NIXA, Mo. — The Nixa-Ozark rivalry always brings out the best in both teams, and the 2017 edition of the Backyard Brawl was no exception.
Down 14-7 at the break, Ozark scored 14 unanswered points in the second half en route to a thrilling, 21-14 victory. The Tiger defense held Nixa to just 26 yards rushing in the win, earning some much-needed momentum heading into the final week of the regular season.
Ozark head coach Chad Depee showed appreciation for the rivalry’s tradition.
“This rivalry is always such a fun game to be in,” Depee said. “You know it’s going to come down to the wire. Going through adversity and the things we’ve had to encounter throughout the season, we’re trying to find our way. It’s been a big deal for us to come in here and have a big game at Nixa.”
With both teams reeling in the midst of two-game losing skids, Friday’s matchup found each hoping to clean things up with the postseason looming.
Ozark was the early aggressor on offense, driving 60 yards in 12 plays on its very first series, only to come up empty after a missed 37-yard field goal attempt.
Unfortunately for Nixa, the defensive stop was short-lived.
Five plays into its opening drive, an Eagle fumble gave Ozark the ball back on the Nixa 15-yard line.
The Tigers didn’t squander the second opportunity.
Danny Carr’s 2-yard touchdown gave Ozark a 7-0 lead and the game’s early momentum.
Carr and the Tigers found success running to the right side of the line, many times directly at linebacker Alex Allen. Rather than allow Nixa’s playmaker to fly to the ball, the Eagles chose to run right at him.
Ozark right tackle Jordan Lawson keyed many of the initial blocks at the point of attack.
“We knew Allen was going to be on the outside,” Lawson said. “So, we just set up some double-teams on him. He’s a great athlete with such long arms, and I’m a little guy, so I just took it to his body. I knew he was going to get a reach on me, so I just got in his face and pushed him around.”
The strategy worked, for the most part, as Ozark rushed for 205 yards and threw for another 39 in the contest.
While the yardage totals weren’t gaudy by any means, the Tigers were able to find enough success on the ground to chew up the clock and keep Nixa’s offense on the sidelines.
For Depee, that style was exactly what was needed.
“We needed to come in here with attitude and play physical,” Depee said. “Our main goal was to win the physical battle. It didn’t matter what side we were going to, we just wanted to run our stuff.”
While Ozark took the game’s early momentum, it’s not called the Backyard Brawl out of mere coincidence.
The Eagles answered the early score almost immediately with a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ended on a Jack Sanders 4-yard pass to Allen for an Eagle touchdown.
A weapon on both sides of the ball, Allen made a pair of highlight-reel plays in the first half.
The first occurred after the senior hauled in a 20-yard catch on the Eagles’ touchdown drive — despite being backflipped over a tackler.
The second big play took place just before the half, with Nixa executing a textbook hook-and-lateral play with 20 seconds left on the clock..
With the ball at the Nixa 41, quarterback Jack Sanders fired a pass to Allen, who quickly pitched the ball to a streaking Sean Sample for a 59-yard Eagle touchdown.
While the quick strike was a major emotion blow to the Tigers heading into the half, the team was able to regroup and adjust during the break.
“I thought we were going to go into halftime with a lead,” Depee said. “And then, they go and get a big play on us. For our kids to come back and respond to that, when we desperately had to, that’s what we’ve been looking for from this team.”
In the second half, Ozark caught a big break early thanks to its defense.
Blake Andela’s third-down sack put Nixa in a 4th-and-22 situation from its own 8.
After Ozark returned the punt to the Nixa 5, Ethan Sandoval scored two plays later to tie the game up at 14-all.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers took the lead for good on Preston Carson’s game-winning, 8-yard touchdown run.
Nixa rallied with a late fumble recovery, but a fourth down pass into the end zone with time running out fell incomplete.
After the game, Carr was quick to praise his offensive line for Ozark’s success.
“This game was won by our offensive line and our defense,” Carr said. “Our offensive line completely obliterated their D-line; no comparison at all. We definitely ran the table on this one on the offensive side.”
Carr finished the game with 27 rushes for 98 yards and one touchdown.
While the rivalry loss was disappointing, Nixa head coach Rich Rehegan was pleased with his team’s effort.
“If we’ll play this hard as we go to districts, that’s going to be a positive,” Rehagen said. “I thought our kids put out great effort, and as you get down to the end of the season, you have to play with that effort and try to finish strong.”
Sanders threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, completing 12 of 22 attempts. Allen was the primary target, hauling in 7 catches for 68 yards and a score.
For next week’s final regular-season games, Ozark (4-4) travels to Bolivar, while Nixa (5-3) visits Carl Junction.
Ozark – 21, Nixa – 14
Ozark 7 0 7 7 — 21
Nixa 0 14 0 0 — 14
First quarter scoring
Ozark – Danny Carr 2-yard TD rush (Doss kick)
Second quarter scoring
Nixa – Alex Allen 4-yard TD pass from Jack Sanders (PAT missed)
Nixa – Sean Sample 50-yard TD rec from Sanders (2pt conversion good)
Third quarter scoring
Ozark – Ethan Sandoval 2-yard TD rush (Doss kick)
Fourth quarter scoring
Ozark – Preston Carson 8-yard TD rush (Doss kick)