Monday Rewind: District Football Championship Preview

By Chris Parker (cparker@ky3.com)

It is district title game time for the remaining area football teams this Friday. There are 10 district title games involving at least one area team this Friday.

Which local football conference is the best?

This time of year we always like to watch how conferences do as a whole. The Ozark Conference only plays a round robin during the season for example, so the playoffs are where the overall strength of the conference gets judged.

Below are records of each conference in the postseason against non-conference opponents. For example, Nixa’s win over Neosho last week is not reflected.

COC Large – 7-1
Big 8 – 4-2
SCA – 5-3
Mid-Lakes – 7-4
SRVC – 4-5
Ozark Conference – 5-7
COC Small – 2-7

The COC Large has easily the best record with five teams still alive this week for district championships. The Big 8, Mid-Lakes and SCA all have three teams left alive playing for district titles. The Ozark Conference is down to just two teams with Glendale and surprising Rolla alive, while the SRVC is left with just Lockwood.

Class 5 – District 4: No. 2 Ozark at No. 1 Glendale
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Two of the area’s best turnarounds face off for a spot in the quarterfinals. Glendale is 10-0 this year after winning nine games in the previous four seasons combined. Ozark has gone from one win in coach Chad Depee’s first season to eight so far this season.

I have chronicled Glendale’s offensive numbers virtually every week. Alex Huston is up to 5,084 yards and 64 touchdowns against six interceptions this season. Luke Montgomery has caught 78 balls for 1,648 yards and 25 of those touchdowns. Huston’s 65 touchdowns are tied for seventh most in a season in the nation’s history. Second place is 77. That number is well within reach with a one or two more wins.

How do you slow that offense down?

Don’t let them have the ball.

Ozark’s offense is built for the task. Glendale has thrown the ball 46.7 times per game while running it just 9.4 times per game. Ozark is a flip of that and is even more dedicated to the run than Glendale is the pass. The Tigers have run the ball 53.4 times per game on average and thrown it just 7.4 times per game. There hasn’t been a game where Ozark had fewer than 50 rushing attempts.

Jack Hulse has 35 completions for 582 yards this season for Ozark. To put that in perspective, Huston threw for 631 yards against Lebanon alone. He has four individual games with at least 36 completions.

Ozark is built offensively for a game like this. They will limit possessions, which could keep this game close.

Where this game will be decided is Depee’s defensive scheme to stop the Glendale offense. Recently some teams (Camdenton and Branson) have experimented with rushing just two or three and dropping everyone into coverage to try and stop the high-powered attack.

To see what I mean, go to the 29 second mark of this video: http://www.hudl.com/v/uVMvG

It doesn’t end well for Branson in that instance, but by the end of the play there are only two Pirates attempting to put pressure on Huston. A couple of the Glendale linemen look downright bored.

I say experimented above as well because the scheme hasn’t worked. Those two teams have yielded 1,078 yards and 15 touchdowns to Huston.

It is no coincidence that Huston’s lowest yardage and completion total came against Parkview in a game that saw the Vikings run the ball 54 times.

Ozark has the horses in the backfield to make this happen. Jack Hulse (742 yards, 14 TD), Nathaniel Burlage (590 yards, 5 TD) and Bradley Bonewell (438 yards, 4 TD) give Ozark bountiful options to stay fresh and be deceptive in the backfield.

Defensively, Ozark has been great in creating 22 turnovers while turning it over just 8 times for a sizable advantage in turnover margin.

Unfortunately for Ozark, one of their top ballhawks on defense in Curt Gracey and his four interceptions were lost due to an injury a couple weeks back.

Preston Carson, who has four interceptions this year himself, will be leaned upon heavily. Solomon Douglas and Brock Herrold each have more than 80 tackles this year and will have to range sideline to sideline to bust up those Glendale screen passes to Luke Montgomery and limit yards after the catch.

This game will be decided on Ozark’s ability to control the ball and get a couple key stops. The Tigers aren’t built to come from behind, so a strong first quarter will be key in this one.

