Winning football games and claiming Kansas 2-1A state football championships has become synonymous with Pittsburg-Colgan football and head coach Charles Smith over the past 30 years.
After winning state titles in 1984 and from 2000-03, as well as earning runner-up finishes in 2004, 2005 and in 2007, it’s safe to say Smith knows a little bit about producing success in the state football playoffs.
Although the Panthers lose 20 seniors from last season’s semifinal squad that fell to eventual runner-up Olpe 20-0, Pittsburg-Colgan should find itself in the thick of a postseason run once again.
“We’re going to have to have kids step up for us in both lines,” Smith said of his team’s rebuilding process. “We do lose a good group (of seniors) every year, so this is nothing new to us.
“I do think we’ll have good skill people, but we’ll be thin in the line. That’s why we spread the field. We can’t just line up and run right at you. We have had to finesse people a lot over the past 10 years.”
In order to gain an advantage over his opposition, Smith employs a full arsenal of plays and offensive formations. He rattled off a list of different offensive sets he will utilize in 2009, including but not limited to the veer, I, wildcat, no-back and one-back.
“We’ll just go out there and try some different things each game and see if something sticks,” Smith said of the Panther’s offensive variety. “If something does work we may stay with it. Our diversity makes it much tougher for our opponent to prepare for us.”
Smith’s winning formula looks something like this:
“We want to win with our defense,” he said. “We’ll go out and try to get a stop and get good field position. Then, we want to get a lead and try to force the other team into doing the things they don’t want to do.”
Last season, first team all-state selection Chas Smith was pulling the strings on offense for the Panthers. Now junior Nate Arnold and senior Jesse Watt are in full competition to replace Smith as the team’s signal caller.
Both candidates possess great athletic ability and have good arms.
The Panthers return plenty of speed in the backfield in honorable mention All-Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee Conference selections Austin Riggs and Alex Evans. Riggs, a senior running back, has been clocked at 10.9-seconds in the 100-meters.
Evans, meanwhile, is an athlete that Smith can’t afford to not have on the field. The senior fullback could start both ways and has plenty of speed to go along with his ability to bench press 315 pounds.
Although he is struggling with shoulder problems, senior offensive lineman Dylan Mejelde should make a major impact up front after performing at an honorable mention all-conference level a season ago.
Newcomers John Miller and Daniel Humble will be called on to be forces up front as well.
Just like its counterparts on offense, the Panther defense likes to mix it up. Pittsburg-Colgan will start with a 5-2 base defense, but will use different fronts to keep its opposition honest.
Watt, who also has shoulder issues, is back at his linebacker spot after earning second team all-conference honors in 2008. Senior defensive tackle Reagan Kays earned the same honors and is also a candidate to earn some playing time on offense.
Since winning consecutive state titles from 2000-03, and winning 66 straight contests from 2001-04, the Panthers have taken a back seat to five-time defending champion Smith Center.
Smith said he thought his Panthers would have had a real shot at going toe-to-toe with the Redmen a season ago had Olpe not interrupted the match up with a 20-0 win.
“I think the kids would have been ready for them,” he said. “I think we could have played with them.”
If the Panthers are to get a shot at the Redmen in 2009, Smith may have to guide his squad by Olpe one more time. Frontenac is also expected to be a state title threat.
“Olpe had a good night,” Smith said of last season’s semifinal encounter with the Eagles. “Everything went well for them and it wasn’t our night. They are well coached and they had a very good thrower.”