By Greg Uptain (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
(KIRKWOOD, MO) – Mistakes can doom a football team and they turned out to be the undoing of a red-hot West Plains squad.
The Zizzers turned the ball over four times and also had a punt blocked during a season-ending 26-0 loss to Ladue Horton Watkins in a Class 4 quarterfinal game Saturday afternoon at Kirkwood High School in suburban St. Louis.
“We didn’t take care of the football and that’s the golden rule of football,” West Plains coach Steve Ary said. “If you don’t take care of the football, you’re usually not gonna be very successful.”
The game marked the first time all season the Zizzers (12-1) did not eclipse the 40-point scoring mark. They were stifled by a Ladue defense that has allowed just 98 points all season.
“They were lights out on defense tonight,” Ary said. “They were extremely physical and more athletic than anybody we’ve faced.
Ladue (13-0), the No. 2 team in Class 4, will now travel to No. 1 Webb City (13-0) for a semifinal game next Saturday. The Cardinals beat the Rams 14-0 in last year’s Class 4 championship game.
“We’ve got the utmost respect for what they do and how their kids play,” Ladue coach Mike Tarpey said. “If we do what we do, we’ll give ourselves a chance to play a good football game.”
West Plains is the No. 3 team in Class 4 and Zizzers fans were out in full force Saturday, outnumbering the home crowd and showing unwavering support for their team even once the game was over by coming out on the field and participating in the postgame huddle.
“We’ve really had a good year in West Plains,” Ary said. “The thing about this is they’ve embraced us. When I got there seven years ago, they were coming off I think like an 0-20 type of a run. They were starving for success and we found some.”
The first of three interceptions by the Ladue defense set the Rams up at the West Plains 24 and eventually resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Liam Mulligan to make it 3-0 late in the first quarter.
The second Zizzers turnover was even more costly, as Garrett Warren caught a pass on the first play of the second quarter, but had the ball stripped from him by Ladue’s Mason Player. The ball popped into the air and Player caught it and ran it back 21 yards for a TD. After a missed extra point, it was a 9-0 Rams lead.
“He was running the route we watched all week on film,” Player said. “I tackled him, but he’s kind of big (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), so I had to strip him and get that ball out. That’s what we teach and I got it out and caught it.”
It was still 9-0 at the halftime break. West Plains couldn’t get its explosive offense going with just 64 total yards in the first half, but the Zizzers were still very much in the game at the intermission.
“We were just two scores out at that point and we were hoping we’d come down and put one in,” Ary said. “We knew they were playing a lot of guys both ways and we were just hoping we could wear them down a little bit. And they didn’t. They were resilient tonight.”
Mulligan kicked another 22-yard field goal in the third quarter before two more West Plains miscues were turned into Ladue touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
A blocked punt on the first play of the final quarter set the Rams up inside the Zizzers 10 and, three plays later, Henry McIntosh tossed a three-yard scoring pass to Lincoln Grench to make it 19-0.
Brandon West recorded his second interception of the game on the second play of the next drive and Dale Chesson capped the ensuing series with a four-yard TD run on a jet sweep to increase the lead to 26-0.
West Plains had two more cracks at breaking the shutout, but could get no closer than the Ladue 29 on the last play of the game. That was the Zizzers’ deepest penetration all afternoon, as they ran just eight offensive plays in Rams territory.
Despite the loss, West Plains had one of its best seasons in school history
“I’ll just tell you that this is the best football team I’ve coached and I’ve been at it 31 years,” Ary said. “I just wish we would have played clean today.”