After a 1-3 start, Oakley rebounds to win district title

Kendrick Smith (2) has Oakley back in the playoffs. (photo by Cristy Park)
By: Conor Nicholl for
Oct 27, 2015

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While he had made some big plays this season, Oakley junior quarterback Kendrick Smith entered a key district game at Ellis in Week 7 having thrown just two touchdown passes but eight interceptions.

Smith, also the Plainsmen’s punter, had tried to pin a team deep inside its own territory earlier in the season. The ball went out of bounds 10 yards downfield.

In that key contest against Ellis, Smith threaded a perfect 24-yard touchdown pass to senior Macoy Rains. Late in the game, Smith delivered a perfect punt inside the Railer 1-yard line.

The Railers moved inside Oakley’s 30-yard line before a late interception sealed a 19-14 win for the Plainsmen.

“Textbook punt,” Rains said. “It was perfect. Couldn’t ask for a better punt.”

Last week, Smith stepped up with another huge game against Plainville. Senior tailback Colter Stoll was limited because of injury so Smith carried 21 times for 166 yards and a score, and completed 5 of 6 passes for 172 yards and another touchdown.

Punting-wise, Smith pinned Plainville’s high-octane offense inside its own 10-yard line three times.

Oakley won 33-12 by shutting out the Cardinals the final three quarters.

“We had a good game plan going in, and your game plan is only as good as the execution, and our kids executed it to perfection,” second-year coach Ty Pfannenstiel said.

Smith’s great play the last two weeks has encapsulated Oakley’s team-wide improvement. The Plainsmen (5-3, 3-0 in District 7) captured a competitive district last week. By some advanced measures, Oakley emerges as a dark horse in 2-1A with arguably the classification’s best defense.

“I’ve been proud of the way that our defense has played all year, and they stepped up big, to hold that offense to 12 points like we did was really good,” Pfannenstiel said.

In addition, the Plainsmen have great size, their traditionally strong power running game, and Smith’s dual-threat ability and outstanding punting. Last season, Smith took over halfway through the year.

Oakley opened the 2014 season 1-3 as well, and made a big improvement in the second half of the year. The Plainsmen lost the district championship to La Crosse in overtime and finished with a 6-5 record.

This season, Oakley again dropped early-season games to three MCL teams: Smith Center (8-0), Phillipsburg (6-2), and Norton (6-2). The Plainsmen have now won four straight.

“We have been really working hard in the weight room, getting bigger, and that really has helped us out,” sophomore lineman Chris Cox said. “In the beginning of the year, we had really bad running, but now just trying to find our own (game), and we really have. The size is a really big thing compared to other teams, especially some of the smaller teams we play, we really can just run it down their throats. We are getting stronger every day, that’s coach’s main thing.”

Defensively, Oakley ranks No. 7 in the classification surrendering 121 points, an average of 15.1 points per game. However, when the Plainsmen opponents don’t play Oakley, they average 29.3 points a contest. That difference of 14.2 points per game is elite.

Meade ranks No. 1 in the classification in overall defense giving up just 8.8 points per game. However, the Buffaloes’ opponents don’t play Meade, they average 22.2 points a contest. Meade’s defensive differential of 13.4 is less than Oakley’s.

Oakley is especially stout against the run. Ellis, with its strong running attack, had 24 carries for 76 yards, its second-lowest total. Oakley limited the Railers to just 39 offensive snaps.

Oakley held speedy quarterback Hayden Friend and Plainville to 19 carries for 29 yards. Pfannenstiel and his staff made several coaching adjustments, including a three-man defensive front and playing Rains and Stoll at outside linebacker.

Plainville entered the game averaging 37 points per contest, the third team Oakley has held at least 21 points under its season average.

“Everybody go to the ball, and let’s get him tackled,” Cox said of the approach against Friend.

Rains has tallied at least one rushing touchdown in the Plainsmen’s four-game winning streak and has rushed for 507 yards. He has 63 tackles with six TFLs, while Stoll leads the team with 99 stops and two pass breakups.

“He has got a lot of confidence right now carrying the ball,” Pfannenstiel said. “He is just a physical back, and we definitely like to put the ball in his hands, and we are confident when he gets it. Our kids up front did a good job, too, of being physical.”

Senior Aaron Rucker, hurt earlier in the year, has keyed the turnaround, too. He had the game-sealing interceptions versus Ellis and caught three passes for 120 yards and a score last Friday. Rucker has 57 tackles, four TFLs and three fumble recoveries. Junior Auston Holzmeister has stepped up with 56 tackles, five TFLs after he didn’t play last year.

Smith’s punting has been a big surprise as well. After Ellis, Pfannenstiel said Oakley doesn’t even practice the play very much. Smith kicked the ball down the middle of the field against Ellis, which the coaches didn’t want, but it turned out perfectly. Smith called the great punts “luck,” but it is another improvement and strength for the Plainsmen.


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