By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportZone.com)
If football was played on paper you would’ve thought Joplin had no business beating Rolla.
Forget the fact that Joplin, welcoming first-year starters on both sides of the ball, was taking on a red-hot Rolla team that’s enjoying its best start since 2010.
If inexperience didn’t do it, you would’ve thought Rolla’s 518 yards of total offense and 8-for-12 third down conversion would.
It wasn’t pretty – or free from adversity – but Joplin managed to pull off its biggest win of the season on Friday night, shocking the Bulldogs 26-21 in front of an energetic Junge Stadium in Joplin.
“This is why football is the greatest game and it’s the best metaphor for life,” said Joplin coach Curtis Jasper. “This is why we do what we do. To see these guys do this here, it makes you feel good that once they graduate they’ll be able to overcome adversity in life too. I’m extremely proud. They’ve grown up a lot in these four games and to see that growth is very gratifying but we’ve got to stay hungry. We still have a lot left that we can do this year, especially if we improve.”
Joplin had no choice but to be resilient.
After taking a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, Rolla responded with 14 unanswered points to take its only lead of the game, 14-13.
The Eagles countered with a scoring drive just before the half, taking a 20-14 lead on Jacob Bartlett’s third 1-yard rushing touchdown of the half.
The senior back finished with four carries for three yards and three scores; he wouldn’t been a fantasy football legend.
While Joplin struggled to sustain drives in the second half, it’s defense was the epitome of bend but don’t break, forcing a trio of turnovers, all of which came with Rolla in the red zone or mounting a drive.
Jake Flowers and Kelcyn Newton each tallied an interception and the duo of Luke Kuehnel and Ethan Vang each recovered a fumble.
“Our guys just stayed with it,” said Jasper. “They’d drive on us and make plays and our guys didn’t put their head down, they just tried to make the next play. Thankfully we were able to make a few.”
Joplin’s lone scoring drive of the second half came on the shoulders of a sophomore combination Ozark Conference opponents – and eventually COC foes – will tire of seeing. Blake Tash hit Zach Westmoreland for three huge gains on the drive, which was capped by a 13-yard Ja’Shawn Ellis score.
Ellis rushed for 139 yards, his third straight 100-yard game, and his sophomore teammates took advantage when Rolla had to load the box to stop him.
Tash completed 12 of his 16 attempts for 170 yards. Seven of those completions went to Westmoreland, who finished with 134 yards; his third 100-yard game of the season.
“Blake and Zach are tremendous players and it’s fun to watch them do what they do,” said Jasper. “All of our players have grown up this year and these two guys are no exception. They have a chance to be special if they keep working hard.”
Rolla played about as well as a team can play in a losing effort. The Bulldogs remained explosive offensively, as they’ve been all year, racking up at least 450 total yards for the fourth consecutive game.
At the heart of that is senior quarterback Josh Pritchett, who continues to be the Ozarks version of Lamar Jackson. The senior standout accounted for a career-best 498 total yards, completing 27 of his 39 attempts for 356 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 142 yards and another score.
Friday night marked back-to-back 300-yard passing games for Pritchett, who has now accounted for an Ozarks-high 1,679 total yards and 16 total touchdowns.
Four receivers finished with at least 60 receiving yards, led by 5-foot-9 senior Jake Grooms’ 136 yards on seven receptions.
For Joplin, Friday was a glimpse into what the future could look like for Joplin with so many underclassmen making key plays, including sophomore linebacker Isaiah Davis.
The Eagles are 3-1 for the second time in three seasons under Jasper. Friday’s win has Joplin tied with Camdenton for second in the conference, just one game back of next week’s opponent West Plains.
So, Joplin will visit the Zizzers with a chance to grab a share of the OC lead. The Eagles haven’t won in West Plains since 2011.
Joplin 26, Rolla 21
Rolla 0-14-0-7 – 21
Joplin 13-7-0-6 – 26
Joplin – Jacob Bartlett 1 yard run (Garrett Landis kick), 7-0
Joplin – Bartlett 1 yard run (kick fail), 13-0
Rolla – Blaize Klossner 3 yard run (Nick Janke kick), 13-7
Rolla – Jake Grooms 57 yard pass from Josh Pritchett (Jarret Gabriele kick), 14-13
Joplin – Barlett 1 yard run (Landis kick)
Joplin – Ja’Shawn Ellis 13 yard run (conversion fail)
Rolla – Pritchett 11 yard run (Gabriele kick)