Smith Center heads south to Meade
By AUSTIN COLBERT
The last time Meade played the Smith Center High School football team was in the 2009 Class 2-1A state playoffs when the Redmen were led by Roger Barta and were at the tail end of their record-setting 79-game win streak.
Smith Center won the game 10-0 -- a far cry from the 60-14 blowout win in the 2008 playoffs -- a victory that gave the Redmen 78 straight and Barta 300 for his career.
Darren Sasse is now the Redmen's head coach and they have thrown the ball a little more this season than in years past. But according to eighth-year Meade coach Scott Moshier, this is where the differences end.
"When you look at them, they look pretty much the same to me," Moshier said. "We know they are going to be one of the best-coached teams you will face all year. They got kids that have one speed and that's full speed."
The schools will meet for a third time at 6 p.m. Friday when Smith Center (8-2) travels to Meade (9-1) with a trip to the Class 2-1A semifinals on the line.
This is hardly unfamiliar territory for either program. Smith Center has eight state titles to its credit, the last coming in 2008, an unprecedented fifth-straight championship at the time. Meade has won four state titles, including with last season's 12-1 squad.
"We've played a nice schedule this year in Beloit, Phillipsburg and Norton. Schools like that should prepare us for playing a team like Meade," Sasse said. "They are a program that has really been established now, and coach Moshier does a great job. He's got a system that he does and the kids really buy into it. That's what we've been talking about. They have what they do and we do what we do. We are going to figure out who can do it better."
Meade runs a single wing system and has scored more than 50 points a game this season, including three games of at least 72 points. It's a system that doesn't rely on a true quarterback, but essentially a running back that acts as a quarterback. This role is played by senior Jett Little, who was the team's wingback last season before making the move to quarterback.
"It's been quite a transition for him. It's something that Jett knew was coming and he took on the challenge," Moshier said. "Jett's not a great big kid. He's had some injuries -- he tore his hamstring during track and didn't run at all. Reinjured it at team camp. So it's been kind of slow going. He's just now getting back to full speed. It's kind of nice that he is peaking at the right time."
Little has rushed for 1,230 yards and 28 touchdowns this season on top of 701 passing yards with a 13:5 touchdown to interception ratio. He rushed 23 times for 163 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 49-14 playoff opening win over Oberlin-Decatur Community.
The challenge will be on the Smith Center defense to slow this high-powered offense. Or it could be for the Buffaloes to find a crack in an impenetrable Redmen defense. Smith Center gave up 100 points in its first four games, which included a 36-14 loss to Beloit (11-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A in the statewide media poll) and a 43-18 loss to Class 3A Phillipsburg, which ended its season at 9-2 with a loss to Scott City last week.
But over the last six games, Smith Center has only given up 16 total points. The Redmen have four shutouts over that time, including three in a row.
Smith Center had three players change positions on the defensive side this season. Jordan Shockley went from tackle to end, Kody Molzahn from cornerback to safety, and Grant Lambert from outside to inside linebacker. While the changes seem minor, the responsibilities are different enough at each position that it has taken some time for the players to figure out there new role.
But now that they have, Smith Center has been lights out on the defensive side.
"It took a while to settle into that position and play it the way they are supposed to. I'm just thrilled with how they are playing. Shutouts are hard to get, I don't care who you are playing," Sasse said. "I remember somebody asking coach Barta one day about that being one of your goals. He said, 'I assume every defense's goal is not to be scored on.' We don't talk a lot about that and it's not something we discuss, but I think that's the goal of any football team."