Category Archives: Football
Yesterday, World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon announced the XFL was returning in 2020.
The XFL was originally founded by McMahon and then-NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol in 2000, mostly because NBC was desperate for any type of football on its airwaves (other than Notre Dame home games, which NBC has owned the rights to since 1991) since the rights to the NFL at the time were owned by the other Big Four broadcast networks, CBS (AFC), Fox (NFC) and ABC (Monday Night Football).
The original XFL, which began on February 3, 2001, only six days after Super Bowl XXXV, was branded by McMahon as something totally contrary to the NFL. McMahon and his vice president of operations, Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, bragged the game would be more akin to that when Butkus played for the Bears (1965-73), and even more “smashmouth” than the NFL of Butkus’ era.
The XFL hyped there would be no fair catches, no touchbacks on kickoffs which went into the end zone, and any punt which traveled 25 yards from the line of scrimmage was live and could be recovered by the kicking team. The problem with that was there was a FIVE-YARD halo (not two as was once the case in college) which the kicking team could not violate or face a 15-yard penalty.
On the other hand, the kicking game was diminished by the ban on extra points. Teams could only score one point on a run or pass from the 3-yard line. This was tried in the short-lived World Football League in 1974 and ’75, although in that league, touchdowns were worth seven points, with the conversion termed the “action point”.
Bump and run coverage would be permissible all the way down the field, as long as it was from the front or side and occurred before the pass was thrown. The NFL rule in place since 1978 allows bump and run only within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Players were permitted to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys instead of their surnames, although Gerry DiNardo, the former LSU coach who led the Birmingham Bolts, forbid his players from wearing nicknames. DiNardo’s reputation as something of a martinet was reinforced by this move. I’m not saying it was the reason Birmingham was the XFL’s worst team at 2-8, but his players probably would have appreciated the chance to express their individuality.
No doubt the most lasting image of the XFL was that of Rod “HE HATE ME” Smart, a player for the Las Vegas Outlaws who went on to play for the Carolina Panthers and appeared in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Then again, the nickname thing also opened the door to some highly inappropriate names. The XFL drew the line when Brandon Maumalaunga, a defensive tackle for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen who played collegiately for the Kansas Jayhawks, tried to have “Teabagger” placed on his jersey. I will not explain what teabagger or teabagging means. It’s beyond disgusting.
The team nicknames were also revolting, too.
By nicknaming themselves the Hitmen, New York/New Jersey was paying homage to John Gotti and other Big Apple mafiosos, all of whom were worshipped and glorified in The Sopranos. The Chicago wanted in on the action, too, nicknaming themselves the Enforcers, an obvious nod to Al Capone.
The Birmingham team was originally going to be nicknamed the Blast, but that went too far for the XFL, as it evoked memories of the 1963 16th Street Church Bombing by the Ku Klux Klan which killed four black girls at Sunday school, and notorious criminal Eric Rudolph, who was convicted of bombing buildings in Birmingham and was also responsible for the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Instead, Birmingham nicknamed its team the Thunderbolts, shortened to Bolts.
The other team names were all ridiculous, too: Orlando Rage, Memphis Maniax, Los Angeles Xtreme and San Francisco Demons.
In other regards, the XFL was geared more towards hormonally charged males who otherwise didn’t care about football.
The league promised cheerleaders with very little clothing, and continuously hyped the possibility of going into the cheerleader locker rooms.
The worst, however, was yet to come.
Prior to the league’s first game in Las Vegas, Vince McMahon stood at midfield of Sam Boyd Stadium and screamed “THIS IS THE XFL!”. Then came Dick Butkus with the most horrifying element of the XFL.
Instead of players meeting at midfield for the coin toss, two players stood at the 20-yard line on the south side of the stadium. Between them was referee Randy Christal, one of the most respected college football officials of all-time. Christal was the referee for the 1995 Rose Bowl (USC-Northwestern), the 1996 Sugar Bowl (Florida-Florida State), and would be the referee for the 2002 national championship game at the Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Miami.
If I were Randy Christal that evening, I would have said over the microphone, “What the f**k have I gotten myself into?”.
Christal was forced to explain to the players the rules for “The Scramble”, which would determine which team would receive the opening kickoff.
Two players started from the 20 and sprinted 30 yards, where the ball was laid in the center of the field. The player to possess it first would have the option for his team, and if the game went to overtime, the option for that, too.
