By Max Goodwin
The Center Yellowjackets were just two games away from playing for a state championship, but the path to a title would go through defending Class 4 state champion Smithville on the road.
The Smithville defense and an abundance of false start and illegal motion penalties completely halted the Center offense that had lit up scoreboards all season. Through nine regular season games Center never scored fewer than 42 points, averaging over 50. But in the state quarterfinal against Smithville, Center was held scoreless in a 20-0 loss on Saturday.
“We knew we would have to play our A-game,” head coach Bryan DeLong said. “We thought we could and we could beat them if we did, and we did not.”
Every first half drive by Center was marred by at least one offensive penalty, many of them for movement before the play, stopping any potential rhythm for the offense and forcing constant long distance downs.
The Center defense came up with stops of their own and kept the Yellowjackets within a touchdown for most of the game, but the chances were wiped away with penalties.
“We had too many penalties in the first half, too many missed tackles in the second half and credit to them. They beat us. They outcoached us. They outplayed us,” DeLong said.
When Center blocked a Smithville punt and recovered it on the Smithville 25-yard line just before halftime, it appeared to be the perfect opportunity to tie the game and shift the momentum. But a false start penalty on 4th and 5 in the red zone set the Yellowjackets back 5 yards. Still, Center opted to go for it rather than kick the field goal, and could not pick up the first down.
More than field goals would be needed to beat Smithville, said DeLong.
“In the end, three points wouldn’t have made a difference,” DeLong said. “We needed touchdowns.”
This was the fourth time that a Center team coached by Bryan DeLong has reached the quarterfinal round of eight teams. He thought this would be the team to get over the hump and move on to the semifinals.
He had one word to define the way the season ended against Smithville, “tough, tough because I don’t get to go to practice with my guys on Monday,” DeLong said.
As the team huddled on the goalline for the last time this season, DeLong told the team he loved them and that he put this loss on his own shoulders.
“When you have to go 15 yards instead of 10, it makes it very tough,” DeLong said. “So, yeah, that’s on me. Those are penalties that coaches are supposed to handle in practice and self-disipline and obviously I didn’t get that done today.”
The loss to Smithville not only ends the season for Center but also its streak of 11 straight wins. The Yellowjackets end the season 11-1.
“Great ride, man,” DeLong said.