Throughout the season, Lebanon has shown they are one of the teams to beat in southwest Missouri. Friday night, the Yellowjackets traveled to Kickapoo to face the Chiefs and their four-game win streak on senior night. Lebanon played the role of spoiler though, winning the game 20-6.
“This was a big win against a well-coached team,” Lebanon head football coach Will Christian said. “They got after us and were very physical.”
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Behind the play of their senior team captains, quarterback Hayden Brackett and running back Brock West, the Yellowjackets are now one game away from clinching the Ozark Conference title. However, to get to that position, Lebanon had to push its way through a stingy Kickapoo defense. In the first quarter, both offenses failed to capitalize upon early success in their drives.
Kickapoo made the first big play of the game with a 57-yard pass from junior quarterback Anthony Cooper to junior wide receiver Tyler Hazelrigg. Two plays later, the Chiefs appeared to get on the board with a 24-yard run by senior Tanner Jones, but the play was called back by a holding penalty. Kickapoo then could not convert on fourth down, ending its early momentum.
Both teams’ defenses kept their respected teams in the game. However, Kickapoo’s defense came up with the turnovers in the first half. Junior Layton Harris jumped an out-route pass thrown by Brackett and intercepted the ball, giving his team great field position deep in Lebanon territory.
Cooper and the offense scored on the following play to give Kickapoo the early lead. Junior wide receiver Corbin Harris came down with a beautiful catch in the front corner of the end zone on a perfectly placed back shoulder throw by Cooper. However a muffed extra point left the Chiefs’ lead at 6-0.
“I thought the kids came to play and responded very well,” Christian said. “We’ve faced adversity before and have learned how to respond to it.”
Turnovers were a continued theme by Lebanon in the first half. The normally sure-handed Brock West fumbled the ball later in the second quarter for the team’s second giveaway of the half. Kickapoo couldn’t capitalize in the redzone following the fumble, giving the ball back to Lebanon.
“Obviously ball security was an issue because I was a little careless at times but my offensive line opened up big holes for me and played great,” West said.
Following the missed opportunity, Lebanon struck quick behind the arm of Hayden Brackett. He delivered a perfect pass to junior wide receiver Kaynen Boehne for 61 yards and a touchdown with 18.2 seconds left in the half. A missed extra point left the score tied 6-6 at halftime.
To begin the second half, Kickapoo got the ball and came out on fire offensively. Tanner Jones got the drive started with a 20-yard run that got the Chiefs’ sideline and crowd cheering as loud as ever. But after getting the ball all the way down to the Lebanon 10-yard line, the offense stalled and the ball was turned over on downs.
Lebanon’s offense fed off of their defense in the third and fourth quarters. During their drive, Brackett put yet another pass right on the money to Boehne on a deep post for 54 yards. West finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, giving the Yellowjackets a 13-6 lead.
Though Lebanon’s offense gets much of the recognition, their defense was what separated them from Kickapoo on the scoreboard. After forcing a three-and-out, Lebanon scored in just three plays. Two of those plays were runs by West. The first was a 21-yard run, which set up his second run, a 19-yard touchdown run.
On the touchdown play, West was hit at the line of scrimmage, but broke the tackle before turning on the jets and finding his way into the end zone, giving Lebanon a two-touchdown lead.
“We started seeing some things in their defense we thought we could exploit and we did,” West said. “It just took a couple big plays to really get us going.”
Attempting to get back into the game, Kickapoo went to the ground. A fumble though by Cooper on an option handoff gave the ball immediately back to Lebanon. Another fumble by West, this one coming on the 1 yard line and recovered by Kickapoo senior Michah Foote, gave Kickapoo life with just minutes remaining in the game.
“When you turn the ball over it is very hard to win,” Christian said. “Being on the negative side of the turnover differential is just asking to get beat.”
Luckily for Lebanon, those turnovers did not ultimately affect the outcome of the game.
Led by their aggressive defensive line, which was continuously in the back field putting pressure on Cooper and Kickapoo’s running bacsk, Lebanon did not allow the Chiefs’ offense to get in any form of rhythm.
The Yellowjackets sealed the game by running clock with West and Brackett. With the crucial victory, Lebanon is now 7-1 on the season and has the opportunity to claim the Ozark Conference title next Friday at home against Parkview.
“We knew we had to win here before Parkview,” West said. “Now we have the chance for the OC title and the opportunity is in our hands.”
Kickapoo (5-3) will attempt to bounce back from the loss next Friday in Joplin as they face the Eagles in the final regular season game of the season.