By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In his heart, JD Bishop loves basketball more.
You’re more likely to find Case Tucker throwing baseballs than practicing handoffs.
But under the Friday night lights, Lamar’s roster of multi-sport athletes comes together as one.
“We have very few kids on our team who love football,” said Lamar coach Scott Bailey. “They love each other. They love their coaches, but they have things and other sports they do that they love.
“They play football because they love their teammates.”
That bond brought Lamar its latest district title Friday night – No. 12 in a row –as the Tigers defeated Fair Grove 50-25 in the Class 2 District 4 title game.
Bishop, a senior, had a big night with 155 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 10 carries. The basketball standout earned postgame praise from Bailey for his improvement on the football field over the last year.
“My mentality’s changed,” Bishop said. “As a junior, you can just go out and play. You don’t have to think. When you’re a senior, you have to lead and step up.
“In years past, I didn’t think too much about (the district championships), but being a senior this year – knowing it could be my last night playing football – this means everything.”
Lamar (10-2 overall) will host Ava (12-0 overall) at 1 p.m. on Nov. 22 in the Class 2 state quarterfinal round.
Lamar took advantage of three Fair Grove turnovers in the second half. The Tigers converted each giveaway into points, including an 81-yard touchdown run by Bishop early in the fourth quarter that gave Lamar a 36-19 lead.
“I knew there was a chance (of taking it all the way),” Bishop said. “That play’s been working for us a lot the last couple of weeks. I made a cut, got it down field, then had one guy to beat.”
The back-breaking play came minutes after Fair Grove had fumbled inside the Lamar 10, threatening to pull within 29-26.
“Lamar’s the best team in Class 2,” said Eagles coach Bill Voorhis. “When you play against them, you can’t have any mistakes.
“The guys that had the turnovers tonight, that’s probably their first one or one of very few all year. Bad timing, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort or lack of preparation. It happens.”
Fair Grove took a 19-14 lead early in the second half on David Oplotnik’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Dom Hoskins.
The Eagles then stopped Lamar on the ensuing possession, but a muffed punt return gave Lamar the ball at the Fair Grove 9 yard-line. Three plays later, Case Tucker’s 5-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion put the Tigers up 22-19. Lamar never trailed again.
Fair Grove threw an interception on its next possession. Lamar cashed in with a 13-yard touchdown run by Bishop to go up 29-19.
“Taking advantage of Fair Grove’s mistakes helped us a ton,” Bailey said.
Fair Grove senior wide receiver Cole Gilpin had a stellar night with seven catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Oplotnik finished 15-for-24 for 262 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“There’s no such thing as moral victories when you’re talking about football at this time of year, but I feel like our kids don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” Voorhis said. “They played hard. Coach (Josh) Buffington – our defensive coordinator – had a great gameplan. Coach (Jeremy) Faubion – our offensive coordinator – called a great game.”
Lamar sealed the win with its diverse rushing attack. In addition to Bishop, Lamar also got big games from co-quarterbacks Donte Stahl (22 carries for 129 yards, 1 TD) and Tucker (17 carries for 74 yards, 2 TDs).
“What happened in the second half makes me feel a lot better about our football team,” Bailey said. “We got to where we could actually run the ball up inside.”
The Eagles (10-1 overall) say goodbye to a senior class that was in 7th grade when Voorhis came to Fair Grove. They helped elevate the program and gave the Eagles a chance to beat one of Class 2’s top programs.
In two prior postseason meetings against Lamar – in 2016 and 2017 – the Eagles were outscored by a combined margin of 114-0.
“This is a special class,” Voorhis said. “Any team in the state would take the group of guys I had. These guys battled every day, in the offseason, practice, wherever. They do things right. They’ve set a new standard for us.”
Lamar 50, Fair Grove 25
Lamar 14 0 15 21 — 50
Fair Grove 7 6 6 6 — 25
Lamar – Tucker 1 run (Juarez kick)
Fair Grove – Beckley 3 run (Dav. Oplotnik kick)
Lamar – Bishop 47 run (Juarez kick)
Fair Grove – Gilpin 30 catch from Dav. Oplotnik (kick blocked)
Fair Grove – Hoskins 8 catch from Dav. Oplotnik (pass failed)
Lamar – Tucker 5 run (Bishop catch)
Lamar – Bishop 13 run (Juarez kick)
Lamar – Bishop 81 run (Juarez kick)
Lamar – Stahl 2 run (Juarez kick)
Lamar – Beshore 1 run (Juarez kick)
Fair Grove – Gilpin 29 catch from Dav. Oplotnik (pass failed)
Unofficial stat leaders
Rushing: JD Bishop 10 carries for 155 yards, 3 TDs; Stahl 22 carries for 129 yards, 1 TD; Tucker 17 carries for 74 yards, 2 TDs
Passing: Dav. Oplotnik 15-for-24 for 262 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Cross 2 carries for 38 yards; Dav. Oplotnik 8 carries for 30 yards
Receiving: Gilpin 7 catches for 162 yards, 2 TDs; Hoskins 5 catches for 41 yards, 1 TD