By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Fair Grove, Mo. – It took him a few minutes to ease into a postgame interview, and then there it was: Fair Grove junior cornerback Josh Thompson breaking into a grin.
“Coach at the start of the season told me I’d be playing there and he knew I could hit,” Thompson said. “I showed it to him.”
Thompson jarred free a near-reception from a wideout, forcing an interception and thwarting a potential tying touchdown, with the play ultimately setting up a Kensinger-to-Mauldin Air Show as Fair Grove’s Eagles stormed to a 55-18 home victory against the Marionville Comets on Friday night.
Jayden Kensinger and Isaac Mauldin connected on four touchdown passes – with Mauldin hauling in 185 of the quarterback’s 222 yards passing – while bulldozer Noah Sandridge raged for three touchdowns and 91 yards.
This on a night when the Eagles also intercepted four passes – Cayden Stayce had two, returning one for a 36-yard TD – but no INT was bigger than the one caused by Thompson.
At the time, Fair Grove led 7-0 after a mostly-running, opening series but saw Marionville quickly advance to inside the Eagles’ 40. On a pass to near the 25-yard line, Thompson lunged for the receiver and jarred the ball free – and Dominick Hoskins caught the ball off the carom.
Six plays later, on a fourth-and-6 at the Comets’ 16, Kensinger and Mauldin connected on a deep curl route in which the throw found Mauldin in the front corner of the end zone. It was 13-0 Fair Grove at that point, and Marionville would never get closer.
“We’ve got two juniors (Stayce is the other) starting on the corners that have kind of embraced that role,” Fair Grove coach Bill Voorhis said, “and they’re getting better every week.”
“Josh might have gotten on the field more last year. He got dinged up as a freshman, but then he started playing more and more as a sophomore,” Voorhis said. “He’s one of the most athletic kids in the school. He’s the center fielder on the baseball team and was all-conference.”
When Fair Grove wasn’t on defense, the Eagles had a three-headed monster of an offense – or four, if you count the offensive line as a whole.
The Kensinger-to-Mauldin connection also featured touchdowns of 49, 54 and 32 yards. The 49-yarder pushed the advantage to 19-6 before Sandridge’s second and third TDs finished off the first half. His final one made it 33-12 at halftime.
Much of the success was two-fold: Fair Grove showed solid line play from Hunter Robertson, Garrett Love, Riley Deel, Kolten Coddington, Colton Dame and Cody Gunder, while Kensinger and Mauldin put their differences aside.
“They were ridiculous all night,” Kensinger said. “They kept me safe, and Isaac kept getting open.”
Mauldin didn’t drop a pass all night, but he did drop this, with a smile:
“This week, we had a couple of bad practices. We were just getting frustrated with each other,” Mauldin said of him and Kensinger trying to find a connection. “Right before the game, our coach brought us in, he said, ‘Look, whatever it is, right now, leave everything in the locker room.’ And we did.”
Stayce’s INT return for a TD (off a tipped pass) came on the second play of the second half, and the Eagles’ lead hit 30 (48-18) on Kensinger’s 46-yard strike to Mauldin.
For Marionville, it was a difficult night for many reasons. For one, the Comets learned just before game time that senior two-way lineman Chris Barber couldn’t play because of a leg injury.
“It was hard on the guys. He’s emotional and our leader. It really hurt not having him on the field tonight,” Marionville coach Paden Grubbs said, noting Barber’s quickness on the defensive line was a big miss. “But at the same time, he can’t take care of the football for us.”
Grubbs expressed frustration about the Comets’ ball-handling – they recovered four of their own fumbles – as well as tackling.
“(Sandridge) just broke a lot of them. He did a great job of keeping his shoulders square, getting downhill,” Grubbs said. “Our game plan coming in was getting his shoulders turned and running sideline to sideline. We just didn’t do a very a good job of that. I thought we’d really cause some problems, but their offensive line did a really good job of eliminating our penetration.”
Marionville (4-3, 2-2 Mid-Lakes) was led by quarterback Ryan Mayberry, who threw for 132 yards on 11-of-15 passing – including TD throws of 22, 41 and 39 yards.
Fair Grove improved to 5-2 overall, 4-1 in the Mid-Lakes Conference.
“It was a complete game. It was the first time all year where all three phases of the game came together,” Voorhis said.