KANSAS CITY —The Smith-Cotton football team finished off a perfect regular season and won its first West Central Conference title since 2009 with a 27-17 win over Center on Friday.
“It feels great,” said wide receiver Blake Jackson. “That was our goal. We’re taking it game-by-game and we’re exactly where we want to be right now.”
In the process, the Tigers sent the Yellowjackets to their first defeat of the season and stopping their bid for three conference titles in four years.
“For our kids, what we stress to them all season long is just going 1-0 week in and week out,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ryan Boyer. “Then we said ‘position yourself for that first big stepping stone.’ They’ve set a lot of goals for the season and they’ve been able to achieve some of them but we’re talking big goals, this is a stepping stone and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Center trailed by three with 7:44 to play in the game following a Norvell Trent halfback pass to Ronnie Thomas for a seven-yard touchdown, but the Tigers took over and burned 4:40 off the clock on the ensuing drive. Carlton Homan capped it off on a fourth-and-two play, bouncing to the outside and going 39 yards for the touchdown to ice it.
Homan carried it 12 times for 180 yards.
It was the second touchdown of the game that Smith-Cotton scored on a fourth-down play. S-C also ended the first half with a one-yard plunge from Noah Aziere on fourth-and-goal.
“When we talk to the team if I come out there and they say ‘we want this play’ or ‘this play will work’ and it’s our leaders that do it, I have full faith in them,” Boyer said. “If you can’t get one or two yards, it’s going to be a long night anyway. Our leaders wanted the ball there at the end and that’s what you want.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Center broke through on the first play of the second as Trent carried the ball up the middle 67 yards for a touchdown.
After Trent’s big run, Smith-Cotton was often able to bottle him up for a loss or no gain. He did manage a couple of 12-yard gains in the third quarter and finished with 119 yards on 14 carries. The S-C defense held Center to 264 total yards.
“We stress to our guys swarm tackle all night long, don’t let just one guy get there, help your brother out,” Boyer said. “We told them we’ve seen good running backs and good offenses through the year, and when we’ve been successful, it’s been through swarming.”
After Trent scored, Smith-Cotton marched 80 yards the other way on the ensuing drive to tie the game. A pair of Carlton Homan carries got the Tigers over midfield and Caleb Reed capped off the drive with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jackson who made a diving catch in the end zone for the score.
“I had me and the corner one-on-one and I got past him,” Jackson said. “I kind of laid out for it and got it. Caleb put it perfectly.”
Center answered with a field goal on its next drive but the score was not without controversy. After a short pass to Trent on third down, the down marker never changed. On what would have been the fourth-down try, S-C’s Logan Parham deflected a pass but Center was given another play. Amaun Ryan completed a pass to Foyce Strickland on the extra play for a first down. Four plays later, Jay Stephenson kicked a 31-yard field goal to make it 10-7 Yellowjackets.
Smith-Cotton took over with 3:19 left, opening the drive at the Yellowjackets’ 39 after a 52-yard kick return by Jackson. The Tigers reached the one with eight seconds left and, going for it on fourth-and-goal and punching it in to make it 13-10 at halftime.
Receiving to open the third quarter, Smith-Cotton marched for another score to make it 20-10. Homan broke several tackles for a long gain to start the drive, then broke a few more and spun his way past another Yellowjacket for a 54-yard touchdown.
Center’s first drive of the second half reached as far as the S-C 15-yard line — Ryan finding Cristian Cox with a long pass to set the Yellowjackets up in the S-C redzone — but the Tiger defense held and Ryan was flushed from the pocket on fourth down and sacked. Early in the fourth quarter, Center reached the Smith-Cotton 15 before the S-C defense again made the stop.
Smith-Cotton will have a bye for the first round of the district playoffs. The Tigers will learn next week who their district semifinal opponent will be.
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles