Split 2017 Midland Empire Conference championship with Smithville after 50-17 gallop past visiting St. Joseph: Benton Friday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — One goal achieved, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets pivot now to another.
Although they share the title, the Hornets are Midland Empire Conference champions for the first time in nine years. Next on their agenda, ending an identical drought between district crowns.
The Hornets (8-1, 6-1 conf.) secured their share of the 2017 MEC crown Friday with a 50-17 triumph over St. Joseph: Benton at CHS’ Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II.
That share became a half – with Smithville – when St. Joseph: Lafayette sustained its second league loss Friday, falling in a last-second heartbreaker at Maryville, 14-12.
Smithville demolished Cameron 49-8 Friday in SHS’ regular-season finale and last pigskin game as a member of the MEC. It becomes a member of the multi-division Suburban Conference of the Kansas City region in 2018-19, with, ironically, a suburban Kansas City private school – St. Pius X – replacing it in the MEC.
Having successfully completed the 7-weeks odyssey to the conference championship they began Sept. 1 with a stirring 24-0 shutout of now-dethroned 6-times defending champ Maryville, the Hornets psychologically shift gears to the more-stringent, unforgiving postseason strictures.
Whereas they gained the conference laurel even with a misstep along the way – a midseason loss to Lafayette, there are no “do-overs” from here on out.
A district title and further advancement in state play demands one thing – win the next game you play.
“It’s one at a time now,” Phil Willard, in his 20th season as CHS head coach, boiled down the task for his club after Friday’s solid home victory.
As regular-season ratings leader of Class 3 District 8, Chillicothe has the right to play at home as long as it’s alive in the district playoffs that begin this Friday.
The Hornets, yet to even play for district championship since the current playoffs system was inaugurated in 2012, will commence the 2017 playoffs by hosting winless Cameron. Chillicothe downed the Dragons 60-0 at Cameron in early September.
Defending district champion Maryville (7-2) – the No. 2 seed – will host KC: Lincoln Prep (3-6) in the first round.
While KC: Pembroke Hill (7-2) produced the third-best rating (37.76), its 21-10 home loss to fourth-rated KC: St. Pius X this past Friday gave SPX the third seeding in the district bracket, via its head-to-head win.
The Warriors thus will host No. 6 Richmond (4-5) in this week’s quarterfinals. The winner of that game – which actually might be a tougher game for St. Pius X than facing fifth-seed Kansas City: Central – presumably will face Maryville in the semifinals round.
The remaining two – Pembroke Hill and Central (3-6) – will square off with the winner then becoming the semifinal foe for Chillicothe, presuming the Hornets handle Cameron.
In its regular-season finale Oct. 13, Chillicothe’s players – as coach Willard had expressed advance confidence they would not – showed they had not overlooked Benton, roaring ahead behind strong play in all three phases of the game – offense, defense, and special teams.
“I felt like our kids were ready to handle that and did, for the most part,” the coach remarked, echoing plaudits he’d shared for the team’s composite maturity several times previously.
Chillicothe’s romp was firmly established in less than 12 minutes of game time.
Trace Staton’s punt block on a designed rush gave it its first possession inside the Benton 5-yard line barely a minute in, a chance the Hornets offense cashed in in two plays with Jack Willard’s quarterback sneak.
“That was a nice start to the game,” understated the Hornets’ head coach .
After Brett Shaffer’s 59-yards burst off right guard on a perfectly-executed counter play as Adler Marshall, Walker Graves, and Jonathan Burk provided the key block and J. Willard’s second TD sneak, Shaffer’s 33-yards return of a pass interception with a half-minute left in the first period capped a 29-0 CHS blitz.
Less than two minutes into the second quarter, the CHS margin became 36 points.
Senior fullback Josh Kille took sole possession of the school record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with his 26th – a 43-yards burst off left guard three plays after the offense had taken over at the BHS 49 following a punt.
“Field position was a big part” of establishing the huge lead in less than 14 minutes, coach Willard stressed, saluting the defense and kicking game. “Our defense has done that for us all year. Kick the ball deep, pin ’em, and get great field position.”
In the second half, Kille added rushing scores Nos. 27 and 28 in the second half, not only extending the mark  previously set by 3-times All-Stater David Macoubrie in 1978, but bringing him within two of All-Stater Justin Walter’s 1997 CHS mark for most total TDs in a season.
With 172 points for the season now, the hard-to-tackle, fireplug fullback also is within 20 points of John “Butch” Davis’ CHS season record, set in 1965.
Cooper Burton’s 10-yards scoring scamper for Benton a couple of minutes ahead of halftime cut Chillicothe’s lead to 36-7 at intermission, but the Hornets needed barely a minute of the second half to start “running-clock” operations as J. Kille went in from 34 yards out, breaking several tackles along the way.
His final TD of the night, on a 3-yards run, was on a possession gained by Eric Davis’ fumble recovery of a Burton fumble at the CHS 35.
It increased the hosts’ lead to 50-7 after three periods. Joe Ford’s 32-yards field goal and, after a recovered onside kick, Curtis Weston’s 9-yards run for Benton in the fourth quarter trimmed the final spread to 33 points.
Statistically, in addition to J. Kille’s 17-carries, 196-yards performance, Shaffer went for 99 on only seven carries, getting only one second-half carry.
J. Kille’s yardage production sent him to just shy of 1,200 for the season, moving him past the 1,169 he amassed as a junior. He’s the first Hornets ballcarrier to have consecutive 1,000-yards seasons since All-Stater Clint Macoubrie in 2004 and ’05.
Shaffer raised his season total to almost 880 yards, reasonably within range of joining the 1,000-yards club in this week’s game. If he makes it this season, which – barring injury – he is likely to do, it would give the Hornets a pair of quadruple-figures rushers in the same season for the first time since Wyatt Pickering and Justin Walter in 1997.
Even with the Hornets, who entered averaging 294, again surpassing 300 yards on the ground (321 on 32 attempts), Benton actually out-gained Chillicothe overall, 351-335.
“We executed well enough on offense to make some big plays,” coach Willard noted, aware his team didn’t prevail with its usual, grind-it-out efficiency.
Shaffer’s “pick-6,” aided by runback blocks from Staton and Burk, was Chillicothe’s first interception-return score since Tyler Clampitt’s 47-yarder at Macon in the 2012 district playoffs.