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.