At the XFL’s other game on opening night, Chicago at Orlando, the Rage’s Shashmid Haseen-Deen separated his shoulder during the scramble and did not play a down in the league.
The gimmicks were bad enough.
The play on the field was much, much worse.
The teams of the XFL would have had a very difficult time beating a CFL team. All of them would have been beaten by at least 40 points by every NFL team, and that includes some very, very, very bad teams in 2000, like the Chargers, Browns and Cardinals.
Scoring was so paltry in the XFL that in week four, the league went to the NFL rule on bump-and-run coverage. Later in the season, the league instituted new rules for conversions after touchdowns, allowing teams to score more points if they played from farther back (one point from the 3, two points from the 5, and three points from the 10).
The Xtreme won the championship in the “Million Dollar Game”.
Three weeks after that, the XFL folded. I thought it was dead, but apparently, money talks, and 19 years after the disaster that was XFL 2001, XFL 2020 is coming back.
Supposedly, people with criminal records will not be allowed in the league. Kneeling during the national anthem? Forget it. And McMahon wants to shorten games to two hours, which I don’t know how he’s going to achieve unless he either (a) eliminates halftime, (b) lets the clock run after incomplete passes, or (c) adopt a timing system similar to association football, where the clock runs continuously and time is added on at the end to make up for stoppages.
They’ve got two years to figure it out. Not that I’ll be watching.
Three Super Bowls have been played previously February 3. Three teams I do not care much for won those three Super Bowls played: Patriots (vs. Rams, XXXVI), Giants (vs. Patriots, XLII, the game which denied New England its 19-0 season) and Ravens (vs. 49ers, XLVII).
Yet February 3 will also be remembered by some for the launch of one of the worst ideas in the history of sport.
I didn’t say it was the worst idea in the history of sport. The designated hitter and giving the league which wins Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game home field advantage in the World Series are and were far more ruinous. At least the latter of the above is no more.
But the XFL ranks right up there. Or should I say down there.
Yes, 16 years ago tonight, the XFL kicked off, with games in Las Vegas and Orlando.
The XFL was the brainchild of Dick Ebersol, Director of NBC Sports, and Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which was then known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Ebersol, who created Saturday Night Live in 1975, was deseprate to show professional football on the Peacock after it lost the rights to the AFC to CBS following the 1997 season.
Ebersol did himself in on losing the NFL. He spent ridiculous amounts of money to acquire the Olympics, Summer and Winter, for what seems like forever, although somehow the NBC rights deal currently expires after the 2032 Summer games. If he would have been smart enough to realize ABC and CBS had no desire whatsoever to televise the Olympics at any price, and thus NBC could have had them for far cheaper, the Peacock would never have lost the NFL.
Yet Ebersol wasn’t smart enough to see this, thus overpaid grossly for the Olympics, as well as handing over a handsome sum for the NBA, which was horrendous due to the number of very, very bad teams, as well as the dominance of the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Why watch when you know what’s going to happen?
Vince McMahon badly wanted football. He tried to buy the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, but failed. He had planned to re-expand the CFL into the United States, an experiment which failed miserably in 1994 and 1995. When McMahon’s bid to buy the Argos failed, he opted to form a new league.
He found a more than willing partner in Ebersol, who felt putting the XFL on NBC would be his network’s ticket to total dominance. Even with Seinfeld off the air (THANK GOD) by this time, NBC still had The West Wing, Friends, E.R. and Frasier as the bulwarks of its primetime lineup. Yet NBC was losing ground steadily to CBS, which of course had the NFL once again, plus ABC still had the biggest prize in sports, Monday Night Football.
The league’s launch was announced February 3, 2000. The first games would kick off EXACTLY one year later, February 3, 2001.
The XFL promoted itself as “real” football where “pansies” were not going to make it. It touted new tough-guy rules, such as no fair catches and allowing bump-and-run pass coverage all over the field, which was the rule in the NFL until 1978, and is still allowed in college football, just as long as all hits come from the front.
The other part the XFL liked to promote was wholly inappropriate for family viewing.
It promoted sex appeal.
The cheerleaders wore next to nothing. They were ENCOURAGED to date the players and other team personnel, a strict no-no in the NFL. And there was talk of putting cameras in the cheerleader locker rooms.
What was this, football or the Playboy Channel? I don’t know if Hugh Hefner could have come up with something so brazen.
The nicknames were stupid.
