Traditional powers Colgan, Smith Center to meet in 2-1A

L-R: Colgan's Jeremiah Buche & Smith Center RB Jesse Staples. (by Matt Gilmore & Everett Royer)
By: Mark Schremmer for
Nov 22, 2017

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From 1999-2010, the St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers and Smith Center Redmen combined to play in 17 state championships with the Panthers winning four and the Redmen capturing six.

Now, the two small-school powerhouses will try to add to their trophy cases. Top-ranked Smith Center (11-1) will face second-ranked Colgan (10-2) on Saturday at Fort Hays State University’s Lewis Field Stadium.

The Panthers will be vying for their first state title in football since 2003, and the Redmen will be going for their first championship since 2008. And both teams will be attempting to claim their first state title without their legendary head coaches.

Shawn Seematter took over the Panthers’ program this fall after Chuck Smith retired. Smith led Colgan to 343 wins and five state championships during his 37-year tenure.

Darren Sasse became Smith Center’s head coach in 2013 after Roger Barta retired. Barta directed the Redmen to 323 wins and eight state titles in 35 seasons.

Seematter and Sasse both took their jobs with the advantage of inheriting a successful program, along with the pressure of succeeding legends at their respective schools. In April, a retirement party for Smith gathered hundreds of former players and other members of the community. Barta is already in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and the road outside Smith Center High School is named Roger Barta Way.

This will be the Panthers’ first appearance in the state championship game since 2010, when they fell 20-14 to Meade.

“It’s still a little surreal,” said Seematter, the first-year head coach. “There have been a lot of really good coaches who have never had the chance to coach in a state championship game. I feel extremely fortunate, blessed, and a little unworthy.”

Sasse has led Smith Center to a 43-13 record in five seasons, and it will be the program’s first trip to the state championship game since a 20-12 overtime loss to Centralia in 2009.

“Both of us had the advantage of having members of the coaching staff come back,” Sasse said. “There was some familiarity with the kids. We kept ties to many of the school traditions. There are certain things we still do that we did when Coach Barta was here. I’m sure that’s the same for them as far as school traditions. And we’ve both been fortunate to have some really good kids.”

Colgan opened this season with a 16-0 loss to Galena. The Panthers also lost quarterback Bryce Hutchins to a broken collarbone in the second series of that game.

But junior Cade Simmons played well in the absence of Hutchins, helping the Panthers earn a 20-0 win over Frontenac in Week 3 and a 7-2 record in the regular season.

“I can’t say enough about the job Cade did,” Seematter said. “It was a tough role to be put in. He had to play in a brutal stretch of games. But he handled it exceptionally well. The team had full faith and confidence in him.”

The return of Hutchins toward the end of the regular season allowed Simmons to move back to fullback.

Hutchins has completed 11 of 27 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 82 yards and four touchdowns in six games. Simmons completed 23 of 52 passes for 345 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for 690 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games.

Colgan’s rushing attack, which gains 228.8 yards per game, is led by senior running back Max Wilson, who has rushed for 1,082 yards and 11 touchdowns on 125 carries.

“Any time that one of your best players is also one of your hardest workers, that’s a good sign for your team,” Seematter said. “The young players look up to Max and flock to him. He plays with a certain level of intensity. He’s fast and physical. He has the speed to score from anywhere, but he’s also not afraid to be a physical runner.”

Jeremiah Buche is Colgan’s top receiver with 26 catches for 424 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Panther defense, which has limited opponents to an average of 188 yards of total offense, is led by junior Luke Orender with 88 tackles. Cal Marquardt, Wilson, and Buche have added 77, 75, and 70 tackles, respectively.

Colgan faced a tough road through the playoffs, meeting a ranked team in each round. The Panthers earned a lopsided victory over Lyndon before rallying to earn close wins over Centralia and Olpe.

“That’s what you want. You want to be battle-tested,” Seematter said. “We’ve played exceptionally well. It speaks to the character of this team.”

Smith Center is back in the state championship game after falling in the semifinals in each of the previous two seasons.

“A lot of these seniors have played for three or four years,” Sasse said. “Now, they’re in the state championship after losing to Phillipsburg in sub-state two years ago and losing to Plainville in sub-state last year. They got over that hump.”

This season’s only blemish was a 23-0 loss to Phillipsburg in Week 2. Since then, the Redmen are on a 10-game winning streak. They won their three playoff games over Medicine Lodge, Elkhart and Plainville by a combined score of 199-14. Last week, Smith Center beat Plainville 51-0 after opening the season against Plainville with a narrow 16-7 win.

“We started slow, but we really started to find ourselves offensively in about Week 3 or Week 4,” Sasse said.

Smith Center’s wishbone offense rushes for 335.1 yards per game.

Senior Jesse Staples is the leading rusher with 1,271 yards and 24 touchdowns on only 87 carries. That’s good for 14.6 yards per tote. Trace Haven has rushed for 687 yards and 13 touchdowns on only 73 carries.

“Staples and Haven are both good backs,” Sasse said. “They both run well and block for each other.”

Ethan Peterson, Colton Hutchinson, and Hesston Maxwell also have rushed for at least 400 yards on the season.

Hutchinson, the senior quarterback, has passed for 569 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Brett Meyer is the top receiver with 20 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.

The Redmen defense has held opponents to seven points or fewer in 10 of 12 games. They’ve allowed only 71 points all season and only 27 through their past nine outings.

Avery Hawkins paces the Smith Center defense with 97 tackles. Hutchinson and Dalton Kuhn have added 95 and 90, respectively. Kuhn is a four-year starter and earned All-State honors last year. The defensive lineman leads Smith Center with four sacks.

“I think the kids are excited,” Seematter said. “The grew up hearing and seeing all the good Colgan teams over the years. Now, they’re motivated to make their own legacy. They’re certainly not overwhelmed.”

Smith Center owns a 3-0 record in state championship games against Colgan.

“The kids are real excited,” Sasse said. “A lot of these guys attended those games. It should be a lot of fun.” 

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