By Chris Parker
The O-Zone Football Power rankings will be released on every week throughout the football season. Rankings are a measurement of dominance within class and not a strictly head-to-head comparison. Coaches are encouraged to send any information, including stats, milestones and records to Chris Parker (email@example.com).
1. Webb City (C4)
Webb City finished 13-1 last year with a four-point loss in the semifinals to eventual champion Ladue Horton Watkins. Ladue would beat MICDS for the state championship the following week by a final score of 48-11. The Cardinals have to replace some program stalwarts, but are well positioned this year. First thing, Webb City is loaded on the offensive line, which is always bad news for opponents. Defensively, six all-conference players return from a defensive unit that allowed 11.8 points per game. A strong offensive line and loaded defense is a recipe for another deep postseason run for the Cardinals. The Cardinals start the season ranked No. 2 in Class 4.
2. Carthage (C5)
Carthage went 11-2 last year with losses to Webb City and eventual Class 5 state champion Vianney in the state semifinals. The Tigers will be among the favorites in Class 5 this season. Success at this level starts on the line and Carthage has the area’s top two-way lineman in Oscar Campa leading the way. He will be joined by Brener Ocana to give the Tigers a physical presence up front. Patrick Carlton returns for his junior year at quarterback after throwing for 1,115 yards and rushing for 1,354 yards last season. Four all-conference players return to a defensive unit that yielded 15.4 points per game last season. Carthage starts the season ranked No. 2 in Class 5.
3. Lamar (C2)
Lamar saw its state championship streak come to a halt at the hands of Lathrop in the state semifinals last year. The Tigers will have to replace 14 total starters from that squad. The defensive line will need to dominate for Lamar to make it back to the state title game with all of the starters back on that unit. Class 2 is also loaded this year. While defending state champion Blair Oaks moved up to Class 3, traditional Class 3 power Maryville and last year’s Class 3 runner-up Cardinal Ritter both moved down to Class 2. Class 2 is as deep as it has been in a long time this season. Lamar starts the season ranked No. 5 in Class 2
4. Mt. Vernon (C3)
Tom Cox is one of the best coaches in the state of Missouri. Two years ago, the Mountaineers finished runner-up in Class 3. Last year, Mt. Vernon had to replace most of its starters from that squad. No problem. Mt. Vernon won another district title before losing to Cardinal Ritter in the Class 3 semifinals. This year, Mt. Vernon must replace all-everything linebacker/running back Will Boswell. Cox will have most of his offense back with quarterback Zach Jones, most of the receiving corps and 80-percent of the offensive line that started against Ritter. How the Mountaineers replace Boswell’s production and leadership on defense will determine how far the Mountaineers go this year. Mt. Vernon starts the season ranked No. 3 in Class 3.
5. Joplin (C6)
There is no doubting the quality of the skill positions for the Eagles. They have two Division I caliber players in Zach Westmoreland (WR/ATH) and Isaiah Davis (RB) along with one of the area’s most experienced quarterbacks in Blake Tash. The Eagles will have to replace their entire offensive line from last year’s state semifinal squad. Three all-conference players in Westmoreland, Eli Eminger and James Boyd return to lead the defensive unit for Joplin. The Eagles have what it takes to win another district title. They start the season ranked No. 5 in Class 6.
6. Lincoln (C1)
“We want to win the state championship We feel that if we don’t win it this year we did not accomplish our goals. Even if we just return to the state championship it won’t have the same feel it did last year because that is not what our expectation is. Our expectation is to win it this year and again prove everybody wrong. Their goal is a state championship and that is what our expectations are.” – Lincoln Head Football Coach Kevin LaFavor.
That about says it all about Lincoln football this year. The Cardinals made it to the state final but fell 44-0 to a loaded Hayti squad in the championship game. Six all-state players return for the Cardinals with all six playing both ways. No Class 1 team brings back as much highly-decorated experience. Lincoln starts the season ranked No. 1 in Class 1.
7. Pierce City (C1)
Much like Lincoln, Pierce City has been building for this year for a long time. The Eagles have gone 21-2 over the last two seasons, but lost to Thayer in district play both seasons. This year, almost every starter returns both ways for the Eagles. That group includes the reigning Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year (quarterback Colten O’Hara) and Defensive Player of the Year (linebacker Trenton Kluck) while being led by the reigning Southwest Conference Coach of the Year (Brad Hocker). Few area teams have higher expectations this year than Pierce City. Pierce City starts the season ranked No. 3 in Class 1.
8. Ava (C2)
Eight all-conference players graduated from last year’s 11-2 squad, but the Bears are just reloading with another six all-conference players slated to return led by two-time all-state selection Kayden Myers at linebacker and running back. The Bears have given Lamar a run each of the past two seasons in the state quarterfinals, but have come up just short losing by less than a touchdown both times. The Bears have what it takes to win a third straight district title this season. Ava starts the season ranked No. 8 in Class 2.
9. Camdenton (C4)
Camdenton flipped tradition on its head last year going from a power-running, ball-control squad to a high-flying spread offense team. It worked. The Lakers went 11-2 overall, won a district title and lost to Webb City by just a single point in the state quarterfinals. The question that matters the most for a squad that plays like Camdenton is this: Does the starting quarterback return? He does. Paxton DeLaurent is back for his senior season after throwing for 3,858 yards and 43 touchdowns. Expect more big numbers from the Laker offense this year. Camdenton starts the season ranked No. 3 in Class 4.
10. West Plains (C4)
West Plains returns just nine starters from last year’s one-loss district championship team, but those nine starters are quality. The Zizzers will have a chance in every game with the duo of four-year starting quarterback Connor Rackley and a running back in Brayden Lidgard chasing a third 2,000-yard season. The success of West Plains will be determined largely by how new coach Matt Perkins reloads an offensive line unit that was one of the best in the area with two all-state selections and a defense that graduated five first-team all-conference players. The Zizzers also move back into Webb City’s district this year. West Plains starts the season ranked No. 8 in Class 4.
Knocking on the Door: Cassville (C3), Lebanon (C4), Fair Grove (C2), Thayer (C1), Catholic (C3)