SMITH CENTER — Midway through the second quarter of Friday night's Class 1A sub-state matchup with Plainville, Smith Center was already working on a quintessential performance for the Redmen.
At that point, Smith Center was executing on both sides, leading by two touchdowns while churning out yards on the ground, controlling the clock and shutting down a potent Cardinal offense.
Once they mixed in a few takeaways, the rout was on.
The Redmen punched their ticket to their 13th state championship game in program history, using four turnovers and two defensive scores to run away from Plainville for a 49-7 victory at Hubbard Stadium.
Smith Center (11-1) will take on Olpe (12-0) in the Class 1A title game at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Fort Hays State’s Lewis Field Stadium.
“Just thrilled,” Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said. “The guys came out tonight and played the way we know they can play. Practiced really well all week, and we’ve been practicing well the last few weeks. Just happy that they came out and performed at the level that we know that they can.”
Smith Center led 14-0 on a pair of 1-yard touchdowns from Hesston Maxwell before things started to snowball out of control for Plainville in the last five minutes of the first half.
Pressure by the Redmen forced an errant pass from Plainville quarterback Jordan Finnesy that was picked off by junior lineman Joel Montgomery and returned 15 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 21-0 with 4:37 left in the second quarter.
Maxwell then picked off a pass to thwart a Plainville drive, and the Redmen capitalized on a 58-yard touchdown run from Colby Benoit with 2:11 left in the second quarter.
“It really takes (the momentum) from down low a little bit to just a different level, because we know we can go score on offense,” Maxwell, a senior running back/linebacker, said of the takeaways.
“That’s the thing we concentrate the most on — defense,” senior running back/defensive back Colby Benoit added. “If we have good defense then that’s the best thing for us. Momentum for defense carries to offense."
Smith Center capped off a dominant half with junior quarterback Trenton Colby's 19-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Griffin Kugler with 35 seconds left in the half, giving the Redmen a 35-0 lead heading into the break.
“We ran the ball like we wanted to,” Sasse said. “We haven’t done it a lot this year but we like to be able to throw just every once and a while to keep a team from loading the box more than normal, which is what we get. Offense executed about everything I asked them to do.”
Plainville got on the board with Finnesy’s 17-yard touchdown pass to senior Kobe Spiess with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
But Smith Center answered with an 8-yard touchdown from Colby on a keeper, and senior Logan Zabel gave the Redmen their second defensive score, scooping up a fumble and returning it 56 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Plainville ended the year 9-3, falling in sub-state to Smith Center for the second straight year after beating the Redmen in that round in 2016.
“They just started hot and we did not,” Plainville coach Grant Stephenson said. “Once they kind of got up, we were making mistakes that we hadn’t been making all year. I know the guys are disappointed and I’m a little disappointed.
“Wasn’t how we wanted to end our season. I thought it would be a heck of a lot closer.”
Smith Center will be going for its second straight state title after winning a Class 2-1A crown last year with a 12-1 mark. Olpe advanced in the other 1A semifinal with a 14-0 win over Pittsburg-Colgan.