Class 5 – District 5: No. 2 Nixa at No. 1 Carthage
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COC Large rivals Nixa and Carthage have ended each other’s seasons the last two year. In 2014, Nixa went to Carthage for the Class 5 quarterfinals and narrowly defeated the Tigers 24-21. Last year, Carthage returned the favor by heading up the road to Nixa and escaping with a 48-46 win.

Carthage earned the right to host this game by virtue of a 25-7 regular season win over the Eagles. The team that won the regular season tilt is the one that took the postseason game as well in each of the last two years.

Carthage is keyed by a front runner for COC Large Player of the Year in quarterback Keith Guest. Guest is up to 1,334 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and 888 yards rushing for 15 touchdowns.

One name that doesn’t get said enough is Tucker Edmonson. The senior is one of, if not the, best linemen in Southwest Missouri. The 6’3, 315-pound tackle just mauls opposing defensive linemen and gives Guest and Trey Collins room to run.

Defensively he is a great run-stuffing presence. Edmonson had 1.5 sacks the first time the Tigers played Nixa.

The Week 7 game against Nixa was a statistical TKO for Carthage. Carthage held Nixa to just 13 yards passing and outgained the Eagles 430-161. They also picked off three Nixa passes to win the turnover battle 3-1.

Nixa will need to eliminate the mistakes to have a shot to upset Carthage.

It starts with Nicos Oropeza on offense. The senior running back has 199 carries for 999 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will have to have one of his best games of the season to keep the chains and clock moving for the Eagles.

For anyone playing Carthage to goal is simple. Don’t beat yourself.

The one Carthage loss this year came when the Tigers finished even in the turnover battle. Every other game Carthage has won that battle with a turnover margin that is plus 20 on the season.

Carthage only beat Willard by two touchdowns last week, but was plus four in turnover margin. Those four extra possessions were the difference.

Defensively, Nixa will have to try and force a steady Carthage offense into mistakes. Brendan Beckley leads the team with 116 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Ben Lambton has been Nixa’s key to creating issues in the backfield with a team-high seven sacks and 14 tackles for a loss.

Guest can throw it, but the Tigers much more prefer to run it with a nearly 4-to-1 run to pass play selection split this year.

Class 4 – District 4: No. 6 Rolla at No. 1 Parkway West

Rolla has been the state’s biggest Cinderella story thus far in the playoffs. The Bulldogs came into the district with just one win on the season. They have now doubled that win total with upset wins of the No. 3 and No. 2 teams in the district.

They have done it by virtually abandoning the passing game and focusing on rushing the ball. The Bulldogs have rolled up 849 yards of rushing in the past two games. In the previous nine games combined, Rolla had 1,712 yards rushing total. On the flip side, Rolla threw for 1,001 yards in its first nine games but in the last two games has just 89 total passing yards.

Quarterback Josh Pritchett and running back Xaviar Douglas have led the way offensively. Pritchett rushed for 226 yards and 3 touchdowns in the district opening win over St. Clair. Last week he had 16 carries for 170 yards and three more touchdowns. Douglas had games of 140 yards and 280 yards rushing to start the postseason.

The defense stepped up in a big way against No. 2 Union last week with five interceptions after getting just five picks in the first 10 games of the season.

No. 1 Parkway West is up this week and has rolled through its district games so far. It has won its games by a margin of 85-3.

Class 4 – District 5: No. 2 Webb City at No. 1 Carl Junction
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This game will probably be the best attended in Southwest Missouri. Back in Week 1 Carl Junction handed Webb City its first COC Large loss and earned the right to host this game.

The Webb City team Carl Junction will see on Friday is much different from the one the Bulldogs played in Week 1.

The offensive system hasn’t changed and probably never will as long as John Roderique is at the helm, but the personnel is much different in Week 11 compared to Week 1.

Just four Cardinals got carries in the Week 1 23-7 loss to Carl Junction. Three of them were seniors and the fourth was a junior.

