More of the same

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 2, 2018 - 4:52 PM

Holding onto a one-score lead, Smithville went back to basics and kept their season rolling along.

On a crucial fourth-quarter drive, the Warriors ran the ball 11 out of 12 plays, including Brian Boyd’s touchdown run, on the way to a 24-10 victory against Kearney in the Class 4 District 8 semifinals.

With the win, Smithville advanced to next week’s district championship game against Platte County.

In a battle between state-ranked squads, the Warriors knocked off a physical Kearney team for the second time in three weeks. Smithville coach Jason Ambroson marveled at his team’s effort against such a tradition-rich Bulldogs’ program.

“I’m really proud of my kids,” Ambroson said. “I’m proud of how our kids were resilient and just came in on a mission.

“I’m just blessed to have great kids and great coaches.”

Two weeks ago, the Warriors (10-1) had to come from behind to clinch the victory in the final minute. Not this time.

Smithville staked itself to a 17-0 lead behind an efficient passing game that featured the familiar connection of quarterback Kellen Simoncic to receiver Garrett Thompson, who scored twice.

Thompson’s second touchdown came early in the third quarter on a spectacular, 56-yard catch-and-run that energized the Warriors’ crowd and sideline.

“I think it was huge, just a lot of momentum,” Thompson said of his highlight-reel score. “When we’re up, we play a lot better, but we can’t do it without the other guys. We can’t do it without the line. It starts there.”

Still, Kearney (8-3) responded immediately with a touchdown strike of 38 yards from Dakota Ah Mu to Jacob Stevens that invigorated the Bulldogs, who forced a turnover on the ensuing possession. Kearney would soon drive back into the red zone and ultimately cut the score to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter.

As they did last time, the Warriors were able to slow down Kearney running back Patrick Connery and the Bulldogs’ offense, thanks to some strong play from Boyd, Jake Fisher and the rest of Smithville’s front seven.

“I knew we had to work together and play tough,” Boyd said. “(Connery) is pretty good. We had to make sure we got him to the ground every single play.”

And after delivering so often on defense, Boyd came through in the clutch for Smithville’s offense, too. Senior running back Isaac Smith had to leave the game with a leg injury, and Boyd rose to the occasion during the pivotal drive.

He converted two important third downs and then added the exclamation point with a 9-yard touchdown burst on a toss sweep that clinched the game.

“I felt comfortable with the ball in my hands, and I couldn’t have done it without the o-line,” Boyd said.

Boyd finished with a game-high 56 rushing yards, while Simoncic threw for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Thompson (145 yards on eight receptions.)

For Kearney, Ah Mu threw for 130 yards and touchdown, and Connery tallied 55 yards on 19 carries. Stevens led the receivers with 79 yards on four catches.

Smithville advanced to the district title game for the first time since 2014 and will match up against a state-ranked Platte County squad that won by a single point, 28-27, in dramatic fashion earlier this year.

Ambroson became emotional in the wake of a victory, and said he was glad to have the chance to coach this talented group for at least one more game.

“They’ve worked so hard for so long,” Ambroson said. “This journey started so long ago for these guys. I mean, these guys are seniors. The first group I’ve had here.

“I couldn’t be more proud as a coach and the journey they’ve put themselves on.”