Smith Center didn't let a few key injuries derail its quest for a three-peat.
The Redmen have fought through adversity to keep a 22-game win streak intact heading into Saturday's Class 1A state championship game with Centralia at 1 p.m. at Fort Hays State University's Lewis Field Stadium.
The two-time defending state champions have lost two linemen (Aaron Moss and Charlies Timmons) to injury, and running back Jaden Atwood also exited last week's semifinal win against Plainville early in the fourth quarter.
"We've had guys step up all year, and that's what it's going to take (Saturday)," Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said.
The Redmen pulled out a 20-19 thriller against Plainville in last week's semifinal, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a pass from Trenton Colby to Griffin Kugler with 1:26 left. The Redmen then sealed it with an interception from Sergio Lambert.
"It's survive and advance, and we survived," Sasse said. "That's what it's all about."
Colby, Smith Center's senior quarterback, said the Remen will look to set the tone against Centralia, which advanced to the state championship with a 44-6 win over Jackson Heights last week.
"We didn't come out very well (against Plainville), so we got to come out a lot better," Colby said.
It will be a rematch of the Class 1A state championship from 2009 when Centralia ended Smith Center's 79-game win streak with an overtime victory.
Centralia stumbled out of the gate this season with a loss to Rossville before reeling off 11 straight wins.
Atwood, who has rushed for a team-best 1,635 yards, is expected to miss the title game. Colton Shoemaker is Smith Center's next best rusher with 865 yards while Kugler has 43 receptions for 683 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Joel Montgomery leads the Redmen defense with 105 tackles.
Smith Center will be looking for its 11th state championship in program history.
Norton looks for 2A crown
After knocking off unbeaten Hoisington in dramatic fashion in the semifinals, Norton (9-3) will go for the 2A crown against Nemaha Central (11-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Salina Stadium.
The Bluejay defense held Hoisington star running back Wyatt Pedigo to 102 yards last week, and Luke Wahlmeier made the game-winning field goal from 33 yards out with eight seconds left to lift the Bluejays into the title game for the first time since 1989.
Norton coach Lucas Melvin said the Bluejays were confident in Wahlmeier's ability to make the kick, and Melvin credited the whole offensive unit for coming through late to get the Bluejays in field-goal position.
After an injury-plagued four-win season last year, Melvin said the Bluejays have remained healthy all year long, leading to the five-win improvement.
Nemaha Central started the season 1-2 before notching nine straight wins. The Thunder advanced to the state championship game with a 39-14 semifinal win over Riley County.
Thunder quarterback Dylan Schultejans has completed 100 of 172 passes for 1,675 yards and 21 touchdowns. Andrew Leonard is his top receiver with 31 catches, 511 yards and 9 TDs. Gavin Duryea has 822 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
"They're just solid all around," Melvin said.
Norton quarterback Kade Melvin has thrown for 1,846 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 1,193 yards and 19 Tds. Wahlmeier has rushed for 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns.
Senior Judson Wiltfong has enjoyed a huge senior for Norton with 139 tackles.
St. Francis looks for first state title
After a somewhat surprising run to the semifinals last year, the St. Francis Indians are exactly where they expected to be this year.
Second-year St. Francis head coach Nick Fawcett said the Indians' goal from the get-go has been to capture the Eight-Man Division I state championship.
They will get their chance on Saturday, facing fellow unbeaten Canton-Galva for the title at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Fischer Field in Newton.
Canton-Galva is also playing for its first state championship in program history.
St. Francis is making its second trip to the title game, also appearing in 2016.
Brady Dinkel and Shadyron Blanka have each rushed for more than 1,400 yards this season for St. Francis.
Fawcett said last year's semifinal loss to Central Plains served as a big motivator for the Indians. He said the strength of the team has been its physicality up front.
Fawcett added that he wants his team to soak up the experience of playing in the title game.
Osborne searching for fourth title
The undefeated Osborne Bulldogs will look for their fourth title in program history, taking on Axtell (11-1) in the Eight-Man Division II state championship game at 3 p.m. at Fischer Field in Newton.
Osborne coach Steve Tiernan has three state championships to his credit, including a title in 2013 with Osborne. He guided Solomon to an Eight-Man Division I runner-up appearance before returning to Osborne for his second head coaching stint.
Tiernan credited his team for buying in and focusing on taking one game at a time.
The Bulldogs reached the Eight-Man Division II title game last year but fell to Hanover, which Axtell beat in the semifinals this year to punch its ticket to the title game.
Osborne standout running back Darrien Holloway was initially feared to be out for the season with a foot injury he suffered early in the playoffs against Sylvan-Lucas. But the injury wasn't as bad as anticipated, and Holloway returned in the semifinals, rushing for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Holloway has 1,165 yards on the ground, and quarterback/defensive back Steele Wolters has accounted for 29 total touchdowns and has notched 123 tackles. Mason Schurr has also added 742 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Tiernan said its been difficult to get practices in this week, due to the weather. He noted the Bulldogs had a strong practice on Tuesday.
Quin Buessing has thrown 2,263 yards and 39 touchdowns with just two interceptions on the season for Axtell.