By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
LEBANON – How about a rematch today? On a grassy or dirt field. Doesn’t matter. Anywhere will do. In other words … What. A. Game.
“They deserved this as much as we did,” West Plains sophomore fullback Connor Lair said.
And that was coming from the surprise star of the show after the No. 5-ranked West Plains Zizzers edged the eighth-ranked Lebanon Yellowjackets 36-35 in a Class 4 and Ozark Conference thriller on Friday night at Jacket Stadium.
With all eyes justifiably on West Plains senior Brayden Lidgard, Lair took a bullet of a pass on a seam route and bolted 50 yards for a touchdown with 1:39 left, and then got his paws around Connor Rackley’s deflected, two-point conversion pass for the go-ahead score.
This on a night that seemed to have everything as the teams combined for four touchdowns in the final 9:05, including trading the lead twice in the final 2:19.
Said Lebanon coach Will Christian, “That was a great ballgame. I’m super-proud of my kids. We fought our tails off.”
For West Plains (4-1), coach Matt Perkins played the role of riverboat gambler. The Zizzers went for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 9 early in the second half, and on fourth-and-2 from their own 38 with 4:06 left. They were nursing 21-14 and 28-27 leads at both junctions, and got stopped on both.
For Lebanon (4-1), the Yellowjackets converted both stops into touchdowns, with the second one leading to a 35-28 lead with 2:19 left after Quameire Wright’s 2-yard TD run and his third TD of the game. Quarterback Curtis Mobley then found Kolby Dorris in the flat – and in the end zone – for the two-point conversion and a 35-28 lead.
Yet it was not meant to be for Lebanon.
West Plains was facing third-and-7 at the 50 when Rackley hit Lair on the 50-yard strike. That came one play after a pass to Lidgard didn’t materialize.
“We thought they were going to key on Lidgard, so we just went over the top with it,” Lair said. “We’ve probably run that play two or three times a week, and when the backers blitz, we just go over the top.”
Said Rackley, “There were only about six to eight yards before they could get to (Lair), so I knew I had to put something on it.”
That play and the two-point conversion certainly took the focus off Perkins’ decisions on fourth-and-short.
“I’ve really had only one that I second-guessed, and it was that fourth down from the 9-yard line. How many times have you seen someone do something so stupid?” Perkins said, with a smile of course.
On the pass to Lair, Perkins described it this way: “The play before, we were running a quick screen, and I was trying to get us to check it because they brought their outside linebacker and put him out wider and put their safety split him out wider also. I tried to yell for him to check it, but he didn’t hear it. And so we ran the play and we came right back to it the next play. I knew the linebacker was going to come downhill. They were keying on Lidgard.”
Lebanon certainly will look back at what might have been. Among the most notable missed chances were:
– A Lebanon fumble on the series immediately after Lidgard’s 1-yard TD run. Rackley hit Lair on a 16-yard pass shortly after, and it was 21-7 West Plains.
– Lebanon recovering a fumble at the West Plains 44 late in the third quarter, only to have to punt in four plays. West Plains then scored to go up 28-21 on a Rackley 13-yard run, which came two plays after a Lidgard 27-yard cut-and-weave run.
– A two-point conversion attempt that blew up immediately. Lebanon was leading 28-27 after Isaac Ledbetter’s 78-yard go-ahead TD with about 6:11 left.
– The Jackets led 7-0 at the 5:51 mark of the first quarter after Wright’s 4-yard TD run. But Rackley answered with a 61-yard TD run a little more than a minute later.
Still, Lebanon set the stage for wild second half. Kaelen O’Connor – a tight end — took a reverse 53 yards to the end zone with 2:56 left, pulling the Yellowjackets to within 21-14, and Lebanon got a third-down sack on the next series.
Lidgard finished with 111 yards on 21 carries. Lebanon’s Wright finished with 20 carries and 78 yards.
“After that game, we know we can hang with anybody,” Lebetter said. “I think this will really bring us together.”