- Wayne Drehs
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You expected to hear joy in Roger Barta's voice. You expected the Kansas high school football legend to pick up the phone and start bragging about his team's latest accomplishment: the most dominating first quarter anyone has ever played.
Instead, you find a man who is uncomfortable. Uneasy. Almost embarrassed.
Barta, the head football coach at Smith Center (Kan.) High had encouraged his team to get off to a fast start in Tuesday night's Class 2-1A playoff opener against Plainville. Apparently, they listened. The fans had barely settled in their seats, and Smith Center was defeating Plainville 72-0.
And there were still 30 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The defense had recovered five fumbles and intercepted a pass, returning it for a touchdown. The offense had run 15 plays -- all but one a run -- and scored eight times. Six different players had reached the end zone. And his team had converted all nine two-point conversion attempts.
"I didn't think it was nearly as entertaining as some folks did," said Barta, himself a Plainville graduate. "I guess it's a record or something, but not one that we're proud of. We're not here to embarrass kids. We're not here to run up the score. We want our kids to play hard and get ready for the next round of the playoffs. This just sort of happened. And once it started, I didn't know what to do."
In the first quarter, Smith Center scored on touchdown runs of 50, 9, 38, 20, 3, 25 and 60 yards. They returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown and threw for a 14-yard touchdown, one of only two passes they completed in the game. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the 72 first-quarter points is a national high school record, breaking the mark of 66 set by Prescott (Ariz.) High School in 1925.
But the record didn't make Barta any more comfortable about a game his team eventually won 83-0. The coach said he did everything he could to keep the score down while making sure his starters got enough reps to prepare for the next round of the playoffs.
Barta pulled his first-team offense midway through the first quarter and his first-team defense at the end of the first half. Though he went for a two-point conversion after every Smith Center touchdown, he told his players after a second-quarter score that no one else would be crossing into the end zone. If a player got close to the goal line, Barta said, he was to fall at the 5-yard line to set up a field-goal attempt. It happened twice. The team attempted one field goal on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Helping Smith Center's cause -- at least, as soon as the cause became a way to stop the madness -- was a Kansas mercy rule that allows the clock to run continuously once there is a 40-point margin between two teams.
Plainville head coach John Petrie said he has no ill will toward Barta or Smith Center for the way things went down. The Cardinals were playing without several key players, including their quarterback, who was injured the last time these two teams played.
"It's our job to try and stop them," Petrie said. "And we couldn't do it. By any means was he running up the score? No. It's just one of those deals. When you're on a hot streak, do you stop it? Of course not.
"There are absolutely no hard feelings. Roger has been around a long time and is a class act. This thing just snowballed on us and there was nothing we could do to stop it."
The top two teams in each division advance to the playoffs, and Plainville, despite its 4-5 record, finished second in Class 2-1A's District 12 where they matched up with the winner of District 11, Smith Center.
Smith Center, a 2-1A school of about 150 students in north central Kansas, is known for its high school football. In 30 years at Smith Center, Barta has compiled a record of 269-58. His teams have won six state championships, including each of the past three. The Redmen are currently on a 50-game winning streak, and this year they've outscored their nine opponents by an average margin of 71-0 and a total score of 640-0. They have yet to punt.
So the final score against Plainville perhaps isn't all that shocking. In fact, Petrie told the Wichita Eagle before the game that "they might beat us by 70 points."
But nobody thought they'd do it in the first quarter.
"I don't know if anybody can score on them," Petrie said. "Slow them down, I guess maybe. But I'm not sure anybody is going to be able to cross the goal line. They're just that good."
As long as Barta has been at Smith Center, the offense has centered on a power rushing attack. The Redmen were 2-for-3 passing Tuesday night, with one touchdown. Fourteen different backs handled the football, impressive in itself considering the team was without its top two running backs, both of whom are out for the season with torn knee ligaments.
"I've never taken a shotgun snap in my life," quarterback Joe Windscheffel said. "We just play power football. And when you look at what our backs do, you have to give credit to the offensive line."
Tad Felts, who has broadcast high school and college games in the area for more than 20 years, called an eight-man game last week that finished with a final score of 84-82. But that didn't stun him nearly as much as the first-quarter score of the 11-man game he called Tuesday night.
"I've never seen something like it," Felts said. "No one has. And now people on the outside are asking if he ran up the score while people on the inside are concerned that [Coach Barta's] first-teamers aren't getting enough game action to stay sharp."
With Tuesday's victory, Smith Center advances to the next round of the playoffs, where the Redmen will face St. John High School on Saturday. For Petrie, who is in just his second year as Plainville's head coach, the quest to bounce back begins now. The coach said he had several students approach him Wednesday morning, eager to join the team next season in hopes of preventing something like this from happening again. He found their enthusiasm encouraging.
"Right now, for a lot of our kids, things look pretty dim," Petrie said. "But it's our job to put this in perspective. I told them after the game -- this is probably the worst thing that's ever happened to many of them. But you know what? If that's the worst thing they ever have to go through, they're going to be in pretty good shape. It's going to take time, but they'll soon realize the sun is going to come up again."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smith Center High scored 72 points in the first quarter against Plainville in the Kansas high school football playoffs Tuesday night. Did the Redmen run it up? Wayne Drehs' answer might surprise you.