It’s been two weeks since the Smith-Cotton football team last took the field, beating Center 27-17 to cap off a 9-0 regular season and a West Central Conference title.
After having a week off to heal any minor injuries and rest up, the Tigers will be back in action Friday, opening their postseason by hosting Belton at Tiger Stadium.
Though Smith-Cotton comes in 9-0 and Belton comes in 7-3, that does not mean much in the postseason.
For Smith-Cotton, a loss now means the season is over. Belton’s three losses have come against teams with a combined 24-6 record, including Class 6 Ray-Pec.
“We told our guys, it’s playoffs anyway, you might as well throw records out the window,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ryan Boyer.
Smith-Cotton and Belton have not met in recent memory. In the 2014 district tournament, the teams were on opposite sides of the bracket and each lost in the district semifinal. Before that, the schools were in different districts.
“That’s what’s neat about the playoffs is you do get to see teams you don’t see any other time and they won’t see you any other time,” Boyer said.
With a bye last Friday, Smith-Cotton was able to travel to watch the Belton-Willard game in the first round of districts to see what the Pirates were capable of. The Tigers were also able to scout the Pirates on film.
Belton averages 35.5 points per game, but that number includes seven points in a loss to Kearney and seven in a loss to Park View. In other games, they put up 44 to beat Winnetonka, 54 to beat Raytown South and 50 to beat Platte County. Last week, they opened district play with a 48-24 win over Willard. Pacing that attack is the rushing game with running back Zach Willis.
“He does a good job,” Boyer said. “They have good size on their offensive line, good senior leadership with their quarterback, but the running back makes them go. The last couple games he’s put up big numbers and he runs hard. They get him behind that line and you can see there are times people can’t find him and by the time they find him, he’s 10-15 yards down the field. If he gets a step on you, he’ll be gone.”
Willis is surrounded by a supporting cast which includes capable receivers and several other rushing options. Against Willard, the Pirates also used their defense to create turnovers, giving the offense a short field. They also spread the field to create more space for Willis.
Along with the bye week, the benefit of the Tigers’ top seed in the district means this game will be at home, instead of coming after a 90-minute bus ride. A year ago this week, the Tigers made a 150-mile trip to Carthage. Recent years have also included playoff trips to Camdenton and Washington.
“It’s always great to be at home and for us to have homefield advantage,” Boyer said. “.. We tell the kids, this is something that you’ve earned, you’ve earned the right to host and have that homefield advantage. It’s something that you don’t want to give away.”
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles