Each week Ozarks Sports Zone ranks the top teams in Southwest Missouri based on dominance by class, essentially the pound-for-pound comparison of those teams compared to the best in the state.
1. Lamar – Make it six straight state championships for the Brotherhood, but last year’s title was closer than ever, needing 16 points in the fourth quarter to overcome up-and-coming Trinity Catholic. Coach Bailey’s Tigers say farewell to eight all-state players from that team, but once again are finding a way to reload. Cooper Lucas and Stuart McKarus step into the leadership role with a strong supporting cast around them. You have to consider Lamar the favorite to make it seven straight championships, but Trinity Catholic, featuring D-1 quarterback prospect Isaiah Williams, will be a formidable foe for what may be Lamars best defense of their current dynasty.
2. Webb City – Last year was certainly an odd one for the Cardinals, losing four games and failing to reach the Show-Me Bowl. Fortunately for Big Red those growing pains will pay major dividends this fall as many of the underclassmen were thrown into the fire in key situations. Junior running back Durand Henderson emerged as a breakout player and senior lineman Landon Beebe is getting plenty of D-1 attention. Throw in three starting linebackers and you’ve got a recipe for success. Hope the rest of the state enjoyed its “down year” from the Cardinals, because they’re baaaack.
3. Mtn Grove – The Panthers came oh-so-close to knocking off MV-BT/Liberty for a district championship last season, falling 26-25. This year, the tide may have shifted in the SCA (emphasize may). Carter Otwell and Chance Barbe return as two of the conference’s top playmakers. The question will come up front where the Panthers lost three all-conference players. Can a new group of linemen step in to pave the way in the bruising SCA? Whatever happens, I can’t wait for the matchups between Grove, Liberty, Ava and Thayer; all who are really good.
4. Carthage – The Tigers are coming off an under-the-radar 10-win season in which they won the COC Large. It’s nearly impossible to replace your top quarterback, running back and lineman, but Coach Guidie may have the youngsters to do just that. Zeke Sappington is ready to step in under center, Arkell Smith might be the best receiver in the area and William Prince is poised for a big senior season. And most importantly, the JV team went undefeated last season, so you know there’s some talent ready to shine on Friday nights. This week should be a good indicator as they look for some revenge at home against fellow COC Large contender Ozark.
5. Thayer – You could call 2016 a building year for the Bobcats. They just happened to get hot when it counted and win a district championship. Now, Coach Webber’s Bobcats are no longer under the radar. They return 16 starters, including junior Ayden Stone, who picked up some valuable reps as the fill-in quarterback last season. As always, the lower enrollment Bobcats will take their lumps in the stacked SCA, but we believe they will come out better for it and ultimately be our strongest Class 1 team come playoff time.
6. Glendale – This is the toughest pick. The Falcons are coming off an absolute amazing season in which they won a school record 11 games and reached the Class 5 quarterfinals. The good news, national passing leader Alex Huston returns for his senior season, albeit with his top three receivers gone to graduation. The bad news, Coach Mauk has nine new starters on a defense that surrendered just 23 points per game last season. So, do we see the same nearly unbeatable version of the Falcons this season, the four-win team that gave up 50 points per game of two years ago, or something in between? We’ll get a pretty good idea Friday night when they play host to Class 6 Joplin.
7. Carl Junction – CJ proved they could beat Webb City last year. Now can they do it in the playoffs? Coach Buckmaster has 16 starters back and hungry to get the job done in district play. The offense is flat-out loaded led by junior running back Rayquion Weston who is bigger and stronger than last season when he rushed for 1,643 yards and 22 touchdowns. Defensively, the massive Zeke Wall leads the way coming off an all-state season. Buckle up, it’s Webb City vs. CJ Friday night!
8. Ava – The Bears are the newcomer to this party but well deserved with a ton of talent back from last year’s 8-3 team that gave MV-BT/Liberty and Mtn Grove a run for their money. Rumblings around the SCA are that the Bears may actually be the best team, but for posterity we’ll keep them here until they prove it. Caleb Johnson, Steven Copeland and Kaleb Sizemore are among the elite on this squad, but if you ask veteran coach Dan Swofford, “there just a bunch of small town scrappy kids that like to play football.” I suppose that’ll play. Can’t wait to see who plays Swofford in the made-for-tv movie. Btw, circle week 3 as the Bears faceoff with Mtn Grove in the first major SCA battle of the season.
9. Camdenton – The Lakers are currently the trendy pick around our office to majorly turn some heads and why not? They’re big, strong, fast and well coached. The offensive line might be the very best in the area, averaging 279 pounds, led by Minnesota Gopher commit Grant Norton and Josh Semau, who is getting plenty of college attention. That big, talented line will be making holes for one of the Ozark Conference’s top backs; Jay Griffin, ready to end his illustrious Laker career with a district title. IF the Lakers are to achieve that goal they will have earned it for sure with the likes of Webb City and Carl Junction waiting in district play.
10. Reeds Spring – The Wolves have certainly proved over the last few years they’re more than just a flash in the pan, just ask the Bolivar Liberators who saw their decade-long COC Small winning streak snapped last season. Coach Gosch lost some really good players from last year, but has 14 starters back, including five linemen who saw at least some starting action last season. As Monett proved last season, SWMO always has a chance to win a state championship in Class 3 and right now we believe the Wolves are the local favorite. We’ll get to see that first hand Friday night as they visit Mt Vernon in the KY3 Game of the Week.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Lincoln, Ozark, Lebanon, Pierce City, MV-BT/Liberty, Strafford, Greenfield, Lockwood