Two of them glorified the mob and organized crime: the Chicago Enforcers (a nod to Al Capone) and the New York-New Jersey Hitmen (ostensibly honoring John Gotti and the numerous mafia members in those states). PUKE.
The Memphis Maniax had a man with cyclone eyes, something akin to the Mr. Pibb logo with the crazy man head.
The Birmingham team was originally going to be called the “Blast”, but some felt that name was too graphic, given the 1963 church bombing which killed four black girls. The name became the Thunderbolts, shortened to Bolts.
Players were encouraged to wear nicknames.
And that created the league’s iconic player, Rod “He Hate Me” Smart of the Las Vegas Outlaws. Smart went on to play for the Panthers, including their Super Bowl XXXVIII team which lost to the Patriots.
Gerry DiNardo, the former LSU coach who coached the Bolts, forbid his players from wearing nicknames. DiNardo would go on to coach three (terrible) seasons at Indiana before he was fired there, too. He has not coached since. Today, he’s an analyst for the Big Ten Network, where DiNardo is simply fantastic.
I haven’t even gotten to the worst part of the XFL.
The football itself.
To say it was terrible would be understating the case just a wee bit.
It was beyond awful.
These were supposedly “professional” football players, being paid (not much, admittedly) to play the game. The winning teams would receive a bonus to be split amongst team members.
Yet the worst part of the football itself was not the games.
It happened before the game.
The scramble, the XFL’s version of the coin toss.
One player from each team would line up at the 20-yard line and sprint towards midfield on the referee’s whistle. The player which gained possession of the ball would have the option to kick or receive to begin the game, and would have the option to play offense or defense first if the game went to overtime (the XFL used a modified version of the college overtime, which I’ll explain below).
One of the first participants in the scramble, Hamad Shasmid-Deen of the Orlando Rage, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. More than half the players who participated in the scramble were injured at some point, and many of those injuries were serious.
The referee in the first game at Las Vegas, Randy Christal, has officiated many high profile college games, including the 1996 and 2002 national championship games, and the Rose Bowl between USC and Northwestern following the ’95 season. Why Christal, who also was an umpire at many a College World Series during the 1980s and 1990s, would lower himself to the XFL is beyond me.
When Christal explained the scramble over the microphone in Las Vegas on opening night, I had a feeling he would have rather been in a dentist chair getting a root canal without anesthesia, even if it was 5 p.m.on a Saturday evening.
Teams could not kick an extra point in the XFL. It was a play from the 2-yard line, worth one point only. Later in the season, the XFL allowed teams to score two points if it was successful from the 5-yard line, and three points for a successful conversion from the 10-yard line.
Overtime was also very dumb.
It was the NCAA version, which I dislike, although not as much as the high school version (in most states; Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas and a few others excepted).
In the XFL, a team had four downs from the 25-yard line to score. However, if a team scored a touchdown in fewer than four downs, the other team had only that many downs to match the touchdown. A field goal could not be attempted until fourth down. And again, no kicking extra points.
Good idea, but of course, the whole concept of overtime in college and high school is very dumb to begin with, so no way.
I happened to watch part of the first XFL game on NBC, New York-New Jersey and Las Vegas. I only watched it because I was at Ivar’s when the game kicked off, and it was the only thing on. When I left Ivar’s, I wasn’t about to turn the game on at my apartment.
Not once did I tune in to an XFL game from my apartment (or hotel room in one case).
During the second week of the XFL, the game NBC was televising from Los Angeles was interrupted due to a power failure. Worse, NBC’s television trucks were totally shut down since there was no gas in the generators fueling the trucks. Not only that, the game went to double overtime, forcing a very late start to Saturday Night Live, which was hosted that night by Jennifer Lopez. Lorne Michaels, SNL’s Executive Producer, was all over Dick Ebersol worse than ugly on an ape. Most of that conversation is not printable.
After that fiasco, NBC forced the XFL to adopt speed-up rules to ensure no game would cut into SNL’s
When the XFL announced on May 10, 2001 that it was shutting down forever, I hardly shed a tear. Good riddance.
Last night, ESPN premiered a new 30 for 30 documentary on the XFL. It reminded me of just how bad it was.
I have an acronym for the XFL. eXtremely (expletive) up League.
I admit I watched McMahon’s wrestling in the 1980s. My brother and I were huge fans. We went with my dad to a few shows in New Orleans.
