By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It was all one fluid motion from West Plains quarterback Connor Rackley. He tucked the ball into Brayden Lidgard’s gut, then triumphantly threw a fist in the air.
Five steps later, Lidgard plunged into the endzone and turned his quarterback into a prophet.
“As soon as I give it to Brayden, if I see a little sliver of space I know he’s going to get through it,” Rackley said. “I’m sure I saw exactly what he saw, he got a great block on the outside and he did the rest from there.”
It’s the kind of confidence you would expect from a senior class that has averaged nearly nine wins per season at the varsity level. The Zizzers looked every bit like a veteran crew as they rolled past young Hillcrest 42-14 in Ozark Conference play Friday night at Shumate Stadium. It’s the first win under new head coach Matt Perkins.
“Confidence goes a long way,” Lidgard said. “If you believe in something, it’s going to work out.”
Lidgard is also known as Mr. 2K. He got that nickname after running for 2,400 yards in back-to-back seasons. He piled up 168 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries against Hillcrest.
They all came in the first half. First was that 10-yard rumble, then zig-zagging dashes of 52 and 72 yards, as West Plains led 22-0 after one quarter and 35-0 at the halftime break.
Rackley was no slouch himself. He was 7-for-9 passing, all in the first half, for 155 yards and two scores, one each to Allen Marcak and Jacob Ackerson.
“Coming in with a new coach and a new scheme, the biggest thing is you’ve got to trust each other,” Rackley said. “There’s going to be tough times, but if you’re out there playing for each other, everything’s going to be alright.”
Hillcrest, meanwhile, doesn’t have that kind of veteran experience. It showed in a rough first quarter. The Hornets didn’t pick up a first down, had a punt blocked and trailed 22-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
“At the start of the year we asked everyone who had played in a varsity game to put their hand up. We got about four or five hands up,” Hillcrest coach Justin Gerald said. “After tonight we’ve got probably 27 guys who can put their hands up. That’s just part of the process that we’re going through right now.”
Hillcrest capitalized on its opportunities in the second half, though, scoring a pair of touchdowns to narrow the gap. Junior Gunnar Brooks broke the shutout with a 29-yard TD on a jet sweep. Freshman Tyrell Hurd scored his first varsity touchdown on a 39-yard dash that showed off his speed and power.
“In the second half we were able to do some things and put our kids in some situations that let us end on a high note,” Gerald said. “That always helps a young team. We’re going to be OK.”
West Plains has some inexperience of its own. The Zizzers’ offensive line has exactly zero returning starters this season. They start a trio of sophomores, one junior and one senior. That crew earned solid reviews from Lidgard and Rackley in Week 1.
“They’ve been working hard and figuring things out,” Lidyard said. “I think they did a great job. I can’t complain any.”
There weren’t many complaints coming from the black-and-white clad Zizzers after the win. It’s just the first step along the way as they chase back-to-back district crowns. Lidgard, meanwhile, has the potential to become just the seventh player in state history to tally more than 7,000 career rushing yards.
Not that he’s worried about that number.
“I wouldn’t say I have a personal goal for yards. I’m not that type of person,” Lidyard said. “Winning a lot of ballgames is my season goal. Winning games is more fun to me.”
Hillcrest hits the road Sept. 6 to face in-city rival Glendale. The Zizzers host Rolla in their home opener next Friday night.
WPHS 22 13 7 0 — 42
HHS 0 0 0 14 — 14
West Plains — Allen Marcak 43 pass from Connor Rackley (Owen Fisher kick), 7-0
West Plains — Brayden Lidgard 10 run (run failed), 13-0
West Plains — Eric Washington blocked punt, safety, 15-0
West PLains — Lidgard 52 run (Fisher kick), 22-0
West Plains — Lidgard 72 run (Fisher kick), 29-0
West Plains — Jacob Ackerson 7 pass from Rackley (kick blocked), 35-0
West Plains — Titus Seley 3 run (Fisher kick)
Hillcrest — Gunnar Brooks 29 run (Zao Shatto kick)
Hillcrest — Tyrell Hurd 39 run (Shatto kick)