Category Archives: Football

Early action

I had a scare a few minutes ago when my computer rebooted randomly. It has done so from time to time, and there was a period where it was happening more frequently. I’m guessing this time it was because the computer was overheated.

I’m getting some laundry done this morning before I head off to Hoisington for the Cardinal Classic volleyball tournament. Matches start at 9, but I don’t have to be there right at the start because Smith Center and Phillipsburg don’t play in either of the first two matches.

I compiled the stats from the Smith Center-Norton football game in the wee hours, and the numbers bear out the Bluejays’ dominance. The Redmen were limited to 113 yards rushing, averaging 2.8 yards per carry on 41 attempts. Norton, meanwhile, netted exactly 300 yards on the ground. and averaged an even six yards per carry on 50 attempts. Norton’s Jordan Dole nearly outgained the Redmen on the ground by himself, finishing with 107 yards.

The last five Norton-Smith Center games have been decided by an average margin of 26.6 points, an average score of 40-13. It was the first shutout in the series since the Redmen’s 60-0 stampede in the 2007 season opener, the game which sent Smith Center on its record setting rampage in which it outscored its foes 844-20.

I’m going to miss a lot of college football today because of volleyball, but it isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. I will be home in time to watch LSU pulverize New Mexico State beginning at 6:30. If I’m going to Kansas City tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to hit the hay early in order to get out of Russell by 7 a.m.

Okay, time to put my laundry in the dryer so I can hop in the shower. No time to dawdle.

Bluejays flying high

The home team continues to dominate the Norton-Smith Center football series.

The Bluejays sent the vast majority of the Travis Field crowd home happy, thanks to a 32-0 whitewash of the Redmen. It’s the sixth consecutive year the team wearing the dark jerseys has won in the Mid-Continent League series.

Norton is now 4-0 and has outscored its opposition this season 147-13. The only game which was in doubt at halftime was the second contest vs. Phillipsburg, which the Bluejays led only 6-0 at the break, only to blow it open in the second half for a 34-7 decision.

Smith Center, now 3-1, didn’t help its own cause turning it over five times, giving it eight in the past two games. Three of those turnovers were interceptions by Norton’s Deon Lyle, who made his last pick near the goal line in the fourth quarter, snuffing out the Redmen’s best scoring opportunity.

Lyle also scored the game’s first touchdown on a 37-yard hookup with Jace Ruder. Lyle just ran a fly pattern down the left sideline and easily beat Smith Center’s Thayne Benoit.

The only bad news for the Bluejays is Ruder exited the game in the second quarter and did not return. He did not emerge from the locker room in the second half, leading to speculation by myself and Norton Telegram sportswriter Dick Boyd he may have been taken to the hospital for x-rays. I hope he’s not hurt too badly, because Norton is in line for a very special season, and losing Ruder for an extended period could negatively affect the Bluejays.

Norton put the game away in the final minute of the first half. Jordan Dole, last year’s starting quarterback who had moved to running back to accommodate Ruder, returned to his old position after Ruder’s injury. WIth 23 seconds to go in the half and the Bluejays at the Smith Center 49-yard line, Dole took a snap from the shotgun, kept around right end, and broke several attempted tackles by the Redmen to score the backbreaking touchdown. The Bluejays led 19-0 at halftime, and Smith Center’s offense wasn’t doing enough to demonstrate it could score three times.

As bad as the final score was, it might have been worse. Ruder was intercepted in the end zone on Norton’s first drive, and in the second quarter, fullback Jared Tallent fumbled into the end zone from the 2, and the Redmen recovered for a touchback.

Smith Center also had to change quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. Starter L.T. Meitler moved from under center to left halfback when regular left half Brody Frieling was injured and could not continue. Benoit took over at quarterback and threw the last interception to Lyle.

The good news for the Redmen is nobody left on their regular season schedule will be tougher than Norton. They have to forget about Norton quickly, because they open district play next week at home vs. Republic County.

Norton, meanwhile, travels to Plainville, which won its first game tonight over TMP-Marian 12-7.