But McMahon’s football venture? I’m glad there wasn’t a team in New Orleans. It would have been tempting. I’m glad I watched (or didn’t) from a very safe distance.
Smith Center solved the easy part of the playoff equation last night with a 34-8 victory over Bennington at home. The game was never in doubt, even though the Bulldogs scored in the second quarter to narrow the gap to 14-8.
The Redmen scored on their next drive on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Thayne Benoit to Mason Buckmaster, and then just before halftime, Kaden Meitler’s pass rush forced Bulldog quarteback Kyle Kiborz into a hurried throw which was intercepted by Gavin Overmiller. Smith Center cashed in the turnover for a touchdown, and it was 28-8 at halftime. Game over.
Now comes the hard part. Smith Center must win at Phillipsburg Thursday, or the Redmen are out of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Phillipsburg won a tougher than expected game at Ell-Saline 20-14. The Panthers would have clinched a playoff berth if they would have won by a larger margin, but I still think they win the district title Thursday by ousting the Redmen.
I listened to the final three innings of game three of the World Series on XM Radio going south on 281. The Royals won 3-2, as Wade Davis and Greg Holland retired the Giants in order in the eighth and ninth innings to put Kansas City up 2-1.
Since I have XM, I can get the Royals radio broadcasters, Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre. I can also get the Giants’ call, which means the legendary voice of the one and only Jon Miller.
Under the MLB’s radio agreement with ESPN, the only stations which may carry local broadcasters during the World Series are the flagship stations, which this year means KCSP-AM in Kansas City and KNBR-AM in San Francisco. Every other station, including WIBW in Topeka, the only station to carry every Royals game since the franchise began in 1969, must take the ESPN Radio feed.
However, there is no exclusivity for local stations and their broadcasters, meaning any station in one of the competing cities can carry ESPN’s feed if they so choose. This has caused a major ruckus in Kansas City, where WHB-AM, the leading sports talk station in the market and the archrival of KCSP, has carried ESPN’s feed for all Royals playoff games. I’m sure there are affiliates in all the other postseason cities, including San Francisco, which has the same problem. It’s worse in KC, however, because WHB dominates the market, save for Royals games, which air on KCSP. The Chiefs have aired on an FM station, KCFX, since 1989.
Matthews, who has been with the Royals since day one, did not call the 1980 World Series at all. That was the last year local radio stations were precluded from producing their own broadcasts, forcing even the flagship stations to take the national feed, which at the time was CBS Radio.
In 1980, it may not have caused more than a ripple in Kansas City, but it caused a near-riot in Philadelphia, where Phillies fans were not allowed to hear the voice of one of the legends of broadcasting, Harry Kalas. Most sports fans, myself included, first heard Kalas doing voice-over work for NFL Films, but in the City of Brotherly Love, he was Jesus Christ as far as broadcasters were concerned. I say Jesus Christ because the Lord was John Facenda, who of course was the main voice of NFL Films from 1966 until his death in 1984, and also was a famous anchor for the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia from the late 1940s through 1973.
In 1981, MLB changed its rules to allow the flagship station for each team to produce its own broadcasts , but only the flagship could carry the local announcers; all other stations still had to take the national feed. It worked out wonderfully in 1982, when fans for the Brewers and Cardinals got to hear Bob Uecker and Jack Buck, respectively. The next year, Kalas got to call his beloved Phillies in the World Series, but they lost to Orioles. Same in 1984 with the Padres (Jerry Coleman) and Tigers (Ernie Harwell). Matthews got his chance in 1985.
As much as I’d like to sit around, I’ve got to get moving. Got a long trip to Scott City for sub-state volleyball this afternoon. I’ll next report when I’m there.
I have got to start going to bed earlier than I have. I slept too late again today. I also didn’t help myself by stuffing my face. It came back to haunt me just before noon.
Regardless, I’m back in Smith Center for what more than likely will be the final football game at Hubbard Stadium this season. The Redmen must defeat Bennington to keep their playoff hopes alive, but that’s only half the story.
Smith Center, which has lost to Ell-Saline and LaCrosse in the last two weeks, although the latter was a non-district game, also has to defeat Phillipsburg Thursday to make the postseason for the 12th consecutive season. The week six boo-boo in Brookville, a game in which Ell-Saline gained a meager 64 yards, has put the Redmen squarely behind the 8-ball.
