Redmen finding their groove heading into 2-1A field
Published on -11/1/2012, 10:42 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta recently talked with his veteran coaching staff about the 2012 Redmen team. Smith Center is 323-67 under Barta in 34 seasons, but the coaches believe this team is among the most improved in his tenure.
"I think we have improved as much, if not more than any team that we have had at Smith Center," Barta said.
The Redmen returned just one offensive and three defensive starters, had some preseason injuries to key players, and started 1-3 with losses to Class 3A teams Norton, Beloit and Phillipsburg. Smith Center hadn't had a losing season since 2002.
"We had a ways to go, and we still have a ways to go," Barta said. "We will work every day and try to get a little bit better each and everyday."
However, the Redmen have won five straight to finish the season, including its Class 2-1A district. Smith Center (6-3) will play host to Sterling (3-6) in a first round playoff game Friday. Senior Riley Galyon has rushed for 1,314 yards and has accounted for 20 offensive TDs for the Black Bears.
"We were just very young and inexperienced when we started the year," Barta said. "We had to learn how to play the game and understand the game and understand what we were trying to teach and coach and what we could do to be successful. It just took some time to instill that in our young people."
Smith Center's first win of the season was a 20-14 overtime victory against Oberlin-Decatur Community in Week 3. In district play, the Redmen defeated Brookvillle/Ell-Saline 20-18, beat Plainville 23-22, and then won at Bennington 22-16. Four players have rushed for at least 279 yards.
"We have won so many close games, we are not sure if we have turned a corner," Barta said with a laugh. "We have had some kids make great plays in situations where we have had to. ... They compete well, and they don't quit and they try hard. I am not sure we are a real good football team right now, but they try hard."
In late game situations, Smith Center continually has made big plays. That includes two interceptions from junior Taylor Zabel against Bennington that kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone. Zabel picked off one pass just before the first half ended and another one late in the game.
"If he doesn't make those plays, we don't win," Barta said. "It's just that simple. We have had some other kids do the same thing. We are happy for those kids, and they have done a good job."
Oakley hosts Stanton County
For the first time since 2009, the Oakley Plainsmen will get a first-round home game. Oakley, which had finished runner-up the past two seasons to Ellis, clinched the district crown with five straight wins after falling 54-6 to Phillipsburg. The Plainsmen started the season with a 1-2 record with a loss to 4A Colby as well, but bounced back with back-to-back 62-0 wins. Stanton County (8-1), which lost to Plainville last season in the second round, suffered its only setback in district play to 8-1 Meade. In its eight wins, Stanton County has allowed just 46 points, 20 coming in last week's eight-point win against Sterling. The winner will get the winner between Ell-Saline (7-2) and La Crosse (9-0).
Oberlin-Decatur Community at Meade
By way of an Ellis loss to St. Francis, Oberlin (4-5) qualified second behind Oakley in district play and wil travel to Meade, the 2010 2-1A state champion. Decatur finished 2-2 in district play, but made it through on the points tiebreaker as Ellis, St. Francis and the Red Devils all finished with the same district mark. The Red Devils are one of three teams in 2-1A to make the playoffs under .500. Game time is 6 p.m. in Meade.