Defense, John Berry lead Lebanon past Ozark for district title

By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

LEBANON, Mo. – Lebanon senior Cannon York was responsible for causing arguably the night’s most significant highlight that punctuated why 11 college football scholarship offers have come his way – with couple of NCAA Division I schools suggesting he be a preferred walk-on.

“But ultimately,” Lebanon High School senior defensive end Cannon York insisted, “I want to finish out strong with the group of guys I grew up with. I’m not focused on anything more than a state championship.”

He and the Yellowjackets took a notable step toward it Friday night. York caused a fumble by speed-rushing to the Ozark quarterback late in the third quarter, and John Berry rumbled for his fourth touchdown of the game only three plays later, sending Lebanon to the Class 5, District 4 championship and 35-17 victory against the Ozark Tigers.

It marked the sixth win in seven games for Lebanon (8-3), which saw Berry bull his way for 187 yards rushing on 20 carries while York’s momentum-changing forced fumble underscored the Yellowjackets’ workman-like performance on defense.

Put it this way, Lebanon is playing at Fort Zumwalt North next Saturday because of three key defensive series:

 A three-and-out punt on the game’s first series set up Berry’s 53-yard TD run on the game’s fourth play. (And it was 14-0 Lebanon at the 5:07 mark of the first quarter.)
 Ozark settling for a 27-yard Chandler Doss field goal at the end of the first half after three pass plays from the 10 got batted down.
 Junior Ty Glendenning stopping Ozark quarterback Danny Carr on fourth-and-inches at the Lebanon 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter. A touchdown there, and Ozark – which was previously 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions — would have been hanging around. Instead, Lebanon hogged the ball for the next seven minutes, effectively putting the game out of reach.

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“I thought our kids, from start to finish, played with a ton of purpose,” Lebanon coach Will Christian said. “Ozark is a good football team. They’re very physical. I thought we did a great job in all facets of the ballgame.”

York’s play came with 3:13 left in the third quarter on a third-and-five as Ozark was seeking to move inside Lebanon’s 40. The Yellowjackets were protecting a 28-17 lead at that point, with Ozark trying to capitalize after forcing punts on Lebanon’s first two second-half possessions.

“We’ve known all week, it’s going to start with us guys up front,” York said, not wanting to take any personal credit. “The d-line, without that surge, it wouldn’t have caused it to bounce. I think our defense overall took care of their own job and got the job done.”

Said Christian, “Cannon has played great for us. He’s started since he was a sophomore, and he’s been a steady contributor the whole time.”

Ozark had rallied in midseason to reach the district championship and, after its first two offensive series went almost nowhere Friday, the Tigers expanded its flex-bone offense.

In essence, Carr and senior Preston Carson found a rhythm on the option pitch, especially on the series that led to Ethan Sandoval’s two-yard TD run late in the second quarter. That pulled Ozark within 20-14.

And while Berry scored on a 22-yard run on the next series, Ozark threatened again, taking the next drive from its 22 to the Lebanon 10. But three pass attempts were denied.

That series – and York’s and Glendenning’s defensive plays – left Ozark (7-4) wondering what might have been.

“Lebanon did a great job tonight,” Ozark coach Chad Depee said. “They came out very physical, and we knew they would. But we didn’t match their physicality early.”

A key for Lebanon’s offense was containing Ozark nose tackle Jace Gorn, a senior who is 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. The Yellowjackets worked the trenches effectively, allowing Berry and other rushers to run off tackle.

For instance, they pushed the advantage to 20-7 on Boshe’s 4-yard touchdown run following a 44-yard screen pass from quarterback Cole Breeden to Berry – mostly a run – and Breeden’s 21-yard third-and-1 run. A 15-yard facemask penalty fed into Berry’s TD that pushed the lead to 28-14. The Yellowjackets, after stopping Ozark at the six early in the fourth, then ate seven minutes of clock thanks to running 13 plays.

“The touchdowns that came early made a statement – that, after last year, we weren’t going to take it this year,” Berry said, referring to Lebanon’s loss to Ozark.

Meanwhile, Carson finished with 10 carries and 89 yards rushing, while Sandoval churned for 73 yards. Carr was 7 of 14 passing for 102 yards.

“As sad as you are to see your season end and your seniors go, I’m very proud of our guys and everything they endured and overcame to get back to this game,” Depee said of an injury-plagued season. “It’s not the story you always want, but it’s life. I’m proud to see them grow up and compete.”