AVA, Mo. — In July, Dan Swofford said this group was like many others: a bunch of little country kids who love to play football. Many of those kids are young, and with youth comes growing pains.
In Week 1, they also brought a win.
Ava pushed past four first-half turnovers to shut out Marshfield in the last two quarters to seal a 42-13 victory. It's the third straight win for the Bears over this COC-Small foe to open a season.
"We had some guys that had never played football before tonight," Swofford said. "They came out their senior year and they made some mistakes, but I think just they're just going to get better."
Ava got better as the game progressed after getting accustomed to the Bluejays new direct snap double wing offense. For Marshfield, Jason Whittington was the first beneficiary of this attack, taking a reverse 17 yards for the opening touchdown with just over five minutes gone.
Still, Ava had done their homework, and kept the Marshfield offense out of the end zone for the rest of the night.
"We watched a lot of film on Lamar, them, and pretty much every team that runs it," sophomore quarterback Caleb Johnson said. "We saw it at the Evangel camp and that helped a lot too."
The Bears responded with 16 straight points, including a safety that begun a fruitful night for the defense. All 13 Marshfield points came off turnovers, but they had more opportunities from their four fumble recoveries. One came in the second quarter when the Bluejays marched inside Ava's five yard line, but ran into a wall on fourth and goal.
"I would say that was the biggest part of the game. It was big momentum for us and got her blood pumping."
Cole Mitchell did capitalize on the Bears' last turnover, pouncing on a loose ball in the end zone to bring Marshfield to within three at 16-13 before halftime.
That was as close as they got as Johnson capped the first half with a five-yard touchdown run, one of his two scores on the night. The second-year quarterback finished with 55 yards on 10 carries and 94 yards through the air.
After halftime, the jitters that seemed to surround Ava disappeared.
"I guess I could have 27 excuses from sophomores to the second day of school. I think a lot of it had to do with young guys, ball in their hands, the lights are on, and the speed of the game changes," Swofford said. "They learned about those things in the first half but they responded well in the second half."
Led by 24 tackles from Kelly McDonald, the Bears stifled any further Bluejay threats. Michael Lane returned an interception of Brock Utecht for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
"We definitely got lucky giving them the ball four times in the first half," Johnson said "It could've been a whole different game luckily it was on our side.
Steven Copeland was the go-to man at the end of drives, racking up two rushing touchdowns and one receiving. Maggard, who also rushed for a score, led the Bears with 66 yards on 10 carries.
Swofford admitted there are plenty of holes to patch, but is optimistic about what this group can do.
"We've got a lot of tough teams on our schedule the next couple weeks, but we're going to get better and come in ready to play ever Friday."
Marshfield 6 7 0 0 — 13
Ava 16 6 0 20 — 42