The trip to Norton was wonderful. Got to see a lot of great people I hadn’t in awhile from Norton: Peggy Cox, Doug Ray, Jason Jones, Kevin Jilka, Dale Engelbert, Fig Millan, superintendent Greg Mann, principal Rudy Perez, athletic director Dustin McEwen, and of course, Mr. Boyd, who like me is a past recipient of the KSHSAA’s Oscar Stauffer Award as outstanding sportswriter. He should have won it long before I did, but he had to wait until years AFTER I did.

Tomorrow I’m back at volleyball in Hoisington, watching Phillipsburg and Smith Center in the eighth Cardinal Classic.

Time to get going

I’ve got to get in gear now. I have less than two hours than my scheduled departure time for Norton and tonight’s game. I was hoping to make a few stops in Hays to get food and drinks for after tonight’s contest, but if I dally around, that won’t be possible.

At least I’m now dressed to go. That took too long this morning as well. I’ve got to start going to bed at a decent hour.

That won’t be an issue tonight. I won’t be home until after 11:30 due to the long trip. And I have to turn right around and go to Hoisington for its volleyball tournament tomorrow morning at 9. Phillipsburg and Smith Center are involved, and i just found out they won’t play until 10, so I have a little more time to get down there, although it’s only 30-35 minutes.

I”m expecting Norton to emerge from tonight’s game still undefeated. Smith Center is a good team, but I don’t think the Redmen have enough to keep up with the many weapons the Bluejays can throw at a team. The game should be closer than any of Norton’s first three, but I would be surprised if Smith Center can emerge with this one. Then again, Smith Center has defied the odds before.

Redmen survive

Yes, Smith Center improved to 3-0 last night. No, it was not easy. Far from it.

The outcome at Hubbard Stadium was in doubt until Brody Frieling called for a fair catch on Gavin Schumacher’s kickoff with 51 seconds remaining, allowing the Redmen to run out the clock and seal a 30-22 victory against the stubborn TMP-Marian Monarchs.

Smith Center scored three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull it out. It scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard run by L.T. Meitler with 8:11 to go, and scored again 61 seconds later on a 3-yard run by Nick Lehmkuhl which followed a snap over the head of TMP punter Cameron Fouts, which Kody Zabel recovered at the Monarch 3. Smith Center added an insurance touchdown with under three minutes left.

One week after being the beneficiary of seven turnovers in a victory over Oakley, Smith Center turned the ball over three times itself. The Redmen fumbled on their first possession, and the game would remain scoreless until Zabel hit a 35-yard field goal with 5:19 to go in the first half.

Each team would score a touchdown on its next possession. The Monarchs used two long passes to drive to the Redmen 1, and from there, Nick Schmidt punched it in to put the visitors from Hays ahead 7-3. Smith Center came right back and drove 67 yards to a 3-yard score by Nick Lehmkuhl with six seconds to go before halftime, sending the Redmen to the dressing room with a three-point edge.

The Redmen looked like they might gain a more comfortable lead on their first drive of the second half, reaching the Monarch 11, but a fumble ended the march. TMP gleefully accepted the gift, driving 87 yards to another touchdown, taking a 14-10 lead which it held when the period ended.

Smith Center now faces a much stiffer test when it plays undefeated Norton on the road this week.

Three-hour tour

Now I’ve got a bunch of time to kill before I have to be at Smith Center for tonight’s football game. I will kill some time by going to get a haircut, driving to Hays for (more) Taco Bell, and then up to Smith Center. But then I’ll have a lot of time to wait around Hubbard Stadium. Fortunately, Smith Center has a room where I can set up my laptop and work waiting for the game to begin.

My mind drifts back to a game I covered 17 years ago–Sept. 19, 1997. It was my fifth game covering high school football for The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper. I had to venture outside the Baton Rouge city limits, but stay within East Baton Rouge Parish, to Zachary, at the northern end of the parish, where the Broncos hosted St. Amant from Ascension Parish.

Prior to 2005, Zachary was part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school district. The community was middle-class, where those who wanted the convenience of the big city but the feel of a small town could raise their children without much fear of crime. Zachary schools were among the best performing

In 2004, Zachary citizens voted for their school district to break away from East Baton Rouge Parish and to become its own independent community school district. That made Zachary the fourth school district outside the 64 parish school districts at the time, joining the city of Monroe, the city of Bogalusa in Washington Parish, and the city of Baker, a town located between Zachary and Baton Rouge in EBR Parish. A couple of years later, residents of Central City in the eastern part of EBR voted to form their own school district.

