SMITH CENTER, Kan. - Smith Center senior Brell Spiess started at right tackle in 2018. Austin Hobelmann, a two-time first team all-state player, anchored at left guard and often served as SC’s lead blocker on back-to-back state championship teams. Hobelmann graduated, and coach Darren Sasse talked with Spiess.
Sasse was impressed with Spiess’ work ethic and wanted him to “make a difference” every play. Sasse slotted Spiess at Hobelmann’s former position on the offensive line. On Friday, Spiess continued his fine season as the Redmen defeated Plainville, 40-14, at Hubbard Stadium.
“Brell Spiess has been tremendous,” Sasse said.
Spiess’ key blocks sprung SC’s first two touchdown runs and helped the Redmen, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, move to 4-0. The Cardinals outscored SC, 20-0, in the third quarter.
“Big shoes to fill, and Sasse is patting me on the back,” Spiess said. “I am filling them just as good. I am proud of that.”
Plainville, ranked second in 1A, dropped to 3-1. The Cardinals played their first game without four-year starter Jared Casey, one of the state’s best and most versatile players. Casey broke his hand in Week 3 against TMP and is expected to miss three weeks.
Smith Center has won five in a row versus the Cardinals. The last three years, Smith Center and Plainville have met in the regular season and then in the sub-state title game.
Overall, SC has captured 14 straight wins and is in strong position for its first outright Mid-Continent League title since 2009. That marked the same year that Smith Center ended its state record 79-game winning streak that included five straight state crowns.
“Beating (Phillipsburg) was huge,” Spiess said of Week 3. “We want to win the league this year. One thing we haven’t done in a long time. If we can do that, I think we are following in the footsteps of the five-peat teams. I think we are right in line with those guys.”
Plainville effectively moved the ball behind senior quarterback Jordan Finnesy, a three-year starter and also among Kansas’ top signal callers. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 174 yards, and senior Cody Crawford hauled in 110 receiving yards on six catches.
As well, freshman running back Kyle Werner took over for Casey in the backfield with 14 carries for 83 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown run. While Plainville is known for Finnesy/Casey, Sasse complemented Cardinal coach Grant Stephenson on his talent throughout the roster.
“Hats off to Plainville,” Sasse said. “They are a tremendous team. Coach Stephenson and his assistants do a tremendous job, and it was a dogfight the first half.”
After a Smith Center three-and-out, Plainville drove to the Redmen 5-yard line, but penalties and a Spiess fumble recovery off a Finnesy rush halted the drive.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot like a team that hasn’t hit their full potential,” Stephenson said. “So, we are going to build and work on that positive note.”
With 7 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first half, senior quarterback Trenton Colby ran right behind Spiess and scored on a 76-yard touchdown run.
Spiess blocks next to junior left tackle Charlie Timmons and senior center Joel Montgomery, both three-year starters.
“We kind of had a little trouble bouncing it to the outside,” Spiess said. “So we brought it in after a timeout, and game plan, we said, ‘Cut it right off of Brell’s butt,’ and he followed it, and Joel opened it up for us, and he ran right in between Joel and I and blew it up.”
Spiess and Montgomery have often played next to each other on the line since junior high. As well, seniors Shelton Rothchild and Jacob Conrad are new starters on the line.
“That’s our strong side of the line,” Colby said. “Coach Sasse talks like, ‘We want to run here.’ He has plays called. His mind is great on offensively. (Spiess) and our left tackle Charlie Timmons, those two are our horses. They can block just about anybody. Brell, he has done a great job moving from right tackle to left guard.”
After Plainville tied the game on Werner’s play, senior Colton Shoemaker delivered a 58-yard run with 3:32 left in the first half.
“Their offensive line is solid,” Stephenson said.
This time, Spiess pulled from his guard position to the right side and opened a huge hole. Colby executed the ball fake before he handed it to Shoemaker. Then, Colby saw “green grass” ahead of his running back.
“I am supposed to pull, and just hit the first guy I see,” Spiess said. “I have done it most of the year. I have kind of perfected it. … Basically every time we call that play, I tell Shoemaker every time, ‘Just follow my butt,’ and he cuts right off my butt every time, and he goes.”
In the second half, senior Jaden Atwood delivered a 1-yard run for a 21-7 lead. Four plays later, Finnesy fumbled, and Colby picked it up and rushed 62 yards for the touchdown. Earlier in the game, SC defensive coordinator Brock Hutchinson was displeased after the Redmen didn’t scoop-and-score a Plainville fumble. Colby kept it in his mind.
“When it came out, I was like my eyes got really big,” Colby said.
Atwood also scored on an 80-yard run in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 carries for 110 yards. Colby tallied five carries for 111 yards.
Shoemaker finished with six carries for 95 yards. Junior fullback Nate Hendrich has filled senior Aaron Moss’ spot. Moss is out for the year with injury.
“Been tremendous for us, too,” Sasse said. “That wasn’t a place where he had played a lot before, but our backs kind of know everything that’s going on back there, and so we went with him, and been really happy with it.”
Hendrich had a one-yard scoring run in the third quarter for a 34-7 lead. He delivered nine carries for 53 yards. All four backs have more than 200 rushing yards this season after SC graduated 79 percent of its rushing yards from a 12-1 team.
“All of our line has done phenomenal so far this year,” Colby said. “They just need to keep it up.”