving for yet another score, a St. John linebacker charged into a Smith Center lineman, shoving him back over the pile well after the whistle had blown. Hovering for a brief second, he started to taunt the fallen lineman when a teammate pushed him away.

"What are you doing?" the teammate screamed. "It's 90 to nuthin'!"

It wasn't quite that bad - Smith Center won 64-0 - but it sure must have felt like it. And it has been like that all season for Smith Center's opponents.

The Redmen followed up the St. John rout by walking over Oakley, 56-0, on Friday.

Playing for legendary Kansas coach Roger Barta, they are two wins from a fourth straight Class 2-1A state championship that would give them seven in the last 25 years.

This season has been impressive even by those standards.

Smith Center has outscored its opponents 760-0, putting it on pace to become just the fourth team nationally to have 13 shutouts in a season, according to the National Federation of High School Associations.

The Redmen have a long way to reach the national record of 52 straight shutouts - by Bedford County Training in Shelbyville, Tenn., from 1942-49 - but it's impressive nonetheless, particularly considering Smith Center rarely plays its first string past the second quarter.

"We don't do much on offense, we don't run a lot of plays, but what we try to do is execute them, make sure we're blocking well and tackling well," Barta said. "That's what we think football's about."

It certainly worked against Plainville in the opening round of the playoffs two and a half weeks ago.

Playing a team they had beaten 69-0 earlier in the season, the Redmen set a national high school record by scoring an astonishing 72 points in the first quarter of an 86-0 victory.

The absurd outburst brought with it national recognition, the sports world turning its attention, if ever so briefly, to this rural town eight miles from the geographical center of the continental United States.

"The football season, the games really haven't been competitive, but I think this little bump in the road was fun for them, maybe pat themselves on the back a little bit," Smith Center athletic director Greg Hobelmann said. "They'll put it in their scrapbook and look at it later, but now it's 'let's get on with the season."'

Look at what Smith Center has done this season and it'd be easy to think the Redmen play six- or eight-man football, where scoring can come at an Arena League pace and talented teams can dominate lesser opponents.

That's not the case - Smith Center plays standard 11-man football. It may be the state's lowest full-team division, but it's still the game the bigger schools are playing.

It's just that the Redmen are better than everyone else, running their wishbone offense - all six plays of it - to near perfection, swarming opposing ballcarriers with the zeal of lions moving in on a fresh kill.

"They're just bigger, stronger and faster," St. John coach Nick Garcia said after Smith Center ran its winning streak to 51 games last Saturday. "I want to get my team to that level."

Garcia and most of the other coaches in the state have some catching up to do.

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