By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One of the best stories from 2017 was the Final Four run make by the Lockwood Tigers.
The 3-seed in its district, Lockwood went on the road to upset 2-seed Midway and top-seed Adrian on consecutive Fridays before topping unbeaten Lincoln in the quarterfinals. The Tigers saw their playoff run come to an end against eventual state runner-up and Class 1 power Valle Catholic.
The Class 1 Semifinal run was Lockwood’s best finish since 2001.
“It was a fun ride; Lockwood is a special place,” said Lockwood head coach Luke Rader. “They expect their kids to show up and work hard, even when things aren’t going well. We had a lot of adversity in the middle of the season, but that attitude the kids get from the community paid off. I think the best part of that run was the kids learning that continuing to work hard when things get tough creates great memories for the rest of your life.”
Now, Rader and Lockwood will shift their focus towards another playoff run behind a set of fresh faces with just seven starters returning.
“We return several starters up front, so that will help,” said Rader. “We will need our skill players to improve quickly. We will still do what we do and try to control the clock by running the football.”
The guy who will be on the receiving end of many carries is senior Paxton Masterson.
As a junior he rushed for 425 yards and four touchdowns as a quarterback. He also passed for 790 yards and 13 more scores. Masterson could be seen lining up all over the field this season.
“Paxton’s improvement throughout the season last year was a major reason for our late season success,” said Rader. “He has continued to work hard in the off season and summer. We will need him to move into a leadership role for our younger kids this fall.”
The offensive line should make Masterson’s life much easier.
Lockwood returns three of its five offensive linemen from last season, led by senior Evan Bates. Bates was All-SRVC on both sides of the line. He’ll be joined up front by junior Damien Jordan, as well as sophomore Spencer Neal – who was also All-SRVC. Reese Fyfe, as well as fellow sophomores Gabe Bench, Eli Friend and Quenton Raymond could also see reps on the line.
“Evan is a big, strong kid,” said Rader. “He has really been working hard and needs to be a key piece for us up front. Spencer started every game last year as a freshman. We will need him to use that experience to provide leadership for our younger kids this fall.”
Junior Eliab Ciflentes, sophomores Blaine Garver and Lane Dunlap, as well as freshman Braxton Routeledge could all see carries from the backfield, with sophomore Max Schnelle figuring into the quarterback equation. Junior Talon Bessendorfer will provide depth at WR/DB.
Senior Hayden Hayne will see time at tight end and defensive back and freshman Kane Cooper could also see time at tight end and defensive end.
This will be Lockwood’s first season in the newly formed Southwest Conference, a merger between portions of the Mid-Lakes and SRVC. While the conference is largely Class 1, it features some of the best Class 1 programs in Missouri.
The overall brand of football will be very physical.
“The new conference will be very tough and competitive,” said Rader. “We open at Pierce City, who will be very good. We will see Sarcoxie and Marionville to follow that, who will also be very tough. The biggest key for us will be getting better every day at practice and using those tough opponents we see every week to get better on Friday nights.”
Lockwood will open the 2018 season on the road against Pierce City on Aug. 24. The Tigers will play their home-opener the following week against Sarcoxie.