Last week, Webb City used 10 different ball carriers with two of them being seniors, four of them juniors and the remaining four underclassmen.

At the head of the committee was sophomore Durand Henderson. Henderson did not play in the losses to Carl Junction or Ozark and recorded just one carry in the Week 2 loss to Carthage. His first game with significant work was against Neosho four weeks ago. He had 10 carries for 96 yards to lead all Webb City backs in yards. Henderson led the team in carries the following week against Branson with 17. Then last week was his coming out party with 9 carries for 183 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout of West Plains.

The other thing Carl Junction had going for it in Week 1 was recovering six fumbles and picking off a pass to win the turnover margin 7-3. Four extra possessions are massive.

Webb City hasn’t been making those same mistakes of late. It has been four games since the Cardinals have thrown a pick, and it has been three games since they have lost a fumble. The last game with a fumble was a 33-28 win over Neosho where Webb City lost five fumbles but still won the game.

Carl Junction on the other hand, has not changed much since the Week 1 win. Rayquion Weston has had a strong sophomore campaign as he has cleared the 1,500-yard mark and has more than 20 total touchdowns this season.

The defense has a turnover margin that is better than 3-to-1 with 30 turnovers created through the first nine games of the year.

This game will be much closer than the 23-7 score the first time around. Carl Junction needed those extra turnovers to win in the first game to win. Can the Bulldogs force some of the new and young Cardinal players into those mistakes?

While picking a winner is tough, it is not difficult to predict that you will need to get to this game very early if you want a parking spot in the same zip code and a seat in the stadium.

Class 3 – District 4: No. 4 Mount Vernon vs. No. 2 Monett
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The Big 8 has dominated the district since the inception of the new conference system and this year is no different.

We have a rematch of a Week 3 game won 42-28 by Monett.

That game was Ian Meyer’s best statistical passing game for Monett with 12 completions on 18 attempts for a season-high 240 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of only two games in which Monett had more yards passing than rushing.

In last week’s win over Cassville, Meyer was 9-for-10 passing for 146 yards. Michael Branch took the ball 21 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns in the win last week. He is up to 1,452 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing this year.

Mount Vernon has greatly improved since they played in Week 1, but Monett is a team that can hang in a shootout or grind the game out. That versatility is a big advantage when playing a team like Mount Vernon that can score quickly and often.

For Mount Vernon, the passing game triggered by Garrett Hadlock has been great since game one, but the run game has really come on since then as a great compliment to the aerial attack. Sammy Robinson has rushed for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the first two district games.

Robinson’s development at running back has made Mount Vernon an extremely dangerous out.

I expect this one to be a high-scoring affair once again.

Class 2 – District 3: No. 2 Mountain Grove at No. 1 MV-BT/Liberty
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This is another rematch from earlier in the season between two bitter rivals. Liberty won the first game 33-20. The Eagles have now beaten Mountain Grove six consecutive times.

Liberty was able to win the first game by taking Grove out of its running game. Carter Otwell attempted a season-high 16 passes and threw two of his three interceptions so far this season in the game.

Those 16 pass attempts are nearly a quarter of Otwell’s total (66) for the year. He hasn’t thrown more than seven passes in any other game, and he has had three games where he has attempted just three passes.

Obviously Mountain Grove is not a throwing team. The Panthers have three players (Otwell, Trystan Short and Chance Barbe) with more than 1,000 yards on the ground. Mountain Grove ran the ball effectively in the first game with 44 carries for 350 yards which is an average of eight yards per carry. They will need to control the ball even more than that to beat Liberty on Friday.

Liberty has a strong balance to its offense, which allows the Eagles to morph depending on the game and weather conditions. The Eagles have 2,377 yards passing and 2,195 yards rushing this season with 30 touchdowns through the air and 40 on the ground.

Mountain Grove has to make Josh Pruett uncomfortable to win. The senior quarterback has thrown for all of those 2,377 yards and rushed for almost 800 in addition.

