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Posted: Wednesday August 19, 2009 9:21AM; Updated: Wednesday August 19, 2009 9:21AM
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Our Boys (cont.)

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Coach-Barta.jpg
Coach Roger Barta has built a dynasty at Smith Center while staying true to his roots.
Mary Kennedy

Over the next two hours, Brock was in rapture as the film raced forward and backward, play after play, demonstrating his insight that Marshall Musil and the left guard, Clinton Kershner, would lead the Redmen to the ball every time. The Leopards, indeed, depended on Kershner to be the lead blocker on virtually every running play. Sometimes, they pulled him; other times, they flipped him to the right side of the line. No matter where he started, the ball always followed.

"I can't say this enough: You must know where 56 is," Brock said, loud enough that it echoed in the locker room. "He is the key player that takes you to the ball."

And time after time on the white screen, either Musil followed Kershner, or Garcia kept the ball, or Garcia handed it to Moeder. Either way, both followed Musil, who was following Kershner.

There was more. Whenever Musil lined up in the slot or as a receiver, Garcia was going to try to pass to him. The film did not lie. It showed Musil going wide and then catching a pass. When Musil got a handoff in the backfield, he always hesitated and drifted east or west until he spotted a lane that he could motor through.

"We're going to be coming for Musil, and we're going to wrap him up while he's standing there trying to go sideways," Brock said.

"Watch him," he commanded. Once more the film was telling the story. "When he finds a hole and gets his shoulders square, he's dangerous. We're not going to let him square his shoulders. Are we?"

On it went, the flaws and tipoffs in the Leopards' offense, pointed out and shown over and over again on screen. Moeder did not like to run inside. He didn't like getting hit. So the Redmen were going to fly from the corners and turn him into the middle. They were going to hit him. Hard. The quarterback, Garcia, liked to run the ball himself on short yardage up between the tackle and end, and especially near the goal line.

"He tips off every time," said Mike Rogers, from his chair in the back of the room. "Watch his right foot when he gets under center."

"See, right there," he said. The film was paused. "He drops that right foot back, getting ready to go."

What La Crosse intended to do on defense was even clearer to the Redmen coaching staff. The Leopards had played St. Francis the week before, after all, and had done a decent job of shutting down an offense that was identical to Smith Center's. They did it by dropping a "monster back" behind the nose guard; he was going to shoot the gaps on either side of the center and free up Musil, who played middle linebacker, to chase the ball and make plays. They also moved Garcia, who played outside linebacker, closer to the line. He was going to bolt between the guard and the tackle in an effort to blow up the play in the backfield immediately after the handoff.

Coach Barta thought his kids were stronger and faster than St. Francis's; La Crosse would be unable to stop the Redmen offense.

The La Crosse players had been gracious in their pregame public remarks about the Redmen, and they understood how much it meant to their town that they were facing Smith Center in a game of this magnitude. In fact, the school was putting up temporary grandstand seating for an additional 1,500 people.

"It is the biggest game in La Crosse High School history," Jeremy Garcia told the Hays Daily News. "It's exciting. I am part of it. My friends are part of it. I am the starting quarterback. It is really exciting, it really is. We are expecting a big crowd. I hope we do well."

In the past three seasons, the Leopards had compiled a 32-2 record with one of those losses a 46-0 drubbing by Smith Center in the 2006 playoffs. This year they were 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state behind the Redmen. The Leopards believed they were the right team to snap the winning streak and Smith Center's grip on the state title. They, too, believed this was the real state championship game. The population of La Crosse -- 1,376 -- had quadrupled on game night. Its stadium did not have much parking, and folks were pulling into spaces wherever in town they found them, and hiking to the lights that loomed east of Main Street. It didn't matter that it was a bitterly cold night; the grandstands were packed, and the people were three deep all the way around the field's perimeter.

The Redmen, of course, had been here since 5:10 p.m., sprawled across the La Crosse gym floor and sinking into their iPods, readying themselves for a game they could not wait to play. Dillon Corbett, however, had gotten restless and wandered into the Leopards' weight room. Dillon was one of the stalwarts of the offensive and defensive lines. He blew holes open for the backs on offense and made plays from his position as defensive end. Dillon was one of the happy- go- lucky juniors; they were everything the seniors weren't -- extremely confident.

A document caught Dillon's attention on the floor in the weight room: La Crosse's scouting report of Smith Center. Inside, there were a few pages of data and very cursory observations that would not even have made it into the Redmen's scouting reports. It was the cover that was interesting. There was an illustration of what looked like a state championship ring and a message typed out under the headline, WE WILL PLAY WITH A PASSION ABOVE ALL EXPECTATIONS.

"Smith Center creates an image on the countless radio, TV Stations and even a book about them, that they're real humble, classy football program and team," it began. "They've proved to me several times in the last six years that this is a cover for the real personalities."

Coach Cornelsen's tirade was just getting started. The preamble on the scouting report took the Redmen to task for arrogant behavior at the previous spring's track meets, and accused the coaching staff of routinely running up the score on opponents to show their dominance. He claimed that the Redmen coaches made fun of the teams they played at the film session he had with them at the clinic in Wichita. He accused the Redmen players and their parents of being incessant trash talkers. Coach Cornelsen claimed that he was not alone in his feelings, that every school that the Redmen played felt the same way.

Coach Cornelsen wrote that what bothered him the most was that Smith Center's coaching staff, players -- the whole town -- were phonies, and had suckered the media into portraying them as humble when they were anything but.

"I'm tired of their cocky attitudes, disrespect and the image they try to portray," he wrote. "Let's find out how humble they are when they get knocked around, and they are on the loosing [sic] side."

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