The Redmen’s current playoff run began in 2003. It includes five consecutive Class 2-1A state championships between 2004 and 2008, and 29 of the 79 victories in Kansas’ longest high school football winning streak.
It used to be much harder to make the playoffs. From 1981, the year the Kansas State High School Activities Association introduced district football, through 2001, only the district champion reached the postseason. There were a few seasons where 8-1 Smith Center teams sat home because the loss came in the wrong game.
1983 is a good example. The Redmen won the 1982 state title and were undefeated going into their final game of the season. but they lost to Osborne and that was it. The Bulldogs went on to win the 3A state championship, so no shame in that.
The Royals and Giants play game three of the World Series at 7:07 CT tonight. Smith Center principal Greg Koelsch and athletic director Greg Hobelmann are already looking for ways to get updates on the game. I have the MLB At-Bat app on my iPhone.
Speaking of my iPhone…I may have bit off more than I can chew.
It’s almost time for me to leave the abode on North Brooks Street and head back to Smith Center for day two of the Mid-Continent League volleyball tournament. Each team will play two more pool matches before the top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinals.
Two-time defending league champion Smith Center and Stockton are 2-0 in pool A, while Plainville and TMP-Marian are 2-0 in Pool B. The four undefeated teams will pair off in pool play today.
Smith Center lost its second consecutive football game last night, as LaCrosse took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 48-14 victory. The Leopards scored on each of their first two possessions, then tallied again in the final minute of the opening period on Andrew Jay’s 65-yard interception return. The Redmen twice got to within 14 in the second quarter on touchdowns from Cale Rogers (7 yard run) and Kody Zabel (11 yard pass from Thayne Benoit), but never any closer.
LaCrosse rushed for 408 yards, with 164 from quarterback Jack Garcia and 150 more from Jay. The Leopards gained 508 yards against a Smith Center defense which allowed 64 last week to Ell-Saline and 82 two weeks prior to Republic County.
The Leopards had been lying in wait for this game, even though it wasn’t a district game and has no bearing on playoff berths. LaCrosse lost playoff games to Smith Center n 2006 and 2008, the latter at home, and the Leopards made sure they enjoyed every minute of the victory. The final score would have been worse had not a 76-yard touchdown run by Jay in the fourth not been called back by a holding penalty well downfield
LaCrosse is basically in the playoffs anyway. The Leopards are 2-0 in their district and have 1-6 Wichita County next week before closing with Oakley. .
Smith Center was limited to 169 yards. No back gained more than 41.
This is the latest in a season Smith Center has lost back-to-back games since 2002, when it lost all three district games to Norton, Phillipsburg and Beloit to finish 4-5, the last time the Redmen missed the playoffs. If the Redmen are to avoid missing the 2014 postseason, they will have to beat Bennington next week at home and Phillipsburg on the road Oct. 30.
No other surprises last night. Norton 60, Russell 14; Phillipsburg 54, Republic County 6; Plainville 51, Wichita County 7; Osborne 52, St. Francis 6; Hill City 51, Stockton 34; and Victoria 58, Thunder Ridge 34.
Okay enough dilly dallying. Time to get going north.
Volleyball went pretty much as expected yesterday. Three of the top four seeds in the Mid-Continent League tournament–#1 Smith Center, #3 Plainville and #4 Stockton–each went 2-0. The fourth 2-0 team after yesterday is #5 seed TMP-Marian, which ousted #2 seed Ellis in yesterday’s only three-set match.
It’s a day off from volleyball because football is taking center stage. I’m on my way to LaCrosse. where Smith Center faces the host Leopards. It is not a district game, but the Redmen will be aiming to get back on track after last week’s one-point loss at Ell-Saline. LaCrosse is 5-1, with its lone loss coming in week four to Southeast of Saline.
Smith Center won two playoff games over LaCrosse in a three-year stretch several years ago. The Redmen won 46-0 at home in 2006, then two years later came to LaCrosse and won 32-14. Both games were in the Class 2-1A quaterfinals, and in both years, Smith Center went on to win state championships. The latter game was featured prominently in Joe Drape’s book Our Boys, the book about the Redmen’s 2008 season.
I originally was going to stay home and do Russell’s game vs. Norton, but I don’t care for homecoming. Not at all. I’ll gladly make the 53-mile drive instead.
It rained off and on all the way from Kansas City to Brookville yesterday. It would not stop raining in Brookville until late in the second quarter. This made for an interesting night.