Marcos Rodriguez eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in his last game with a 205-yard performance for Liberty.

Class 2 – District 4: No. 2 Fair Grove vs. No. 1 Lamar
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Now the real season starts for Lamar. The five-time defending Class 2 Champions welcome in undefeated Fair Grove on Friday.

We all know about Lamar. They are pound-for-pound the best team in the state. This is the fifth season of the current district system. They have won their last four district championship games by an average of 62-3.5. These aren’t bad teams Lamar is beating up on either. The average record of those teams has been 9-1 coming into the district championship game.

The result that sticks out the most is the last time a Mid-Lakes team came into a district title game with Lamar sporting a great record. In 2013, Ash Grove was a one-loss team with a 2,000-yard running back. Lamar beat the Pirates 72-0 and held them to negative rushing yards.

What Fair Grove has going for it is versatility. The Eagles can throw or they can run and have done both very well this year.

Brayden Lumley is completing an astounding 85% of his passes for 1,254 yards and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions.

On the ground, it is a three-headed attack. Dalton Cloyd leads the way with 90 carries for 1,058 yards and 15 touchdowns. Austin Fodge is just behind him with 103 carries for 956 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lumley is a capable dual threat quarterback with 62 carries for 432 yards and six touchdowns.

The Eagles also have strong receiving group led by Isaac Mauldin with 33 catches for 582 yards and five touchdowns.

The X-Factors in the passing game are 6’7 Evan Fullerton and 6’5 Steven Huskey. Their size is a short yardage and red zone nightmare for opposing defenses. Huskey is second on the team with 27 catches for 479 yards and six touchdowns. Fullerton has 389 yards and leads the team with eight touchdowns.

All of those skill players are great, but the only shot Fair Grove has of hanging in this game falls to seniors Daniel Terry, Hayden Wingo, Kaleb Ivey along with juniors Hunter Robertson and Colton Dame and sophomore Cody Gunder.

Those are the offensive linemen that will see the field for Fair Grove. They are about to play the most physically demanding game of their lives.

Lamar is stronger than any other Class 2 team, and that is where this dynasty started, in the weight room and with names like Austin Boice and Sam and Ben Bailey along that line.

Fair Grove’s line will have to be able to give Lumley time allow his receivers to try and get open against a suffocating Lamar secondary, and to open holes in the run game.

Fair Grove is fighting a lot of history and tradition in this district title game.

For Lamar, winning a Class 2 title will require them to run through the best the class has to offer. If everything breaks right, Lamar could win a Class 2 title and hand four consecutive teams their first, and only, losses of the season.

Class 1 – District 2: No. 2 Thayer at No. 1 Ash Grove
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Ash Grove is in its first season of Class 1 football and the Pirates like life outside of the local Class 2 meat grinder.

The Pirates are sporting an 8-3 record with two of those three losses coming against teams playing for district championships this week.

They are led by quarterback Chase White and running back Spencer Eagleburger on offense. White has 954 yards passing for 12 touchdowns against three picks. He has also rushed for 581 yards. Eagleburger has 124 carries for 1,087 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Ball security has been great for the Pirates so far this season as they have no fumbles amongst their key players and just three interceptions.

Ely Byerly has been a stud in the secondary on defense with five interceptions. As a team, Ash Grove has 13 interceptions. Unfortunately for them, their pass protection opportunities will be few and far between against a Thayer team that has averaged 42.5 carries per game.

The goal will be for the likes of Josh Pipkin, Tyler Howell, Parker Soper and Blaine Rasmussen to step up and stuff the run to try and force the Bobcats to throw the ball which would give a decided advantage to Ash Grove’s defense.

Thayer is the much more battle-tested team despite its five-loss record. The SCA is a grueling league night in and night out. The Bobcats’ non-conference slate included a loss to 10-1 Hayti.

The Bobcats play old school SCA football. They will run first, second and third if they can. So far this season Thayer has 2,482 yards rushing against 702 passing.

