By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
West wide receiver Arkell Smith could empathize with the East offense during the West’s 42-3 runaway triumph at 17th Annual Sertoma Grin Iron Classic on Friday.
The West defense, led by a front four of Zeke Wall, Will Anoai, TW Ayers and Eli Robinson, stopped the East time and time again on the ground and through the air.
“I knew our D-line was going to be great,” Smith said. “During practices this week, we ran against them and couldn’t get anywhere. Zeke tore stuff up on defense tonight from the first play.”
Wall, of Carl Junction, indeed recorded a tackle for a loss on the East’s first play from scrimmage and never let up. His tackles total was in double figures, making him the West Defensive MVP.
Wall was on the field for every West defensive play and even filled in on the West’s kickoff coverage on one occasion in the fourth quarter. Naturally, he was in on the tackle.
“Coach said, ‘You want to go down there for the kickoff?’” Wall said. “I said, ‘Sure, I’ll go out there.’ I had fun with it. That’s what this game is about.
“It was a great feeling to play high school ball for one more game.”
Wall was happy his conditioning allowed him to play from start to finish.
“We practiced hard against each other all week, so we were in good shape,” Wall said. “(The East) might have had more kids than us. But we were in way better shape.”
Like Smith, Wall was optimistic he and his cohorts along the defensive line would stand out. Ayers is from Lamar, Robinson from Webb City and Anoia from Kickapoo.
“Our D-line was stacked,” Wall said. “We walked in feeling confident and knew we were going to dominate.”
Wall and Ayers had been looking forward to Friday’s game all spring. They shared their excitement for the game during their meetings at track meets. Both competed in the shot put.
“We felt real good going in that our defensive line was going to be solid and the offensive line was going to have a tough time with us,” said Ayers, an Arkansas State signee. “We’re all smash-mouth guys who want to make plays.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Zeke from track. We were excited to play together on the same defensive line and make plays.”
Smith played just one offensive snap in the second half and still dominated enough to be named the West Offensive MVP. He had eight receptions, including a touchdown catch.
All this after he led Carthage to the team championship at the Class 4 State Track Meet last weekend.
“From track to football, I needed a week of practice to get back in the swing of things,” Smith said. “The first day of practices was a little rough. But my football mentality came back.
“Going out with our track victory and then coming here and getting MVP is everything I could have ever wanted. I’m leaving for Central Missouri on Monday and I don’t want time to celebrate. I want to keep my head on straight and keep on pushing. I want to play as a true freshman.”
Smith was targeted seven times in the first half and hauled in each pass. He and East defensive back Kyle Hunn both had their hands wrapped around the ball on one pass. As the offensive player, Smith was awarded a catch.
Smith and quarterback Riley Watkins, of Republic, hooked up for Smith’s seven first-half receptions that included a 15-yard touchdown pass.
“7 for 7,” Watkins said. “A couple times, it was about going through the reads and he was the guy who was open. But obviously we’re going to target him because of his ability. There were a lot of reasons we went his way. It’s hard not to when you have a guy like that on the field. He’s a game changer. t’s nice to be able to throw the ball and know your guy is going to come down with it.
“Obviously, he’s a special talent and (Central Missouri State) is very lucky to have him.”
“I didn’t really know him from the season,” Smith said of Watkins. “But on the first day of practices this week when I saw him throwing, I knew it was going to be nice playing with him. He’s got a nice touch on the ball and will do well at the next level. He definitely has my respect.
“Anytime the play-call was coming to me, I would get really excited. I knew I was going to make something happen. It seemed like everything was working for us.”
Wall, Robinson and Watkins were among five Pitt State signees on the West. Future Gorillas also included Jordan Rogers, of Webb City, and Clayton Dunning, of Aurora.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do and a long way to go,” Watkins said, “I’m a little rusty. I’ve been throwing ever since it started getting warm out. But I’ve been throwing into net. I hadn’t been throwing to moving targets with coverage.
“I’m happy where I’m at for the moment. But I’ve got to keep getting better. I’m stepping into a new world.”
Watkins wore uniform No. 7 and Robinson No. 3. On the game program, Watkins was listed as No. 3 and Robinson No. 58.
“Before the game, he said, ‘Hey, you’ve got that 3. That was my number during the season,’” Watkins said. “So, I tossed it to him and he gave me 7. We’re going to school together in the fall and we’ve gotten to know each other.”
Watkins was thrilled to play alongside players from state championship squads the likes of Lamar and Webb City.
“Guys who come from programs with a winning tradition play the game a little differently,” Watkins said. “They’re one step ahead of the rest of the guys. So, it was nice to have them on your side.”
“I think it made a difference, all of us coming from winning programs,” Ayers added. “We know what it takes to win and everyone was willing to put in the work and grind it out on the field.”
Mt. Vernon running back Sammy Robinson opened the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run and McDonald County running back Israel DeSantiago also had a three-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Quarterback Braeden Hinton, of Nevada, threw touchdown passes to Gavin Dunnan, of Seneca, and Jarvis Funk, of Neosho.
Dillon Lancaster, of Carthage, closed the scoring with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The East Defensive MVP was lineman Jace Gorn, of Ozark and the East Offensive MVP was quarterback Carter Otwell, of Mountain Grove.
West 42, East 3
East 0 0 3 0 – 3
West 14 14 7 7 – 42
W — Sammy Robinson 3 run (Josh Scheiderer kick)
W — Israel DeSantago 3 run (Scheiderer kick)
W — Arkell Smith 15 pass from Riley Watkins (Scheiderer kick)
W — Gavin Dunnam 5 pass from Braeden Hinton (Scheiderer kick)
W — Jarvis Funk 11 pass from Hinton (Scheiderer kick)
E — Patrick Lane 25 field goal
W — Dillon Lancaster 65 punt return (Scheiderer kick)