By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Carl Junction remembers last year’s Ozark game well.
The 10-7 loss, Carl Junction’s first loss as a member of the COC, was not only one of star running back Rayquion Weston’s worst games of the season, the loss ultimately kept the Bulldogs from earning a share of the conference championship.
The Bulldogs atoned on Friday night behind Weston’s 193 rushing yards and four touchdowns, picking up a 35-14 home-opening win over Ozark at Bulldog Stadium.
“We felt like we lost a ball game last year that maybe we should have won; we did not play very well in that game,” said Carl Junction coach Doug Buckmaster. “We learned our lesson as far as going and competing each week in the COC. After that loss our kids grew up.”
That maturation is part of the reason why Carl Junction looked so dominant on Friday night.
The Bulldogs broke a scoreless tie on their second drive of the game when Weston took a swing pass from junior quarterback Joe Kennedy 46 yards for the game’s first score.
That was just the beginning of what would be a monster night for both Weston and Kennedy, behind an impressive showing by Carl Junction’s offensive line.
Weston added his second score of the game in the second quarter on a three-yard run, giving Carl Junction a 14-0 lead that they would take into the intermission.
The momentum appeared to flip to start the second half after Ozark marched down the field on its opening possession of the third quarter, capping the scoring drive when Danny Carr hit Preston Carson down the seam for a 32-yard score and pulling within one possession.
However, Carl Junction took just five plays to score on its ensuing drive with Kennedy finding pay dirt on a 27-yard scamper.
From there, Zeke Wall and Carl Junction’s defense again took over, holding Ozark scoreless until the game’s final minutes.
Wall finished with a team-high 11 tackles and recovered a fumble, again dominating the line of scrimmage and continuing to make his case for Class 4 Defensive Player of the Year.
Ozark finished with a season-low 215 yards, just 138 of those came on the ground.
“Zeke commands a couple of gaps and you always have to account for him,” said Ozark coach Chad Depee. “Unfortunately you don’t like to account for him with two guys but most times you have to and that allows some of those linebackers to fill. They had a great scheme against us tonight. Zeke did what he does and it’s not surprising because of the kind of football player he is.
“We did not win the physical battle tonight. Carl Junction did a great job. It’s no surprise, they’re a physical team and we knew we needed to match that and grind this game out. There were two different styles on the field tonight and plain and simple we didn’t match their physicality. Tonight we just didn’t get it done.”
Weston, who rushed for just 82 yards on 27 carries in last year’s meeting with Ozark, put together his best game of the season against one of the Ozarks’ top defensive units, running around and through defenders repeatedly. Kennedy also added 136 yards on the ground, making Ozark pay any time they over pursued Weston.
Carl Junction racked up 430 yards of total offense.
Carson finished with 51 receiving yards for Ozark and an interception defensively. Ethan Sandoval rushed for 67 yards on 13 carries. Nathan Burlage added 48 yards before leaving the game with an injury.
The Tigers, who now fall into a second place tie in the COC with Carl Junction, return home next week to host Branson.
After a rash of injuries recently, Ozark is now in gut-check mode as it prepares for the meaty portion of the schedule which includes a visit from Webb City sandwiched between trips to Willard and Nixa.
Depee’s team has little time to feel sorry for itself.
“We gotta put a chip on our shoulder and take this personally,” said Depee. “We have to understand what our style of football is and when we step on the field next time we have to play our style. I don’t think you forget these kinds of games. I hope it sits in there and upsets their stomach the way it does mine and it motivates us to have a great week of preparation.”
For Carl Junction, Friday night was a big win for several reasons.
Not only do the Bulldogs remain in the conference hunt, but Carl Junction extended its regular season home winning streak to 18 games. CJ hasn’t lost a regular season home game since Buckmaster took over.
And, with its stars playing like stars, the emergence of newcomers like Kennedy and the return of emotional leader Levi Duley, Carl Junction seemingly has its swagger back for the first time since last year’s loss to Webb City in the district championship.
And Buckmaster likes that…
“We’ve only lost here at home one time in the last four years and that was last year’s Webb City game,” said Buckmaster. “We wanted to start a new streak here at home and we wanted to stay in the mix in the COC. Sometimes styles make games and I think our style maybe fits Ozark better than Webb City’s does and you never know how that will play out in that type of game with two teams that really want to run the ball. So we’ll see.
“We’re still in the mix and we need to practice and play that way. And we’re still playing for points in the playoff system. I think people sell our kids a little short with some of the talent we’re sticking out there. It’s a big win tonight, now we just have to keep trying to get better.”
Carl Junction will travel to Neosho next week.