Garrett Young spearheads that rushing attack with 769 yards and nine touchdowns. Clay Williams (427 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Chase Powell (303 yards, 2 touchdowns) are the second and third leading rushers.

Defensively, Thayer has held opponents to a 48% completion percentage and created 17 turnovers. Ayden Stone is Thayer’s second leading tackler (37) and has three picks to lead the team. Blake Meizler and Danny Gorham are the Bobcats’ top pass rushers with 4.5 and 3 sacks.

Class 1 – District 3: No. 2 Lockwood at No. 1 Midway
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Midway is no stranger to district title games. The Vikings have won two in a row and been to one each of the last four years.

Lockwood has underachieved a bit in reaching just one district title game in four years and falling in the semifinals each of the past two seasons to lower seeded teams.

The Tigers have taken the injury to star running back Kyle Bouldin in stride. Jobe Edwards has been the new face to step up in the backfield for the Tigers. He has had several big games including a 193-yard effort in Week 8 against Miller.

Will Beerly has been a steady hand at quarterback. When Ethan Bates isn’t running the ball he is invaluable blocking and opening up holes in the defense.

Midway and Lockwood have two common opponents in Rich Hill and Adrian. Lockwood beat Rich Hill 33-0 while Midway beat Rich Hill twice by scores of 44-21 and 44-24. Adrian is the other common opponent with Lockwood winning that game 21-7 last week and Midway winning it 22-0,

Class 1 – District 4: No. 2 Skyline at No. 1 Lincoln
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This game is one of the toughest to call for me this week.

Lincoln has destroyed all comers this year. The Cardinals are putting up 51.4 points per game on offense and yielding just 4.63 points per game.

The caveat there is strength of schedule. Lincoln’s regular season opponents finished a combined 28-79. None of the nine won even one district playoff game.

Lincoln’s players have rolled up some great stats despite only getting to play parts of most every game.

Boone Kroenke is an outstanding dual-threat at quarterback with 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns passing to go with 500 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Derek Stephens is the team’s top ball carrier with 1,030 yards and 21 touchdowns. Dominic Simmons is just behind him with 750 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games due to injury.

Mason Sanders (570 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Blake Roberts (400 yards, 7 touchdowns) are not only the top receiving threats, but the best cover guys in the secondary. Roberts has four picks and Sanders has three.

The defense up front has caused havoc by getting into the opposing team’s backfield time and time again. Aaron Yearout, Caleb Smith and Tyler Kroenke all have six sacks.

On the flip side, Skyline comes in at 8-3. The Tigers’ regular season opponents were a combined 55-41. Four of those teams (Lexington, Summit Christian, Fair Grove and Ash Grove) are all playing for district championships on Friday. Skyline’s three losses came to the first three teams on that list.

Really what you need to know about the Tigers is Shawn Bryan. He will be the best player on the field Friday night and that is no small thing at the Class 1 level. He carried the ball 20 times and ripped off 478 yards and seven touchdowns in a win over three-loss Crest Ridge last week. Bryan now has 2,553 yards and 41 touchdowns on the season.

There is some history between these two programs. Lincoln has won 22 of its last 23 games. Its one loss came on the road in the district title game against Skyline a year ago. Skyline ended the Cardinals’ season with a 42-8 blowout.

Lincoln will try to return the favor this year.

This game will be dictated by Shawn Bryan and what Lincoln does to stop him. Skyline has scored around 60 touchdowns this year. Bryan has 41 of them. It is no secret what the plan will be for the Tigers.

8-Man – District 4: No. 2 Sacred Heart vs. No. 1 Greenfield

Greenfield finally gets to play again! After a first round bye and second round forfeit, Friday’s game will be the Wildcats’ first action in 20 days.

Sacred Heart gave Greenfield its closest game of the year back in Week 2, which was a 48-32 win for the Wildcats.

A Greenfield win means the Wildcats are just one more win away from playing for an 8-Man State Championship in the program’s third season at this level.