Since Zachary formed its own school district, the community has blossomed. Property values have skyrockteted, many upper middle-class families have moved in, and the schools consistently rate among the best in Louisiana.

The athletic facilities at Zachary are also first-rate. The football stadium has undergone a complete makeover, with new bleachers, new lights, a new press box, and FieldTurf. The Zachary school district now has to do all it can to keep students from outside from transferring in, much the way you see with small school district in Kansas which border larger districts. For instance, it goes on in Barton County, which is due south of Russell County, as parents try to escape Great Bend and enroll students in neighboring Central Plains (Claflin), Ellinwood and Hoisington.

The St. Amant-Zachary game was one of the strangest I’ve covered, and I’ve covered close to 200 football games. St. Amant took a quick 10-0 lead, but the Broncos tied it on back-to-back plays, a safety and a return of the ensuing free kick for a touchdown by Leonard Scott, who went on to play at Tennessee. Zachary gained less than 100 yards, but it also recovered a Gator fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and prevailed 24-22.

As strange as the game was, it was even stranger after. The game lasted three hours, meaning I was already in trouble. I didn’t have a laptop during the 1997 season, which meant I had to drive back to The Advocate office in the shadow of the Louisiana State Capitol to write my story in the sports office. Problem was, I was 25 minutes away from the office, and to make matters worse, the traffic flow out of Zachary’s stadium is a nightmare. It took 10 minutes to get out of the stadium after conducting interviews with coaches Doug Moreau of St. Amant and Bill Burke of Zachary, and by time I got to the office, it was 10:45, and deadline was 11:15.

I had another long game at Zachary two weeks later. I would be sent farther and father away from downtown Baton Rouge in the future, but starting in 1998, I had a laptop.

In 1998, if the press box had a phone line, I would file my story from the stadium; if the press box didn’t have a phone line, I would go back to the office and file there, and then work with the copy editors to make sure everything was kosher. The press boxes at St. Amant and East Ascension in Gonzales both had phone lines, which helped, since those were a 35-minute drive to downtown.

In 1999 and 2000, if the press box didn’t have a phone line, I’d more often than not go home to file, since I lived in southeast Baton Rouge. Starting in 2001, I had a connection for my cell phone to dial into the modem at The Advocate office, so that problem was solved.

Since I had a laptop and a computer statistics program, and because I was the fastest writer on The Advocate‘s high school football staff, Robin Fambrough would send me long distances more often than not. I covered not only from Zachary, St. Amant and East Ascension, but Donaldsonville, Lutcher, Plaquemine, Livonia, West Feliciana (St. Francisville), Clinton (now East Feliciana), St. Helena (Greensburg), Kentwood, Amite City, Independence, Hammond, Covington, Slidell, Destrehan, Hahnville, and of course, the Big Easy and its many suburbs. I also covered a couple of games from Parkview Baptist, which was three blocks from my Old Jefferson Highway apartment from 2000 through July 2003, plus a few at Olympia and Memorial Stadiums in Baton Rouge.

Today, the travel is longer, but the deadlines aren’t there. Most people at these stadiums in small towns want to get out of there ASAP. I can’t blame them, although writing the story there might save me a lot of time on the weekends.

Statistics lie again

Oakley gained 445 yards vs. Smith Center tonight, 335 of those on the ground. The Plainsmen held the ball for 27 minutes, 16 seconds, racked up 19 first downs, and averaged 8.1 yards per play.

Meanwhile, the Redmen had only 10 first downs and a pedestrian 257 yards.

Yet the final score read Smith Center 35, Oakley 8.

Seven turnovers, three inside the red zone, will do that to you. Oakley learned that the hard way.

The Plainsmen fumbled three times inside the Smith Center 20-yard line in the second half. The first of those came at the Redmen 2 as it looked like Oakley was going to score its first touchdown and make a game of it. Instead, two plays later, Nick Lehmkuhl galloped 91 yards the other way for a Smith Center touchdown, and it was 28-0. Cue the fat lady.

