SMITHVILLE — The Smithville football team looked perfect on the scoreboard of its latest dominant win as the Warriors beat Grandview 38-0 to advance to the state semifinals.
Smithville head coach Jason Ambroson knew long before the final whistle that his team was far from perfect. In fact, he already had a solid list of miscues to work on this week before he had even looked at the game tape.
But Ambroson also was not in a hurry for his players, his assistant coaches or himself to turn the page and tighten things for the Warriors matchup with Helias Catholic Friday, Nov. 27 at Smithville High School.
Ambroson said that he made a promise to himself years ago that he wouldn’t get caught up in what’s next. He said he’s learned in his 27 years of coaching that these moments do not come around often, even if his teams have won eight or more games in each of his first six years at Smithville.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think they’re more special every year,” Ambroson said. “When you get to be my age, you’re starting to look at there’s a lot (fewer) years coming up than there was before.”
His age has not shown in the energy he brings to the sideline, constantly engaged in conversation with players and referees. He’s even started instructing scoreboard operators now that reduced crowd size during the pandemic has limited the roar of the crowd.
Ambroson commands the attention of his players and his sage advice may be even more handy this year than in years past.
The Warriors have put together a 10-2 record this season despite the roster looking a lot different from the 9-2 squad that was bounced by Platte County in the district semifinals in 2019.
The Miller twin combo with Spencer at quarterback and Isaac at running back had graduated along with top receiver George Fisher.
Ambroson turned to some fresh faces who had limited varsity production or none at all.
Junior running back Hayden Sigg and junior wide receiver Rhett Foster had the most experience as offensive weapons, but Sigg was still recovering from an offseason surgery as this year got underway.
The Warriors went out in the home opener with sophomore Andrew Hedgecorth at quarterback, slinging the ball around the field to a trio of juniors in Foster, Keltin Nitsche and Samuel Calvert while handing the ball off to sophomore Caleb Donnell.
Smithville lost that game to Grain Valley 34-24, but not before they saw Hedgecorth start to find a rhythm as he completed big passes down the field. He finished his first start with 263 yards and three passing touchdowns.
The Warriors never really slowed down from there, particularly after Sigg returned in the third game.
Hedgecorth built up an impressive resume with 2,184 passing yards and 23 passing touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions over the course of 12 games.
Smithville maintains a balanced offensive attack just as Ambroson had hoped since the start of the year. Sigg is just two yards shy of 1,000 rush yards on 5.2 yards per carry and scoring 14 rushing touchdowns.
The team has even cycled in other threats in the rushing and passing game. Sophomore Preston Rash has started taking more of the second-string back carries as Donnell stays focused on his role as a starting cornerback.
Two other players who have been key starters on defense have also started coming up big on offense.
Junior Cody Simoncic, who has moved around between linebacker and safety while being a playmaker at both, has started to makes some plays as a wide receiver, as has sophomore defensive end Dawson Strickland.
The biggest pattern is that none of those players are seniors, and other than Sigg, Foster and Simoncic, they had not had a whole lot of varsity experience before this season.
Ambroson will not deny the fact he’s excited about getting to coach all those guys again next year, but he’s quick to point out that each season is independent and a lot of things could change between now and next fall. The COVID-19 pandemic that nearly took away this football season is further evidence of that.
“We got to handle today,” Ambroson said. “We’re going to work on doing the best that we can do today. We’re going to continue that way and if that takes us to great things, then great. But nothing is given and we’re just thankful and happy that we have today.”
His players have avoided looking ahead as well, but a few have admitted to giving it some thought.
“I think we can continue on the path that we started this year,” junior lineman and occasional goal-line fullback Mason Crim said. “With every game, we’re slowly getting better with more experience and I think we can continue that into next year.”
Hedgecorth said he had not really thought about until he was asked. He liked the idea of starting next season with their foot on the gas instead of spending the first half of the season gaining chemistry the way they did this season.
“At the beginning we were kind of figuring it out and then it started to click for us,” Hedgecorth said. “It should be really fun to go out there and play another year with all the same people and hopefully go win another one if we can (finish with a state title this year).”
It’s rare to hear a first-year sophomore signal-caller talk about aspirations of winning multiple state titles.
But few have played like Hedgecorth has, resembling more of a savvy gunslinger than a game manager from the moment he took his first varsity snap running the offense.
“I’ve seen some kids at a sophomore level play very well,” Ambroson said. “I haven’t seen them play the way he’s played this year. I’m proud of him and I wouldn’t trade him for all the money in the world.”
Now Hedgecorth and this youth movement will need two more wins to complete the dream season before they ever get started thinking about the great things they could do in the future.