By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Good thing Republic senior Jaden Duvall thought twice about fielding the punt.
Because letting the ball go would have erased the highlight play of the game in a 34-9 victory over Branson.
Duvall’s dazzling 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter sparked Republic to life Friday night in the Class 5 District 6 quarterfinals.
“At first, I wasn’t going to catch it, then (the ball) was coming right at me and I figured, ‘Hey, what the heck. Might as well go for it,’” Duvall said. “A hole opened up, I had good blocks and outran them to the endzone.”
Duvall made a nifty spin move in the open field to spring free.
“I’ve been working on it for a while and it just came in pretty handy right there,” Duvall said.
Republic’s defense recorded three sacks and forced three turnovers. Branson’s offense drove inside the Republic 30 yardline on six occasions, but didn’t score a touchdown until the game’s final minute.
“Our defense came up big inside the 30, which is where you have to do it and be really focused,” said Tigers coach Dustin Baldwin. “We’ve had some times this year where we’ve given up some 3rd and 4th down plays.
“I felt tonight that we did a much better job. We tried to work on that in practice this week: getting off the field on money downs.”
Tigers quarterback Lucas Hayes rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He also completed five of nine pass attempts for 97 yards and a touchdown.
With the win, Republic (3-7 overall) travels to Class 5 No. 1-ranked Carthage (8-1 overall) for a district semifinals matchup next week. Carthage won 42-26 at Republic on Oct. 12.
“No one expects us to win that game next week,” Baldwin said. “There’s no pressure on us. We can go out and play the best we can and see what happens. They’re a great program, year in and year out.”
Four of Republic’s seven losses this season have come by six or fewer points, including a 19-13 home loss to Branson in Week 1.
“Credit to Branson for the first game, but we didn’t feel like we played our best,” Baldwin said. “We watched the film a couple of times this week and we were just really sloppy that first game.”
The rematch saw Republic take a 13-3 lead into halftime. The Tigers went 3-and-out on their first drive of the second half, but they broke the game open after that with touchdowns on three straight possessions.
Riley Sigman had a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 20-3, Louis Wallace followed with a 13-yard touchdown run and Kam Flood put the game away by hauling in a 28-yard touchdown catch.
On defense, the Tigers keyed in on Branson’s mobile quarterback, junior Gabe Sylvester.
“He’s very shifty. We wanted to keep him contained and make sure no big plays got over the top of us,” Duvall said. “You want to run up there and get the quarterback, but you know if you run up he’s just going to throw it right over the top of you. So you just have to stay back and trust your other teammates.”
Branson, which won two of its first three games and played Class 4 No. 1 Webb City to a 22-20 loss on Sept. 14, finishes the season 2-8 overall.
Republic 34, Branson 9
Branson 0 3 0 6 — 9
Republic 0 13 7 14 — 34
Republic – Duvall 90 punt return (Flippin kick)
Republic – Hayes 11 run (kick failed)
Branson – Webber 27 kick
Republic – Sigman 1 run (Flippin kick)
Republic – Wallace 13 run (Flippin kick)
Republic – Flood 28 catch from Hayes (Flippin kick)
Branson – Sylvester 17 run (kick blocked)
Unofficial stat leaders
Passing: Sylvester 8-for-24 for 130 yards and two interceptions
Rushing: Sylvester 4 carries for 37 yards; Hill 10 carries for 22 yards
Receiving: Wood 2 catches for 59 yards; Young 2 catches for 38 yards; Dougharty 2 catches for 33 yards; Blackwell 2 catches for 19 yards
Passing: 5-for-9 for 97 yards and one touchdown
Rushing: 14 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown; Sigman 14 carries for 58 yards and one touchdown; Wallace 11 carries for 49 yards and one touchdown
Receiving: Flood 2 catches for 42 yards and one touchdown