Time for me to go back to Russell. I’ll get back on the blog then. So long for now.

Football weather in late summer

The wind outside is stiff. Typical Kansas. If the wind weren’t so strong, it would be a near perfect night for football. However, with that wind, it’s going to feel 10-15 degrees colder. I have never had to wear three layers under my parka–L.L. Bean Baxter State Parka, the warmest they make–on September 12, but there’s a first for everything.

Fall doesn’t officially start until Sept. 21. Some have said we are in for a brutally cold and snowy winter. I can live with the former, the latter will be more problematic. I wish it could snow all the time to alleviate the moisture problem, but if it keeps snowing, I can’t get on the roads to cover events. Catch-22.

Now that I remember, I was bundled up two years ago on September 14 when Smith Center hosted Oberlin. I’m going to forgo the long johns tonight. I hope I don’t regret it.

It’s a far cry from Louisiana, where I would go some seasons without wearing long pants until the playoffs began. Also, what I wore wasn’t as important on many nights, since I was often in a climate-controlled press box. I wish I had the skills I have now back in 1999 when I was in Independence and found out there was only room for coaches in the press box. Had I been able to operate then as I can no, no problem.

Driving drowsy

Waiting over three hours to get new tires was the easy part. Driving from Overland Park to Smith Center turned out to be very, very difficult.

I was fine all the way to Junction City, but between Junction City and Abilene, I was starting to wear down. I had enough left in the tank to get to Salina and stop, but that’s where the real trouble began.

I was totally out of it on US 81, starting from Minneapolis all the way to US 36 at Belleville. I was having a dickens of a time staying awake. I’m lucky I’m still alive to write this. I finally made it safely to the Dairy Queen in Belleville for a brief nap.

It wasn’t nearly as bad on US 36 west from Belleville to Smith Center, but I wished there was a way to pull over and just get in a few more winks. The game will help me build enough energy for the drive home.

It’s two hours before kickoff at Smith Center. Oakley has yet to arrive. It should be an interesting night.

Waiting and waiting and waiting

Sitting here for almost three hours on a normal day? Not happy. Today? Not bad at all. Less time I have to wait around Smith Center before the game starts. Nothing wrong with Smith Center, but it will time out better if I don’t get there so early.

I probably should not have done this on a football Friday, but I figured if I got here early enough it would work out. Probably still will.

Speaking of Smith Center, the Redmen are probably the team which gets to its game site earlier than any other school for away games. Roger Barta liked to have his team at the stadium at least 2 1/2 hours prior to kickoff, and his successor, Darren Sasse, has continued this.

The opposite end of the spectrum was held down by Bobby Conlin when he coached Brother Martin. The Crusaders don’t have their own home stadium, so every game is an away game, with the designated home games played at one of two stadiums in New Orleans’ City Park. Conlin would keep the team at school until an hour before kickof, sometimes less, f if the Crusaders were playing at City Park. The team would get off the bus dressed in jerseys and pants (Conlin did not want the team warming up in shoulder pads) and go straight to the field to warm up.

Most coaches are somewhere in between Barta and Conlin. Most teams arrive for away games about two hours before, but in Kansas, the visiting team can go somewhere to get dressed and relax, unlike New Orleans, where if a team doesn’t have its own stadium, it has to come dressed.

The wait will end sometime. Right now, I might as well just relax. Nothing I can do.

Friday morning ramblings

No, I was not up at 2:01 a.m. when Verizon began taking orders for the new Apple iPhone models. I was so tired when I got back from Buffalo Wild Wings I was out about 15 minutes later. Good decision, because when I finally got up at 5:30, I was quickly in the shower and dressed.

The traffic heading south from Platte County to Overland Park was easy. I figured an easier way by getting off US 69 at 95th Street, so I did not have to U-turn across Metcalf. I was in line at 7 a.m., and now my car is getting its new tires. By getting here so early, I don’t have to sweat it. If I’m out of here by 11 a.m., I’ll be to Smith Center in plenty of time, no matter if I take US 36 all the way across or I take I-70 to Salina, cut north at Belleville, and then across. Going back to Russell is not an option, at least not right now.

