For the first time in a dozen years, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s football playoffs will be missing a familiar face.
Smith Center’s season ended last night when it was defeated 47-7 at Phillipsburg. The Redmen had to win the game to earn their 12th consecutive postseason bid, but they were never close as they suffered one of their most lopsided defeats to a Mid-Continent League foe since joining the league in 1977. That happened to be one year before Smith Center hired Roger Barta to coach their football program.
The Redmen made the playoffs 24 times in 35 seasons under Barta, winning eight state championships and 66 postseason contests. Those numbers certainly would have been higher if the KSHSAA had not limited the playoffs to only district champions from 1981, the year it began the district system to determine playoff qualifiers, through 2001. In 2002, the KSHSAA doubled the size of the playoff brackets to include second place teams from each district.
Smith Center won 10 consecutive district championships from 2004 through 2013, the last of those under Barta’s successor, Darren Sasse. The third place finish for the Redmen this season is not its worst; in 2002, they were 0-3, losing to Norton, Beloit and Phillipsburg.
From 1969, the first year the KSHSAA sponsored a football tournament, through 1980, all teams with eight victories earned automatic playoff bids. The playoff bracket was then completed with seven-win teams and so on, or if there were more eight-win teams than playoff spots, there would be play-in games.
The Redmen’s 67 playoff victories rank them third all-time, trailing only Silver Lake (87) and PIttsburg Colgan (75). The eight titles for Smith Center, including five in a row between 2004 and 2008, are tied for third, behind only Lawrence’s 10 and Kapaun Mount Carmel’s nine.
Barta went 323-68 in 35 seasons at Smith Center, and was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame earlier this month. In retirement, Roger has followed his son, Brooks, who has wonthree state championships and won nearly 200 games at Holton, located 20 miles north of Topeka in Jackson County. Brooks Barta was an All-State standout on the Redmen’s 1986 state championship team before earning All-Big Eight Conference honors as a linebacker at Kansas State, becoming the first of many standouts produced by Bill Snyder.
The Mid-Continent League will not be lacking for playoff representation. Norton went 9-0 and is primed for a deep run in the Class 3A postseason, while Phillipsburg and Oakley will play in the 2-1A bracket. The Panthers lost a tough game last year in the second round of the 3A playoffs to powerhouse Scott City, and even though this year’s squad lost several standouts from the 2013 squad to graduation, this may be Phillipsburg’s best chance to bring home a title.
Phillipsburg didn’t make its first playoff appearance until 2002. It has gone seven more times since (not including 2014), but never past the quarterfinals. This is the Panthers’ first year in 2-1A, the smallest 11-man football classification.
Norton won 4A state championships in 1985 and 1986 and reached the title game in 1983 and 1989, all under Neil Mellilo. The Bluejays have remained strong under Bruce Graber and Lucas Melvin through the past two decades, but they have made it to the semifinals only once since the glory days, losing in 2009 to Wichita Collegiate.
Oakley’s farthest advance was to the semifinals in 2005 and 2009, only to lose each time at Smith Center. The Plainsmen did not join the MCL for football until this year, although the school was officially welcomed to the league for all other sports in July 2013.
The playoff brackets in Class 3A and the two 8-man divisions have been posted by the KSHSAA. The other classes will have theirs done by the end of tonight. And then the fun begins.