By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One varsity start, one record-setting rushing performance.
Sean Sample shredded the Willard defense in Nixa’s season opener Friday night, rushing for 306 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries and totaling 421 yards overall. Nixa scored three of the game’s final four touchdowns to pull away for a 41-27 victory.
“I’m so thankful for the linemen I have. They did a great job tonight,” Sample said. “Those holes were huge and I couldn’t have done what I did tonight without them.
“I really think this will set the tone for the rest of the season. We had a great game, a great win tonight.”
Sample’s 306 rushing yards are the second-most in a single game in program history. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior also caught three passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s athletic,” said Nixa coach Rich Rehagen. “He played a little (varsity) for us last year and we knew he was athletic. He came in here tonight, he’s mainly played running back for us, and he got into his old role tonight and had a good showing.”
Sample did the bulk of his damage in the second half, when he had 213 rushing yards on only 11 carries. He all but put the game away on a 30-yard touchdown run with 2:28 remaining that put the Eagles ahead 41-27.
“Any time I’m in space, I just know I have to get to the endzone, so I do anything I can to get there,” said Sample, who was JV starting running back last year and played wide receiver on varsity.
Nixa led 21-14 at halftime, but following a scoreless third quarter, Willard tied it at 21-all early in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard touchdown catch by Kenny Chambers. He had nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Nixa answered quickly on its ensuing drive, as Sample broke free for a 70-yard gallop to the endzone.
Sparked by a 44-yard catch from Chambers, Willard responded with a 3-yard touchdown run by Nate Swadley with 9:15 remaining.
The extra point was blocked, keeping Nixa ahead 28-27, and Swadley would later leave the game with cramping issues, a common sight on a warm, muggy night. Swadley had 14 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns, and had a potential 65-yard touchdown run erased due to a penalty.
Penalties, particularly in the second half, piled up for Willard and the Tigers struggled to slow down the Nixa ground attack.
“Alignment and assignments,” said Willard coach Brock Roweton. “We were not getting aligned properly. Then, we were just missing assignments. We have a bunch of new starters on defense, and they did get better tonight, but there’s a lot of fit stuff where we just weren’t fitting right.”
Clinging to a 28-27 lead, Nixa went for it on 4th and goal from the Willard 8. The gamble paid off as quarterback Jack Sanders found Alex Allen for an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-27 with 6:45 remaining.
Willard’s next play from scrimmage saw Swadley’s would-be 65-yard touchdown run called back. The Tigers eventually turned the ball over on downs, setting up a victory-clinching touchdown run by Sample.
“Only one person from O-Zone picked us to win this game, so I feel like we were kind of underdogs tonight,” Sample said. “We did a really good job tonight.”
Willard quarterback Quintin Batson completed 21 of 29 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Garrett Rice caught six passes for 67 yards.
“We outgained them, it’s hard to believe that because of all the penalties, but we did outgain them,” Roweton said. “(Quintin) Batson did a nice job of distributing the ball. We’re going to be able to run it and pass it.”
Willard hosts Bolivar (0-1) next Friday. Nixa hosts Branson (1-0).
Nixa 41, Willard 27
Nixa 7 14 0 20 — 41
Willard 7 7 0 13 — 27
Willard – Swadley 63 run (Swearengin kick)
Nixa – Deveney 9 catch from Sanders (Sample kick)
Second quarter S
Nixa – Deveney 5 run (Sample kick)
Willard – Chambers 11 catch from Batson (Swearengin kick)
Nixa – Sample 64 catch from Sanders (Sample kick)
Willard – Chambers 18 catch from Batson (Swearengin kick)
Nixa – Sample 70 run (Sample kick)
Willard – Swadley 3 run (kick failed)
Nixa – Allen 8 catch from Sanders (Sample kick)
Nixa – Sample 30 run (run failed)
Passing – Jack Sanders 6-for-8 for 132 yards, 2 TDs.
Rushing – Sean Sample 24 carries for 306 yards, 2 TDs; Jack Sanders 12 carries for 59 yards
Receiving – Sample 3 catches for 115 yards, 1 TD.
Passing – Quintin Batson 21-for-29 for 244 yards, 2 TDs.
Rushing – Nate Swadley 14 carries 116 yards, 2 TDs. Batson 9 carries for 43 yards
Receiving – Kenny Chambers 9 catches for 122 yards, 2 TDs; Garrett Rice 6 catches for 67 yards