I don’t think Smith Center and Oakley have played a regular season football game, which stands to reason, since the Plainsmen were in the Northwest Kansas League forever until coming to the Mid-Continent League this season for football, last season for everything else. Oakley has played Norton quite a bit, since the Bluejays were in the NWKL before coming to the MCL with Smith Center in 1977. I have also recalled the Plainsmen playing Phillipsburg and Plainville in regular season games in recent years, and they have been in districts with Ellis and Trego.

Oakley was put in a bad position when the NWKL schools began to rapidly depopulate. Oakley was the largest member of the NWKL beginning in the fall of 2010, when Colby and Goodland left to form the Great West Activities Conference with Holcomb, Hugoton, Scott City and Ulysses. Quinter went 8-man in 2008, Hoxie went in 2010, and it was only a matter of time before the same happened at Atwood and Saint Francis. It figured there would come a day when only Oakley and Oberlin were left among the 11-man ranks.

The NWKL used to be a powerhouse league. Scott City was in the league until 1996, and they had a dynasty in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Atwood used to be one of the best in 2-1A year in and year out. Goodland had some fine teams in 4A. Oakley was a consistent winner in 3A, and then 2-1A. And once Tim Lambert, the starting quarterback on Smith Center’s 1986 state championship team, took over at St. Francis, the Indians soon zoomed to the top of the league. In fact, Sainty lost four consecutive seasons (2004 through 2007) to Smith Center in the playoffs, highlighted by a neanderthal 6-2 battle in 2006.

When it became apparent Colby and Goodland were twice as big as any other school in the league, the other members politely asked those two to move on. They did, and the result is a league which stretches almost from Nebraska to Oklahoma north to south, and all of the travel is along two-lane highways.

In 2012, after Atwood went 8-man, the NWKL added 8-man schools Sharon Springs, Dighton and Greeley County (Tribune), plus 11-man school Leoti.

It was too late for Oakley, which in January 2012 was voted into the MCL by a 7-2 count, with Osborne and Trego dissenting. Not long thereafter, the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles both left the MCL, but Trego would soon return. The Plainsmen would play in the 2013-14 MCL volleyball and basketball tournaments, and would participate in the league golf and track and field meets, but could not play a full football schedule, or a round robin basketball schedule, until this school year.

TMP-Marian was placed in the MCL by the Kansas State High School Activities Association in June 2012, effective July 1, 2014. Trego’s return brought the MCL back to 10 for the first time since Victoria departed at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

The MCL was the first, and to date only, league to win three state football championships in the same sesason. It was 1985, when Norton won 4A, Plainville claimed 3A, and Victoria triumphed in 2-1A. The next year, Norton repeated in 4A, and Smith Center won 3A. From 1983 through 1987, six different MCL schools won state championships.

I have written about the Mid-Continent League since coming to Kansas in September 2005. I have worried about the league breaking up, which would really be hard for the three schools along US 36–Norton, Phillipsburg and Smith Center–since all are in a sort of no-man’s land, and all are very good in most sports. Norton and Phillipsburg are too big for some of the other area leagues. They were invited to the GWAC, but Norton superintendent Greg Mann had it right when he said no thank you. He wasn’t about to make his students travel three to four hours on a Tuesday night for a basketball game.

I have suggested Russell should be in the MCL. The Broncos are not a fit for the North Central Activities Association, as much as RHS principal Larry Bernard tries to tell me otherwise. Russell’s closest league foe is 45 miles away, and for the most part, most Bronco teams have struggled against Beloit, Sacred Heart and Southeast of Saline. A lot of people at Russell, led by Bernard, think the MCL is beneath them, but why?

As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be league play for football. Form eight-team districts, and that way seven of nine games are taken care of. It would be easy to schedule the other two. If this were the case, Russell would be in a district with Norton, TMP-Marian, Hoisington, Scott City, Cimarron, Lakin and Southwestern Heights. Two more games would be a cinch.

I don’t make the rules,, I just cover the rules enforced by the KSHSAA. Too bad Gary Musselman doesn’t have more power to affect change. I believe he would make a positive difference if he could.