A big opening kickoff return set the tone.

And right from the start things were bouncing the right way for the Smith Center High School football team.

By halftime of Saturday night's Class 2-1A state championship game at Lewis Field Stadium, the Redmen had a 29-0 lead, and eventually hoisted the state trophy after a 43-7 victory over Pittsburg/St. Mary’s-Colgan for the school’s ninth state championship.

“Just a special group of guys that worked hard all summer, all fall,” said Smith Center coach Darren Sasse. “Hot practices, long practices. Every coach thinks their group is special, but this group has just been tremendous for us all year.”

The Redmen were especially tremendous when it counted the most.

Smith Center used a 45-yard kickoff return to start the game, then punched in the game’s first score and rolled past a Colgan team against whom they now own a 4-0 record in title games.

Smith Center senior Jesse Staples punched in the first of his three touchdowns to start the scoring. His second — from 24 yards — made it 15-0, and the rout was on.

“They’re a good team and they did what they wanted to do, and what they needed to do. Hats off to them,” Colgan head coach Shawn Seematter said.

It was the final 2-1A title game as the Kansas State High School Activities Association realigns its classifications beginning next fall.

Smith Center won its ninth title in school history, while Colgan (10-3) finished second for the eighth time, falling a win shy of its eighth state championship.

“When we had that big kick return, we set the tone right there,” said Staples, who rushed for a game-high 131 yards on 17 carries, and also had the kick return that started it all. “When we set the tone, it’s over.”

Smith Center (12-1) led 29-0 at halftime and 36-0 after Staples’ 5-yard run in the third quarter.

The defense did the rest as it has all season for Smith Center.

The seven points matched the most the Redmen have allowed in any game since Week 4. Smith Center finished its 12-1 campaign outscoring its opponents 653-78.

“Our defense is a big part of who we are,” said Smith Center senior Avery Hawkins. “We really take pride in our defense. We try to put up a shutout every week, but we’ll take 43-7.”

Pitt-Colgan’s most successful drive of the night resulted in a 17-yard TD pass from Bryce Hutchins to Jermiah Buche. It made it 36-7 with 3:14 left in the third, and Colgan didn’t get much more from that point.

“Unbelievable defensive effort tonight, and the whole season,” Sasse said. “Coach (Brock) Hutchinson and the game plan he puts together and the way the kids put the game plan into action every week is just unbelievable.”

Colgan finished with just 5 rushing yards and 80 through the air, while Smith Center rolled up 365 on the ground. Hesston Maxwell had 79, Colton Hutchinson 77, Trace Haven 73 and Ethan Peterson 19. Maxwell and Haven each found the end zone. Hutchinson also finished 4 of 6 passing for 56 yards, hitting Brett Meyer all four times with one score.