By Chris Geinosky
Smithville will play in the state semifinals for the third straight year and fourth time in the last five years.
“It’s a blessing,” Smithville head coach Jason Ambroson told SBLive before practice the day before Thanksgiving. “We definitely appreciate how lucky we are to still be practicing together at this time of year. We look forward to doing our best this weekend.”
Smithville’s next game will be one of the most famous semifinal games in state history. The Warriors take on St. Mary’s in a Class 4 Final Four game with two reigning state champions.
St. Mary’s (10-2) is the No. 4 team in the SBLive Missouri Power 25 rankings, while Smithville (12-1) is eighth.
Owners of a 25-1 record over the past two seasons – the only loss a 20-19 heartthrob against Kearney in Week 3 – Smithville continues to defend its Class 4 state title.
St. Mary’s, which boasts a 22-3 record over the same period and has suffered all three losses to out-of-state competitors, won the Class 3 state title a year ago. However, the Dragons rose this year due to the private school’s success multiple after the Season up a level.
Smithville has tipped its hat to the defensive side of football en route to the program’s first-ever state championship in 2021, and this season has been similar.
The Warriors gave up all 81 points this year. Perhaps more impressively, the Warriors’ steel-curtain defenses have conceded just six total touchdowns during their current 10-game winning streak.
Derek Boyd, Dawson Strickland and Kevin Pylypczuk lead the defense as top tacklers. Strickland has nine sacks and 22 tackles for the loss.
“Honestly, we were a little worried about how we played in the first game of the year,” Ambroson explained. “We had eight new starters on offense and six new starters on defense and we were really sloppy. We hadn’t figured it out yet.
“…We had to put things into perspective. We had to focus on getting better each week and luckily we had a group of kids who embraced that. They are the ones who deserve the credit. They really enjoy competing and we need a call this week. This is a team that can go far anytime you make a mistake or take a bad angle.”
This Smithville defense will be tested against a St. Mary’s team averaging 45.4 points per game and featuring a dynamic duo of senior running back Jamal Roberts and senior wide receiver Chase Hendricks.
Roberts, who has committed to the University of Missouri, has rushed 137 times for 1,666 yards, averaging 12.2 yards per carry, and caught nine passes for another 155 yards. He has rushed for 1,821 total yards and 28 touchdowns, including one on a return.
Hendricks, a Division I prospect who is undecided on his collegiate goal, has 33 receptions for 815 yards and 12 carries for 133 yards. Hendricks has 948 total yards and 17 touchdowns, including two on returns.
Roberts and Hendricks combined for 1,675 yards and 27 touchdowns during the Dragons’ State Championship season, but have taken their senior games to new heights and now position St. Mary’s to make another trip to Columbia.
But first, Coach Ken Turner’s team will make the long drive across Show Me State from St. Louis to Smithville for an unusual semifinal showdown featuring two reigning state champions.
Check out the Missouri high school football playoff brackets here: CLASS 6 | CLASS 5 | CLASS 4 | CLASS 3 | CLASS 2 | CLASS 1
For live updates and full statewide scores, be sure to bookmark our Missouri High School Football Scoreboard: MISSOURI STATEWIDE FOOTBALL AD
To get live updates on your phone – as well as follow your favorite teams and top games – you can download the SBLive Sports app: Download the iPhone app | Download the Android app