By Max Goodwin
The Center Yellowjackets (10-0) will host the district championship against Nevada High School (10-2) this Friday, November 11, at 7 p.m.
Center remains undefeated as the top seed in its district of the Class 4 Missouri state playoffs. The last couple years have resulted in disappointing finishes for the Yellowjackets with early exits in district play.
At the start of the season, Center Head Coach Bryan Delong says he knew that this year’s team had potential to win double-digit games and play deep into the state tournament.
All of the signs of a state title contender were there. The senior class is the foundation of the team with playmakers on offense and defense. They have an offensive game changer in junior running back Jacorey Love. And Bryan Delong and his coaching staff have brought it all together.
Between 1970 and 1988, Center had three second place finishes, each in Class 4A. But Center has never won a state championship. Maybe this could be the year?
It will obviously be a tough road ahead for any team to win a state championship, but Center has both a strong team bond and playmakers on both sides of the ball.
“We have a large senior class that is the heart and soul of our team,” Coach Delong said. “Just a great group that is a lot of fun to coach and it helps that they’re talented at football.”
While the seniors are the heart of the team, junior running back
has put up the best stat line on the team.
Love rushed for 1,289 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season. He caught 10 passes for 232 yards and 4 touchdowns. All of that in just nine regular season games.
“We knew we were good,” Delong said of his thoughts coming into the season. “We thought we were good last year.”
A year ago Center was without Jacorey Love in the playoffs because of an ankle injury. They lost the first district game. They were also missing quarterback Joseph Vick because of injury.
This year Center has most of its players healthy.
“It is a special group,” Delong said. “They aren’t very deep but the kids that play are quality.”
Last Friday, it was rain, not injury or an opponent that seemed to slow the Center offense in the first half of the district semifinal against Carl Junction High School (4-7).
Center scored just six first half points after averaging over 50 points per game during the regular season. But on defense Center also managed to shut down Carl Junction.
Until a Center turnover just before half put Carl Junction in position to score and take the lead before the break, but the Center defense made a stop to bring the half to an end with a 6-0 Center lead.
As the rain lightened up in the second half, Center found its footing and powered through with the running game. The Yellowjackets would win, 33-6.
“If we don’t show up on any night we can get beat,” Coach Stephan Brown said earlier this season. “We understand that, so we just want to respect the game and play it the right way.”
Nevada will be the toughest opponent yet for the Yellowjackets in the district championship game. In the semifinal round Nevada beat a good Lincoln Prep (9-2) team, 43-7. Center is the only other team that beat Lincoln this season, by almost the same score of 42-7 in the second week of the season.
Center won district championships in 2016 and 2017. In 2019, the Yellowjackets lost a district championship game to Odessa.
If Center is able to pull off the victory over Nevada for a District Championship, there would be a matchup against either Kearney (10-0) or Smithville (10-1) ahead in the Class 4 state quarterfinals.
Just look at how other local teams fared against Smithville and Kearney to see how good they are. Kearney beat Grandview, 63-12, and shutout Ruskin, 59-0. Smithville beat Grandview, 50-8, and Ruskin, 54-6. The only loss of the season for Smithville was actually an early season game against Kearney by just one point, 20-19.
But the Yellowjackets aren’t looking ahead just yet, Nevada is the focus.