Redmen stay perfect after shutout
By NICK McQUEEN
Hays Daily News
OAKLEY -- Just three times this season has an opponent threatened the shutout streak of the unbeaten, three-time defending Class 2-1A state champion Smith Center Redmen.
Mid-Continent League rival Norton had first and goal in the season opener and Phillipsburg also got close to the goal line. Both fell short. Friday night in the 2-1A Sectional Championships at Irwin Field, unbeaten Oakley also got a first-and goal, at the 10-yard line. But Oakley was driven backwards.
It was the only time the Plainsmen threatened as Smith Center (11-0) rolled once again, this time 56-0, and handed Oakley its first loss of the season, advancing to Friday's sub-state championship against St. Francis. Last year, St. Francis lost 6-2 to Smith Center at sub-state.
"We played super tonight. That's the best by a long shot that we've played and we had to because they are a good football team," said Redmen coach Roger Barta.
For the first time this season, Barta's starters were on the field from start to finish to not only preserve the shutout, but extend Smith Center's winning streak to 52 games, dating back to 2004 when the Redmen dropped from 3A to 2-1A, where they have not lost a game.
"We knew they would be a real big challenge and we had to get ready for this game," Smith Center senior Braden Wilson said. "They were really good and it was just a good game."
Oakley (11-1) had things going its way defensively out of the gate. The Redmen thrive on big plays and were held to just 22 yards on their first five snaps. On the sixth, though, it went downhill. Sophomore running back Colt Rogers, all 130 pounds of him, took a handoff out of Smith Center's patented wishbone and burst 51 yards for the game's first score, just three minutes in.
After the Redmen defense forced Oakley into a three and out, Rogers went 91 yards for a TD on Smith Center's first play after the punt.
"We gave up those two long runs in that first quarter and that didn't fit at all with our game plan,"¬ Oakley coach Randall Rath said. "We wanted to make them drive the length of the field."
The first quarter did see a first for the Redmen against an opposing defense this season. On its next series, Smith Center was forced to punt. It was Smith Center's first punt of the season.
Oakley responded by driving to the Redmen 23-yard line, which took the game into the second quarter.
The Oakley senior running back combination of Aaron Racette and Kelly Younkin kept the Smith Center defense on its toes all night, but never could break free. The duo ended the night with 158 rushing yards against a defense that had given up just 218 yards rushing all season.
"Those two backs are great backs and our kids kept hitting them and kept playing,"¬ Barta said. "It was a great high school football game."
On fourth-and-6 early in the second quarter, Racette fumbled, giving the Redmen the ball. Three plays later, Smith Center found the end zone again, this time on a 62-yard run by Wilson, the first of his two scores in the quarter. The defensive stand was the first of three of as the Redmen were on their heels near the red zone.
"We're pretty proud of that (shutout),"¬ Wilson said. "But, as long as we're winning games, we're happy."
Wilson's second score came on the next possession, this time from 38 yards out and gave Smith Center a 28-0 lead.
"We missed tackles and sometimes didn't even see the ball,"¬ Rath said. "They do such a great job of deceiving and their kids executed very well."
Oakley put together a long drive to the Redmen 31, but again was stopped on fourth down. On the first play after getting the ball, Smith Center struck again with a 71-yard run up the middle by senior quarterback Joe Windscheffel.
"They're a mature group of young men and they've been in the big games before and they know what it's about," Barta. said. "They really focused well because they knew this was a big game. They prepared well and they played well."
Smith Center took a 34-0 lead into the halftime break. Oakley gained just 12 yards on its first drive of the second half, punted and a reverse on the return put the Redmen on the board again. Senior Jared Hayes took the reverse from Rogers to score from 60 yards out.
"They're an outstanding program and the kids do what it takes to make themselves better athletes," Rath said. "We watched them play last year and this year, they are even bigger faster and stronger."
It took just three offensive plays on the next Smith Center possession to make it 48-0. Windscheffel found a hole for 53 yards and six points. Smith Center ran just three plays in the third quarter and put up 14 points.
The Redmen trio of Rogers (9 rushes, 166 yards), Wilson (9-144), and Windscheffel (5-147) combined for 457 of Smith Center's 501 rushing yards. The other 44 came from junior Trevor Rempe in the fourth quarter.
On Oakley's next possession, the Plainsmen threatened the shutout, driving to the 10-yard line as the third-quarter clock ticked away.
On first-and-goal from the 10, Younkin lost five yards, then lost three on the next play and gained just one back on third down. On fourth-and-goal from the 17, Racette was met at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
"We had to play the whole night tonight. We got better this game and that's what it's about," Barta said. "Maybe they should have scored and got it over with, but the kids bowed their back and kept them out of there and that's what it's about."
The crowd of nearly 3,000 was on its feet to see if the Plainsmen could break the streak, but it stayed alive for one more week. It's a remarkable feat that has gained national attention for Smith Center, but it's something the Redmen are not letting go to their heads as they seek a fourth straight state title.
"We just try not to pay attention to it. You have to put that aside and focus on football," Wilson said.
"The next game will be tough. We'll just focus on that one and if we move on, we'll focus on state."
Oakley will look to regroup from its third straight one-loss season. Two of those losses have come at the hands of Smith Center in the playoffs.
Sports reporter Nick McQueen can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 128 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.