The De Smet football banquet this week gives the Spartans a chance to celebrate again.
The Spartans are the Class 6 state champions. De Smet (14-0) capped an undefeated season with a 35-20 victory over the previously undefeated Joplin Eagles at Faurot Field in Columbia.
The football team will hold its annual banquet Sunday (Dec. 15) to cap a season that everyone involved will long remember.
“We got our banquet coming up and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said coach Rob Steeples, who just turned 30 and finished his fourth season at the helm. “It’s a great feeling. Really gratifying. I’m enjoying this and both reflecting and looking ahead.
“I don’t know if it’ll fully sink in. It comes in waves. It hit me two days later after we won when I walked into school. We left with a lot of question marks and we walked back in as champions. They were all so proud of us.”
Steeples rebuilt the program into a champion. The beginning was rough. The Spartans went 2-8 and 1-9 in the first two years before finishing 9-3 last season.
This year, De Smet broke through to win the second football championship in the school’s history. The first came in 2005 when Steeples was a cornerback.
So he’s been a player on a state champion team and now a coach of one. What’s the difference?
“I would say this one feels even better,” Steeples said. “You know how rare a championship is. We won when I was a sophomore. I was naive enough to think there would be a lot more.
“It’s more gratifying as a coach. As a player, I had my own small niche. As the coach, I played a role in a lot of the players’ getting to do what we did.”
The Spartans played a rugged schedule. De Smet defeated two-time reigning state champion CBC twice.
So, the squad was ready for Joplin.
“They were very calm before the game,” Steeples said. “They were locked in. They were very confident. They had been on the big stage on ESPN this season and had been in big playoff games. I didn’t see many jitters.
“I told them to carry their fighting spirit on the field. I told them they know our standard. Go out and play up to it.”
The Eagles were as good as advertised. Joplin jumped out to a 12-0 lead.
The Spartans were not concerned.
“We got down 14-0 to CBC two weeks prior,” Steeples said. “When you’re coaching kids, sometimes they will be kids. But nobody panicked here. They knew they scored on mistakes we made. They had a big play and you expect that.”
Joplin scored on a 66-yard TD pass to Zach Westmoreland from Blake Tash a little more than 4 minutes into the game.
“They had a good team with an explosive offense,” Steeples said. “They were good. That’s the type of challenge we wanted.”
De Smet got back on the board when Rico Barfield scored on an 8-yard run. Barfield finished the game with 116 yards on 15 carries. He had two touchdowns.
The Eagles then made it 20-7. With 37 seconds left in the half, senior Michael Wheeler threw a 6-yard TD pass to Ra’shod Smith-Harvey.
“That was very big,” Steeples said. “That made us more comfortable. We knew if we could keep the game within reach and make adjustments, we’d be fine. We felt they gave us their best shot in the first half and we gave them our worst.”
The teams had a scoreless third quarter. De Smet’s defense was getting the job done.
“We forced turnovers,” Steeples said. “Our defense is very stingy. It’s hard to get a yard against us. We hang our hat on our defense.”
The Spartans held Joplin running back Isaiah Davis to just 91 yards on 32 rushes and one TD. David gained 2,192 yards in the previous 13 games and scored 44 touchdowns.
De Smet had two missed field goals and a false start on a fourth-and-2 situation. The Spartans also had some drops on third-down passes.
“We had to be smart,” Steeples said.
The defense helped turn the tide. A forced fumble that gave the Spartans the ball at the Eagles’ 41-yard-line.
De Smet quickly capitalized. Wheeler hit Smith-Harvey on a 24-yard TD pass with 11:55 to play. With Luke Bauer’s third of five extra points, the Spartans held their first lead at 21-20.
Barfield scored on an 8-yard run and Wheeler added an insurance TD on a 3-yard run with 1:46 to play.
“The physical nature of our running backs started breaking them down,” Steeples said.
Taj Butts added 99 yards on nine carries and Darez Snider had 41 yards. Wheeler added 66 as De Smet gained 331 yards on the ground.
“Wheeler had one of his best games. He stepped in and got it done,” Steeples said. “He did what we asked of him. Rico just ran very physical. We want to hit you again and again. He ran a couple of guys over for a touchdown.
“We sign up to play physical here at De Smet.”
On defense, Jakailin Johnson had two interceptions. Carter Edwards and Tanner Jackson each recovered a fumble. Denver Parker led the game with eight solo tackles. Kaleb Purdy and Lavon Jones also played well, Steeples said.
When it was all over, the Spartans present and past celebrated.
“Former plays came down and enjoyed it, too,” Steeples said. “They were all pumped up. They were so excited for themselves. These seniors can hold their heads high.
“The younger kids were so happy. We weren’t even away from Columbia yet when they were starting to talk about next year.”
For himself, Steeples said it was something he will cherish.
“We won the big one. Class 6. No knock on the other ones,” Steeples said. “We know what Class 6 is. At the age I’m at, to win it, it’s just great. I’m not going to take it granted.”
“We just wanted to go one game at a time. I always expect to win every game. We had a daunting schedule. Being undefeated never was our No. 1 goal. Our top goal is to always play to our standards.”
As the first undefeated team in school history, this team will long be remembered.
“Nobody can beat that one,” Steeples said. “It can only be tied.”
The Spartans will lose eight starters to graduation De Smet will welcome back 13 to 14 players who started and saw extensive playing time.
Steeples is excited about the future of the program. But, he noted, it’s time for a little breather.
“Yeah I am. But I’m going to let the guys take a break from me and then we’ll hit the ground running,” Steeples said.