By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WAYNESVILLE — The Waynesville Tigers (7-4) knew they would get the very best from the Glendale Falcons (6-5), and vice versa.
After all, the Tigers defeated the Falcons, 28-24, Oct. 18 at Glendale.
That win, though, was not of a simplistic nature, as the Tigers clawed their way back from a 14-point deficit to capture the win.
But at Friday’s Class 5 District 5 championship game at Waynesville, the Falcons opened the game with a 77-yard touchdown reception by Jack Clinkenbeard, and Glendale kept momentum as it defeated the host, 42-28, to advance to the state quarterfinals.
The win pits the Falcons against the Carthage Tigers (9-2) next week at Glendale.
“I am just really proud of the way they persevered throughout the course of this year,” Falcons head coach Mike Mauk said — who secured his 251st career win. “It is a pretty tough conference with some pretty good teams. We knew it was going to be a difficult game.”
The Falcons wasted little time in showcasing their aerial assault, as senior signal-caller Gavin Watts hit junior wideout Jack Clinkenbeard for the 77-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive.
Waynesville reciprocated with Evander Bradford’s 14-yard touchdown run.
But that was all the scoring the Glendale defense allowed until the third quarter.
“Yeah, our defense really helped us out tonight,” Watts said.
Mauk, too, was impressed with all three phases: offense, defense, and special teams.
“Our guys really stuck with what we wanted to do,” added Mauk. “Their attitudes have been good. They worked hard to make themselves a better team. After a tough loss there at the end of the season, we had a good week of practice in preparation for this game.”
West Plains defeated the Falcons, 49-14, Oct. 25.
The loss served as a motivator for Mauk, Watts, and company as they eyed the district crown.
But, in pure Glendale fashion, Watts hit his playmakers on this night: sophomore Chris Floyd, senior Ben Shoemaker, and junior Clinkenbeard.
It’s tough to beat the same team twice in the same season, and the Falcons carried that mindset with them throughout their practice sessions leading up to the championship tilt.
Said Watts: “We knew the mistakes that we made the last time we played them. We let them hang around last time. We knew what we had to do, and we put it all together.”
The Falcons struck first and never trailed in the game — something that illuminated the game plan.
Added Mauk: “I think our guys learned that you have to play four quarters. Waynesville is very well-coached and has come good athletes. But we were able to make some big plays in key situations.”
Watts turned the ball over on the Falcons’ second possession, as Leroy Lane came up with the interception.
But, again, the Falcons went to work with a short memory.
Watts drove his team downfield, as Floyd snared the 1-yard touchdown pass on the corner route to open the second quarter.
The Falcons kept the running plays active in an effort to make the Tigers honor both aspects of their game.
And the offensive lineman held their blocks and opened the real estate — making the team two-dimensional.
After two consecutive run plays, Watts went back to the air, finding Clinkenbeard for the 18-yard score, as the Falcons increased their lead to 22-7 at halftime.
Glendale outgained the Tigers on offense in the first half, 220 yards to 32.
Tigers’ Shen Butler-Lawson carried the rock 47 yards for the score to open the third quarter, but Glendale’s skill position players simply were too much to handle.
Floyd hauled in the 2-yard reception as his Falcons doubled up the opposition, 28-14.
As the fourth quarter opened, Clinkenbeard came up money again, as he hauled in the 13-yard touchdown pass from Watts, and the Falcons kept their feet on the pedals, 34-14.
Glendale’s defense read its keys and eliminated the big chunk plays, which played right into the offense’s hands.
Mauk said he likes the evolution of his defense.
“We have a good group of senior leaders,” Mauk said. “Our defensive coaches have done a great job of leadership and getting some enthusiasm behind our team. Our guys have really followed their leadership.”
Shoemaker’s 8-yard touchdown reception on a slant pattern closed out the scoring for the Falcons with 6:28 remaining.
The Falcons are itching to get back home and play in front of their fans during next week’s quarterfinals.
“We are very excited about it. Carthage is a very good team,” Mauk said. “We will get our guys ready to play.”
Watts finished the game with six passing touchdowns and 332 passing yards.
Waynesville came into the contest averaging 44 points per game, while Watts and company sported an average of 38 points per game.