SMITH CENTER — After an early stalemate, Friday night's season opener against Thomas More Prep-Marian eventually turned into a prototypical, workmanlike Smith Center performance.
But the Monarchs made the Redmen work for everything they got.
In Jay Harris' debut as head high school coach for TMP-Marian, the Monarch defense answered the bell early, keeping Smith Center off the board in the first quarter.
But the Redmen's patented wishbone attack eventually did its damage while TMP's offense struggled to gain traction in the Monarchs' 34-0 loss at Hubbard Stadium.
TMP turned away Smith Center on its first three possessions, making two stands and forcing a turnover, but the Monarchs failed to take advantage, committing two first quarter turnovers.
The Redmen then got on track with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter for a 13-0 halftime lead before imposing their will on the ground in the second half.
“I think our defense did a great job setting the tone and making them have to work for it,” Harris said. “I’m proud of the way our guys played.”
The Redmen, top-ranked in Class 1A after back-to-back state titles, broke through with a 31-yard touchdown run by Colton Shoemaker with 9:31 left in the second quarter. He scored again on a 15-yard run with 1:09 remaining before halftime.
"We had some different guys up front, and credit TMP. We knew they had good athletes and that they would come in excited for the first game of the year,” Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said. “A lot of it was TMP playing really well and us trying to figure some stuff out."
A long kickoff return by TMP freshman Kade Harris gave the Monarchs a chance to end the half on a high note. TMP moved it inside the 5-yard line but a penalty pushed the Monarchs back, and Bryce Seib's pass was intercepted at the goal line by Mason Teselle on the last play of the half.
“That could have been a turning point if we would have capitalized on it,” Jay Harris said. “But we had a penalty there that hurt us and backed us up and took us, not really out of scoring position, but hurt us that we were not as close.”
All three of Smith Center's drives in the second half ended in touchdowns. Trenton Colby scored on a 20-yard quarterback keeper midway through the the quarter, Jaden Atwood broke loose for a 59-yard score early in the fourth, and the Redmen capped things off with Colby's 3-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Kugler in the waning moments.
TMP moved the ball better in the second half but couldn't finish off drives.
“Penalties hurt us real bad,” Harris said. “We’d get something going and penalties would set us back. We’ve got to work on that.”
“I think we bent a couple times, but we didn’t break,” Sasse said of the Smith Center defense. “We got beat deep a time or so but fortunately they overthrew it. We’ll learn from that kind of stuff, too.”
Atwood rushed for 167 yards while Shoemaker had 103 yards on the ground. Both players are stepping into bigger roles on offense this season.
“I knew that they were going to be able to step in back there,” Sasse said. “We just got to block probably a little bit better for them.”
TMP, which struggled to get much going through the air, was led offensively by Kade Harris' 49 yards on the ground.
Sasse said he saw an improved TMP team.
“I knew that they would be (improved),” he said. “They’ve got good athletes; we see them in all the other sports. Any time you get a new coach in, if he believes in what he’s doing then he’s going to get the kids believing in what he’s doing."
Smith Center will play host to Norton next week while TMP will play at Ellis.
“I don’t see anything right now that we can’t correct,” Harris said. “I think everything that we’re having problems with is stuff we can correct.”