I had a rain cover for my camera, and I would have used it, but I could not get my flash over the rain cover, so I ditched the cover. It wasn’t raining that hard.
The bigger problem was my game notes. I always pride myself on being able to keep a running play-by-play of the game even though I’m taking pictures. I’ll take the play-by-play I write down on the sideline and feed it to The Automated Scorebook on my computer, and it will spit the stats out immediately. I would operate TAS live from the press box when I worked for The Advocate, and that saved me so much time, since I didn’t have to sit there and manually add up statistics. I could just print out the stats and play-by-play, write the story, file it, and be done 15-20 minutes following the game.
My first quarter play-by-play from last night almost didn’t make it. It was quite soggy. The second quarter was a struggle, too, but it was because the paper was wet. Fortunately, the rain abated, and the second half was much easier.
I was also glad I brought two jackets. My parka was soaked after the first half, and I changed to my Milwaukee Brewers dugout jacket for the final 24 minutes. Not as warm, but I had two layers over my turtleneck anyway.
Last night’s Smith Center-Ell Saline football game proved two things:
- Mother Nature is often a great equalizer.
- Special teams matter.
Both points were proven early. A fine punt by Smith Center’s Kody Zabel and excellent coverage by the Redmen following the game’s first offensive possession left the Cardinals marooned inside their own 10-yard line. Two plays later, Ell-Saline quarterback Luiz Antonio Arceo could not handle the muddy football following a low snap, and the Redmen had the ball at the 4.
Nick Lehmkuhl scored two plays later, and just like that, it was Smith Center 7, Ell-Saline 0, and the game wasn’t four minutes old.
Smith Center looked poised to add to its lead when it used a lengthy drive to reach the Ell-Saline 5, but on fourth down, a low snap to Thayne Benoit did not allow the play to come off, and the Cardinals took over on downs. The first half ended with the same 7-0 score.
It took all of 20 seconds of the second half for the score to change.
Arceo fielded the second half kickoff near the left sideline. He found a wall of red shirts and followed them to the middle of the field, and reached the Redmen 3. One play later, he scored on a keeper around the right side. The conversion failed, but it was a new game at 7-6.
The Redmen looked like they would strike right back when Kaden Meitler returned the next kickoff to the Ell-Saline 14, but that drive came up empty when the Cardinals held on downs with a fourth-and-two at the 6. The Smith Center defense held, and following Arceo’s punt, the visitors had the ball at the Ell-Saline 22.
Guess what? No points. Despite first down from the 12, Smith Center couldn’t pick up the first down from there, and then Zabel missed a 22-yard field goal attempt.
The next Smith Center drive did result in points. For the wrong team.
The Redmen again penetrated the red zone, but with the ball at the 18, Meitler fumbled on a run around left end. Ell-Saline linebacker Luke Sheridan spotted the loose ball and picked it up, and began running the other way. Benoit was in position to make the tackle inside the Smith Center 20, but a good block downfield allowed Sheridan to complete an 80-yard touchdown jaunt. Arceo this time was successful on the conversion, which proved to be critical. Ell-Saline led 14-7 at the end of the quarter, although Smith Cneter was driving.
Six plays into the final period, Benoit spotted Zabel open over the middle. His pass got over the outstretched hand of Cody Walters, and after making the catch, Zabel rumbled into the end zone from 34 yards out. Now, if Zabel could convert the extra point, it would be deadlocked with 9:26 to go, and overtime would be a real possibility for the second time in three seasons between the schools.
Except that Zabel missed. There was still 9:26 to go, but the Cardinals still had the lead.
That 14-13 score did not change. Smith Center never got close to scoring again, and its final play was a Benoit pass which was intercepted by Noah Bradley. Despite gaining 64 net yards and picking up just five first downs, going 0-for-8 on 3rd down conversions and losing the time of possession battle by nine minutes, the Cardinals prevailed, winning for the first time in three games vs. Smith Center. The Redmen won 43-8 at Brookville last year and 20-18 in overtime at Smith Center in 2012. In the 2012 game, the Cardinals missed their conversion in overtime after having the ball first; the Redmen scored and Payton Buckmaster ran in the conversion to win.
The Redmen saw their 33-game winning streak in district games ended. They had not lost a disirict game since October 2003 to Norton at home.
More importantly, Smith Center’s string of 11 consecutive state playoff appearances is in trouble. Not only must the Redmen hope the Cardinals lose at least one district game out of three, they must also defeat Bennington and Phillipsburg in the final two weeks. The best hope would be to hope Phillipsburg wins against Republic County and Ell-Saline, and then Smith Center beats the Panthers in the regular season finale Oct. 30 to force a three-way tie. Since Smith Center lost to Ell-Saline by only one point, the Redmen would need to beat Phillipsburg by two to finish among the top two in a three-way tiebreaker. If Ell-Saline beats Phillipsburg, of course, the winner of the Redmen-Panthers game would finish second behind the Brookville boys.
Following the game, I listened to the Royals-Orioles game. Incredibly, Kansas City got TWO MORE home runs in extra innings to win a postseason game. Alex Gordon led off the 10th with a solo shot, and Mike Moustakas added a two-run clout to put the Royals up 8-5. The Orioles scored once in the bottom of the 10th, but Greg Holland shut the door, allowing the Royals to prevail 8-6 and take a 1-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.
It was midnight when I got off I-435 at Missouri Highway 152, so I decided to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and see who was there. Liz was, and of course she had a big smile when she saw me. Both Morgans, Gilliand (who’s six-plus months pregnant) and Tomec, were there, as was Alexandra Mullinax. Since I was staying only three miles away at the Courtyard on Tiffany Springs, I stayed until a little after 1 before leaving.
Today is going to be hell for the crew at Buffalo Wild Wings. Missouri plays Georgia at 11, the Royals play at 3. LSU plays at 6:30, but who cares?
Last night’s game in Smith Center was pretty much what was expected.
At least for the first quarter.
After that, it was one of those games where truth was sometimes stranger than fiction.
Smith Center ended up defeating Republic County 24-6, winning its 39th consecutive district game and putting the spectre of the 32-0 loss to Norton the previous week in the past for good. The game was hardly artistic, however, and the Redmen still have a lot to work on as they head into the second half of the regular season, and they hope another trip to the state playoffs.
It didn’t start well for the Buffaloes. Their returner let the opening kickoff go thorugh his hands, and by time he picked up, he was only able to make it back to the 10. They went three-and-out, and a short put left the Redmen at the Republic County 35.
Smith Center did what it was supposed to do, driving to the touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by Kaden Meitler. He gained 136 yards on 28 attempts, filling the voids left by the injuries of starting quarterback L.T. Meitler and left halfback Brody Frieling, both of whom were hurt at Norton. Thayne Benoit, who played quarterback in the fourth quarter of the Norton game, started at quarterback, while David Hileman took Frieling’s starting spot at halfback.
The Buffaloes were forced three-and-out again on their second drive, and Smith Center drove 61 yards following the punt to another touchdown. It was textbook Redmen, running the ball on all 11 plays, ending with a 5-yard touchdown run by Nick Lehmkuhl.
Republic County gained only four yards on its first two possessions. It gained three on the final play of the first quarter, and it picked up its initial first down on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak from its own 28. Normally, that’s a move akin to Russian Roulette, but hey, it was only a few inches, and the Buffaloes had lost the previous four meetings to the Redmen by a combined 219-30, why not?
The 14-0 score on the board would not change during the second quarter. The Redmen had a 15-play march which took up nearly half the second quarter, but it ended just inside the red zone. Smith Center’s next drive of the second quarter ended with an interception.
After gaining only 13 yards and one first down in the first 24 minutes, the Buffaloes gained life in the third when a punt went off Cody Carder’s leg and the Buffaloes recovered at the Redmen 41. They took advantage, as Tucker Allen swept right end and scored from 17 yards out to narrow the gap to 14-6 after the 2-point conversion failed. There ere still almost eight minutes to play in the third quarter, so if Republic County could somehow find a consistent offense to go with its stout defense, it might pull the shocker.
Smith Center finally broke its long scoreless drought with 9:45 to play when Kody Zabel booted home a 23-yard field goal. Republic County’s last chance to stay in the game ended when Trey Kuhlman fumbled an attempted option pitch and Benoit recovered
The Redmen did not score on their next drive, but they bled more time off the clock. Smith Center put the game out of reach on Hileman’s 14-yard touchdown sweep around right end with 3:15 to go.
