Smith Center senior fullback Hesston Maxwell is 6-foot, 215 pounds. Maxwell describes his running style as “kind of a bulldozer.”
Smith Center defeated Plainville 21-10 on Friday, September 21, 2018. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
“I put my head forward and just run,” he said.
Maxwell’s physical carries helped the Redmen churn out a 22-play, 80-yard drive that covered the last 7 minutes, 24 seconds of the third quarter. He carried 13 times, helped Smith Center convert three fourth downs and scored a one-yard touchdown run.
The drive gave Smith Center a four-point lead against Plainville with 7:52 remaining. The Redmen added another late touchdown for a 21-10 road Mid-Continent League victory versus the Cardinals.
“He is a big kid,” Smith Center coach Darren Sasse said. “He is not going to make a lot of cuts. We joke that he doesn’t have a whole lot of cuts or moves or anything like that. So yeah, forward is where he has got to go.”
Smith Center was ranked second in Class 1A, while Plainville stood sixth.
“Frustrated,” Plainville coach Grant Stephenson said. “I thought we dropped opportunities that were there tonight. Not taking anything away from Smith Center by any means, because they are a good ball club, but I thought we had opportunities that we did not capitalize on, and it hurt us in several occasions.”
Two years ago, Plainville defeated SC in Week 1 and again in the state semifinals. Last fall, the Redmen beat the Cardinals in the season opener and then in the semifinals en route to the state title. Friday could yield the first of two meetings again.
Entering the contest, both teams were 2-1 and had lost to league foe Phillipsburg, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, by 28 points. Last week, the Redmen struggled versus the Panthers and trailed by 28 at halftime.
“Monday, we watched film, and that was kind of rough, finding the things we did wrong,” Sasse said. “We saw some things we did well, and then I thought they practiced really well Tuesday and Wednesday, and I think it showed tonight.”
Smith Center led 7-3 at halftime after Plainville senior Tanner Copeland made a 32-yard field goal just before intermission.
“We’ve got to go back to our roots and just get after it and see what kind of team we are,” Sasse said of his halftime message.
The Cardinals recovered a punt early in the third quarter. Junior quarterback Jordan Finnesy tallied a five-yard scoring run for a 10-7 lead.
The Redmen followed with the vintage drive that resembled past great Smith Center squads.
“That brings back memories of my brother playing,” senior lineman Austin Hobelmann said. “Those guys were good.”
Maxwell, who recorded four carries for 16 yards in the first half, had the first four carries of the drive and eight of the first 11.
“I wasn’t going to try to outsmart myself,” Sasse said.
He never had a carry more than four yards on the possession but continued to move the ball forward.
“I was just like I have to run my hardest, and it doesn’t matter,” Maxwell said. “I just have to put my body at risk, sacrifice everything for the team.”
In postgame, Sasse made certain to mention every offensive lineman by name – Hobelmann, senior Stu Hackerott, juniors Joel Montgomery, Brell Speiss and Aaron Moss, and sophomores Charlie Timmons and Freddy Lambert.
“They were just like, ‘We’ve got to pound it inside, keep pounding, keep pounding, keep pounding it, and it’s still working, so that opened the outside runs,” Maxwell said.
Smith Center converted a 4 th-and-2 from the Plainville 38-yard line. Later in the drive, Maxwell earned a first down on 4th-and-1 at the Cardinal 16-yard line.
“Trust the fullback,” Hobelmann said. “It was the same play every time. Trusting our guys.”
Three plays later, Smith Center faced a 4th-and-4 at Plainville’s 10-yard line.
Junior Trenton Colby, one of two quarterbacks, threw SC’s only pass of the second half. Sophomore Griffin Kugler made a diving catch at the 1-yard line.
“We just needed to bat the ball down, and just lots of little things that we practice that we didn’t do well tonight, and that’s frustrating,” Stephenson said.
Maxwell scored on the next play and the extra point gave the Redmen a four-point advantage.
“Guys making plays,” Sasse said. “We practice a lot of that stuff. We don’t show a lot of it, but it’s stuff that we work on in practice.”
Then, Plainville drove to the Redmen 34-yard line before SC forced a turnover on downs. Maxwell had a key pass breakup, one of his two in the contest.
He finished with 18 carries for 52 yards with five tackles and a pair of tackles for loss. SC outgained Plainville, 236-156, and limited the Cardinals to 38 rushing yards.
The Redmen had a significant edge in depth over Plainville, which had just 19 healthy players. Freshman Ben Hansen, a starter at center and linebacker, was hurt early in the contest.
“He is a load,” Hobelmann said. “He is a big boy. I wouldn’t want to tackle him every play.”
Finnesy, known for his scrambling ability, completed 16 of 29 passes for 118 yards. However, he had multiple plays where he held onto the ball for too long, an area Stephenson looked to address early next week.
“There is areas that we just have to improve on if we want to hopefully play them or a better team later in the season,” Stephenson said.
After the turnover on downs, SC senior Ethan Peterson had a 66-yard touchdown run on the next play. He led with 13 carries for 110 yards. Plainville again drove in SC territory, but the Redmen corralled Finnesy for two sacks and forced a punt, effectively ending the contest.
“That is tough to cover for that amount of time,” Sasse said. “The time that that guy can move around and keep pressure on is just tough. Proud of our guys.”