1. Webb City – Until someone beats the Cardinals they will top these rankings. With that said, winning their fourth straight state title will be a challenge with the departure of 30 seniors, including some marquee names like Johnson, Roderique, Slaughter, Spear and Brown. Rest assured Coach Roderique has the next tier of talent ready to roll, but it might not be the domination we’ve become accustom to in recent years. I like Kiante Hardin and Trey Parra to experience breakout seasons.
2. Lamar – The Tigers won their second straight Class 2 State Championship in dominating fashion (69-41 over Blair Oaks) despite losing two of their first three games. Lamar will make it a three-peat. This folks is a dream team. Almost every key player returns, including the D-1 lineman duo of Sam and Ben Bailey along with 2,000-yard rushing QB Levi Peterson and stud running back Jared Beshore. Look out for week 3 when Lamar welcomes Cassville in what could be the game of the year.
3. MV-BT/Liberty – The Eagles were tripped up by Lamar in last year’s quarterfinals, but you can bet they are hungry for another shot. With 18 starters back from a 10-3 team Liberty should be considered the favorite in the SCA and has a good shot to run the table to the Class 2 quarterfinals. Senior QB Jaelon Acklin leads a dynamic offense that scored 37 points per game last season. James Denton provides an all-state option at wide receiver with all-staters Cody Fidonik and Adam Niehaus leading the way up front.
4. Strafford – The Indians were one of the state’s top offenses last season, averaging 47 points per game. The scary part is they’re almost all back. Senior QB Jacob Wade (6-2, 230 lb) has a canon and four spectacular junior receivers to sling it around to. Some young speedsters in the backfield should provide another scoring option (as if they need more options). Strafford is the runaway favorite to repeat in the Mid-Lakes, but if they want to make a run to the dome the defense will need to step up big against the likes of Lamar, MV-BT/Liberty and Mountain Grove.
5. Nixa – The Eagles haven’t really proved this spot, but I feel they have the talent returning to be the top Class 5 team in the Ozarks. Three starters on the offensive line, three starting linebackers and three talented running backs adds up to a winning combination. New QB Jacob Karlson could be the x-factor as the Eagles look to replicate the kind of run made by their Christian County neighbors to the east last season.
6. Cassville – The Wildcats will introduce new head coach Lance Parnell Friday at Branson, but Parnell is hardly “new”. The defensive mastermind of the Wildcats for the past 16 years takes over for David Large and returns a good crop of talent. Replacing eight defensive starters will be a challenge, but the offense, coming off a record year, returns three senior lineman up front and junior dual threat QB Gabe Kirk. Keep an eye on the names Hayden Prater and Brent Thompson as Cassville looks to extend its Big 8 winning streak that dates back to 2008.
7. Mtn. Grove – Last season was supposed to be a building year for new head coach Rich Johnson and the Mountain Grove Panthers. Instead, they won their first 11 games on the way to a SCA regular season title. Expectations are even higher this year with 15 starters back, including 1,000-yard rushing QB Bobby Otwell and all-conference e OL/DL Ethan Johns. Circle Oct. 4 on your calendar as Grove hosts MV-BT/Liberty who knocked them out in the district championship last fall. The Panthers visit Rogersville in the KY3 Game of the Week Friday night.
8. Bolivar – The Liberators have owned the COC Small since its inception. 2013 could be its biggest challenge. A big crop of talented seniors departed with last year’s 9-3 team, but the next group of Libs is hungry to carry on the Polk County tradition. Senior QB Rafe Peavey (committed to Arkansas) can be considered the area’s premier player with his ability to both throw and run the ball. Fellow senior Drew Legan will be his top target in the passing game and is as stingy as they come on the defensive side of the ball. Bolivar hosts Reeds Spring Oct. 25 in a game that could very well decide the conference title.
9. Hillcrest – The Hornets have become a perennial power in the Ozark Conference and don’t expect 2013 to be any different. Sure, D-1 athlete Jonah Hill (Arkansas St) is gone, but somehow the Northsiders pump out next level talent each and every year. Matt Rush moves from receiver to QB, Juwan Johnson slides into the running back role and defensive lineman C.J. Hubbard will wreak havoc on opposing offenses. The senior trio will lead the way, but it’s the rest of the 12 seniors and a handful of underclassman that will need to step up for a third straight OC title, one that could be decided early with a trip to Camdenton Friday night.
10. Camdenton – The Lakers are another team that will need to prove their power this season. Coming off a third straight Class 5 quarterfinal appearance the Lakers certainly lost a lot. However, a big group of last season’s underclassmen are ready to step into starting roles. While some teams are looking for a quarterback, Camdenton has two great ones. Tyler Cunningham and Osage Transfer Bo Dean (48 TDs last season) will battle for the job, while the other will play a major role in the offense. Kullen Carlock is another dynamic two-way player who will help lead the charge. Camdenton hosts Hillcrest in the KSPR Game of the Week Friday night.Knocking on the Door: Reeds Spring, Lebanon, Kickapoo, Ash Grove, Thayer
For all three area teams advancing to the Class 3 Final 4 this season has been about unfinished business. Last March I watched the Strafford boys and Ash Grove girls in their quarterfinal at Drury get pushed around by Fatima and St. James, respectively....
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