As Smith-Cotton’s faithful were welcomed back to fill Tiger Stadium for homecoming, the football team was welcomed back to the win column Friday with a 45-22 victory over Clinton.
“That just put the icing on the cake right there,” said Smith-Cotton senior Trevon Franklin, who caught a touchdown pass and was crowned homecoming king. “That put everything over the top.”
Smith-Cotton senior Cameron Finley returned the opening kickoff 74 yards for a touchdown, representing the Tigers’ first lead of the season.
S-C junior Chase McMullin finished a 63-yard drive with a short TD run, and Finley used another goal-line rush — set up by a 58-yard quarterback keeper from senior Brett Grupe — to give the Tigers a 21-point lead with 10:17 to halftime.
With winless Clinton (0-8) as victory-starved as the Tigers, Franklin said battling complacency was paramount for Smith-Cotton players young and old.
“Just letting them know, anyone can beat us,” Franklin said. “I told them ‘If we play, we’re going to win.’ If we give it our best, there’s no way we’re going to lose.’”
Two S-C turnovers damaged an otherwise flawless opening act. Following a 42-yard rush from Finiley, Grupe threw an interception toward the end zone. McMullin fumbled in the red zone with 6:51 remaining in the first half. Minutes later, Grupe kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the home side a 24-0 lead.
Smith-Cotton sophomore Jaren Washington recovered a loose ball in Clinton territory at the 3:18 mark in the second quarter. On the next play, senior Trevon Franklin secured a 25-yard completion and S-C’s first passing TD since Week 1, when he housed an 80-yard score and finished with a season-high 104 yards receiving.
Franklin said he adjusted his route to the coverage.
“I noticed he was playing really far inside,” Franklin said. “It was a go route, so I just faded it as far as I could to the right, and Brett threw a beautiful pass over the top. It was a really nice.”
Completions to Clinton senior Levi Morris — and penalties charged to Smith-Cotton — were vital to the Cardinals first scoring drive. Morris hauled in his third reception of the drive in the end zone, and a successful 2-point conversion made it 31-8 at halftime.
After Grupe fell short of a 45-yard field-goal attempt, the Tigers recovered a Clinton fumble as time expired in the third period. Two snaps later, Grupe scored on an 18-yard rush to give S-C a 45-14 lead with 11:46 to play.
Clinton junior JP Abernathy raced more than 70 yards for a score with 10:37 to play, and a completed 2-point conversion made it 45-22. The Cardinals triggered their next drive after recovering a fumble lost by the Smith-Cotton reserves.
Smith-Cotton deployed four quarterbacks: Grupe, senior Drake Peterson, sophomore Liam Albright and senior PJ Allred, who completed a pass to Grupe in the fourth quarter.
Franklin said it was satisfying to see the team’s effort finally translate into a “W.”
“We’ve been working really hard,” Franklin said. “If you were at practice and saw how hard we worked, the type of things we do, we really did deserve this win.”
With the win, Smith-Cotton (1-7) successfully avoided its first winless season since 1992, which capped back-to-back 0-10 campaigns. The Tigers recorded its most recent 1-9 season in 1993 and last finished 2-8 seven years ago, when a pair of four-game losing streaks bookended consecutive wins against Warrensburg and O’Hara.
It is the first victory for Smith-Cotton since a 10-7 postseason win Oct. 25, 2018 hosting Hickman. The Cardinals last beat Smith-Cotton when the Tigers’ comeback effort fell short in a 43-36 final Sept. 30, 2016 in Clinton.
The Tigers travel Friday, Oct. 25 to Center High School in Kansas City.