BROOKVILLE — There’s a reason Smith Center has been the top-ranked team in Class 2-1A all season long.
The Redmen put on a stellar display of football talent as they walloped fourth-ranked and previously unbeaten Ell-Saline 54-0 Thursday night. The victory gave Smith Center the District 6 championship.
The 54 points gave Smith Center 202 in its three combined district games while the defense posted three shutouts.
Winning the district also extended Smith Center’s winning streak to seven games since a 23-0 loss to Class 3A power Phillipsburg the second week of the season.
The Redmen take an 8-1 record to the playoffs while Ell-Saline goes to Sedgwick next week with a 7-1 record.
Running out of the wishbone, the Redmen racked up 303 yards rushing on only 28 plays. Jesse Staples led the charge with 130 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.
But the Redmen were in control before they ran an offensive play. An interception, fumble return and a 95-yard punt return gave Smith Center a 21-0 lead with 5:27 left in the first quarter.
When they did run plays from scrimmage, they were equally successful — the first two going 35 and 17 yards for touchdowns that gave the Redmen a 35-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
“Getting those kind of plays early on made it pretty easy,” Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said. “We didn’t have to run any offense early — we were up 21-0. Again, big plays and great effort on the kids’ part.
“We’ve had times when we’ve gotten rolling on teams early and I think this game tonight could have gone a little different if we hadn’t gotten off to that quick start.”
Bret Meyer got things started for Smith Center when he intercepted Nick Davenport’s first pass at the 42 and sprinted into the end zone from there.
Next, Trace Haven scooped up a fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. Ell-Saline put together a drive, reaching the Smith Center 34 before stalling. Colton Hutchinson then fielded the Cardinals’ punt, escaped a trap at the 5-yard line, found a wall of blockers to his right and sprinted 95 yards for the third score.
“We sure didn’t get started very well,” Ell-Saline coach Terry King said.
King said he was concerned about his team’s preparation for the game.
“We didn’t practice well all week,” he said. “There was a lot of messing around. Maybe our kids didn’t feel they had a chance against Smith Center, but we didn’t play very well the first quarter. Actually in the second quarter we played some good football.
“Once it got rolling, it just kept rolling. We did have a hard time finding the football. (Hutchinson) does a very good job of hiding the football with their offense. It’s hard to prepare for that in three days of practice.”
Smith Center outgained Ell-Saline in total yardage 362-117. Bryce Lange led the Cardinals with 62 yards rushing on 13 carries.
King was ready to move on after the loss.
“We are starting a new season and I hope we can get our heads back to it and come out and play some good football games for three or four weeks and see what happens,” he said.
Sasse said there’s a chance the Redmen and Cardinals could play again in a sub-state game.