The game got ugly late. Republic County coach Travis Johnson berated the officials when he came on the field in the fourth quarter to check on injured lineman Mikel Cottenmyre, who enjoyed an outstanding game on both sides of the ball. Cottenmyre penetrated Smith Center’s blocking on several plays to stop Redmen backs before they could get started, and he helped open holes for Allen on the other side.
When Johnson came on the field to help Cottenmyre with just under five minutes left, he bitterely complained about what he felt were chop blocks committed by Smith Center which were not being called. Chop blocks are illegal blocks wen one lineman has a defender engaged, and ten a second offensie player, usually a guard or the center, comes in and blocks the same player low. Those are dangerous and have caused many severe knee injuries. Johnson felt the same thing had happened to Cottenmyre, and he let the officials know. As he walked off, he dared the officials to penalize him for unsportsmanlike conduct, and they obliged. Republic County was penalized again for unsportsmanlike conduct after the final Smith Center touchdown.
Smith Center won. It didn’t look good sometimes. But it doesn’t matter. The Redmen are 1-0 where it counts most heading into their next game at Ell-Saline.
I am still a sleepy lad. I wanted to doze off so bad on the trip to Smith Center, and when I got to the stadium parking lot, I fell asleep in my car for a good 40 minutes.
Now it’s less than an hour to kickoff between Smith Center and Republic County. I’ve seen this before. Twice. And I don’t think the third time is going to be much different.
Okay, there are two differences between the games I witnessed between the two schools in 2011 and 2012 and this year’s game.
First, it’s earlier in the season. Smith Center and Republic County ended up playing its final regular season games against one another from 2010 through 2013. They were placed in the same district by the Kansas State HIgh School Activities Association for the 2014 and 2015 seasons last October, but since Phillipsburg moved into the district and moved down from 3A to 2-1A, it was agreed the Panthers and Redmen would face each other in the finale, since both are in the Mid-Continent League and only 30 miles apart.
Second, Republic County has a win on its record. The Buffaloes lost 33 consecutive games from week five of 2010 through the first week of this season, ending the long skein by defeating Russell 34-21 in week two. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes have reverted to form, losing 27-0 to Ellsworth and 70-6 to Beloit in the last two weeks.
Could it be worse than 55-8, 55-8, 45-14 and 64-0, the scores of the last four years? Maybe. Smith Center is seething after losing 32-0 at Norton a week ago. It’s homecoming for the Redmen. And since this is a district game, the Redmen know they can’t afford a slip-up against a team it is clearly superior to.
I’d like to know how I got back to Russell yesterday. If I had my druthers, I would have stayed another day in Kansas City and driven straight to Smith Center, but I forgot my parka and did not have any warm clothes for tonight’s game, so I had to go home.
I was dead tired all morning. Got the chills again and then could not get up. It was worse when I stood up, because there a couple of times I felt like I would fall down. It was awful, but then again, I’ve felt far, far worse. At least I could breathe without pain.
I finally mustered enough strength to pack the room and load my car right at noon. Problem was, it was pouring. Still. It started raining at midnight Wednesday, minutes after the Royals scored the winning run in the American League wild card game vs. Oakland. It rained most of Wednesday and continued into Thursday.
It was pouring all the way from the Courtyard Briarcliff to the tollbooth at the Kansas Turnpike seven miles west of Bonner Springs. The rain began to let up from there, but it would not totally stop until I got out of Shawnee County.
I apologize for the gap yesterday. When I got home at 4, I fell asleep right away. Didn’t get up until just before 8, when I turned on the Royals-Angels game.
I tried putting some food other than crackers in my stomach on the drive back to Russell. Bad idea. I had two slices of pizza from the Hy-Vee gas station in Topeka after I filled up, and then a Big Mac in Salina. Ouch. It wasn’t until I took Alka-Seltzer did it go away.
Now it’s time for me to go to Smith Center, where the Redmen figure to be in a nasty mood tonight. The game vs. Republic County would be no contest in any situation, but it may get very ugly this time because Smith Center is seething after losing at Norton, and rather easily at that.
This weather just doesn’t give up. After back-to-back weeks where kickoff temperatures were north of 80 and I was in shorts, I’m back to full winter gear tonight. Warm socks, turtleneck, one or two more layers under my parka, and of course, my camouflage hood. I’ll look pretty dorky.
No Buffalo Wild Wings Sunday for sure. Not going to fight crowds for NASCAR at noon, Chiefs at 3:25 and Royals at 6:30. Saturday? Probably not. Monday? More likely.