By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark, Mo. — To say Ozark dominated time of possession during its Backyard Brawl win over Nixa would be a gross understatement.
Of the 48 minutes played, the Tigers defense spent only nine minutes on the field in the 20-14 victory.
Ozark’s ground-and-pound attack racked up 410 yards of total offense in the game and held possession for nearly 39 minutes.
Tigers quarterback Chance Strickler accounted for 95 yards on the ground and another 69 through the air with a pair of touchdown passes.
For Tigers head coach Chad Depee, keeping offense on the sidelines was a vital part of the team’s game plan.
“It’s kind of what we want to do,” Depee said. “We want to control the football and keep our defense fresh. Obviously, it was a big part of this game. [Nixa] has a quick-play ability, and we definitely wanted to keep the ball away from them.”
Mission accomplished … sort of.
While Nixa’s offense was held to only 95 yards on the evening, a pair of big plays kept the Eagles within striking distance.
Steven Ward II gave Nixa its only lead of the game with a 62-yard blocked-kick return score in the second quarter to break a scoreless tie.
On the snap, Ward broke through the line during Ozark’s 48-yard field goal attempt, smothered the kick and raced untouched to the end zone.
After coming up empty on a pair of drives into the red zone, the Tigers finally answered with a score late in the second quarter.
Thomas Rushing hauled in a 28-yard pass from Strickland to even up the score at 7-7 just before halftime.
After falling behind and needing a late comeback against Branson last week, Depee felt the quick answer was critical for Ozark’s momentum and praised his team for responding to adversity.
“We’ve had issues,” Depee said. “All of the sudden, it’s a little bit of a mishap on special team, and we’re seven points down. This time, at least we came back and answered during the second quarter — that was a big deal.”
The Tigers defense held Nixa to another three-and-out series to open the second half.
On its ensuing possession, Ozark put together a nine-play, 56-yard drive that ended with a Tylr Bolin seven-yard touchdown run.
“We were running, pretty much, the same play over and over,” Bolin said. “The line was doing great blocks, and it was a great formation. It kept working over and over, so we didn’t leave it.”
While Nixa was finally able to gain a first down on its next possession — its first in the game — the Eagles were unable to move the ball any farther and punted three plays later.
Following the Nixa punt, Ozark was able to put together yet another long, clock-eating drive that culminated with another score.
After a 16-play, 91-yard drive that took over ten minutes, Strickland found Owen Brockman for a 30-yard touchdown strike.
“We just knew we had to do something to get those yards,” Strickland said. “[Brockman] was open, so we put the ball there. The safety jumped in, and so I knew I could just float it over the top, and we’d be good.”
Down 20-7, Nixa still wasn’t ready to concede the game, as the Eagles showcased their big-play capabilities.
Quarterback Reid Potts connected with Evann Long for a 40-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to a mere six points with just under six minutes left in the game.
While the big-play strike brought Nixa within a single score, the Eagles were unable to slow down Ozark’s ball-control offense.
The Tigers final 14-play, 53-yard drive cleared the remaining time off the clock and ended with Strickland taking a knee.
After the game, Depee was quick to downplay the rivalry win.
“This is a special game,” Depee said. “But it’s just as important as last weekend, and it’s just as important as the weeks coming up — our preparation has to be the same. If we’re going to prepare differently for one week to the next, then what are we doing? Every week and every day — we’ve got to go win today.”
In the 32nd year of the Backyard Brawl series, Ozark holds a 21-11 advantage over its Highway 14 rival. Nixa defeated the Tigers 42-14 in 2018.
Both teams are on the road in week five. Ozark (3-1) travels to Carl Junction, while Nixa (1-3) visits Neosho.
Varsity Final: Ozark – 20, Nixa – 14
Nixa 0 7 0 7 — 14
Ozark 0 7 6 7 — 20
Nixa – Steven Ward II 63-yard Blocked FG TD return (0-7)
(Andrew Anello kick)
Ozark – Thomas Rushing 28-yard TD rec from Chance Strickler (7-7)
Ozark – Tylr Bolin 7-yard TD rush (13-7)
Ozark – Owen Brockman 30-yard TD rec from Strickler (20-7)
Nixa – Evann Long 40-yard TD rec from Reid Potts (20-14)
Team Stats – Unofficial
Ozark – 87 yards, Nixa – 69 yards
Ozark – 323 yards, Nixa 26 yards