By Josh Hall
Nicos Oropeza said he felt a little beat up following Friday night’s 16th Annual Satoma Grin Iron Classic at JFK Stadium.
But it was well worth it for the Nixa High School graduate who was selected to represent the West team in an all-star game that showcases the top graduated seniors from Southwest Missouri.
Oropeza’s first-quarter touchdown was all the West all stars needed to claim a 7-6 win against the East all stars.
“I’ll just go home and take a little ice bath,” said Oropeza, who will continue his football career in the fall at Southwest Baptist University. “I’ll be fine.”
For some, the game was a tune-up before playing at the collegiate level. For others, it was one last time to showcase their talents on the football field.
“It’s the best of the best out here,” Oropeza, named the West’s Most Valuable Player on offense, said. “Everyone is fighting really hard. It’s for fun, you know. But it got competitive out here.”
Oropeza’s 15-yard carry and an extra point from Monett kicker Cameron Cody with 6:02 to play in the first quarter gave the West team a 7-0 lead.
The East got on the board with 5.3 seconds left in the second quarter when Liberty quarterback Josh Pruett hit Camdenton tight end Parker Stidham for a 4-yard score. The ensuing extra point was unsuccessful.
The score would remain 7-6 the rest of the way.
“That’s what you expect when you get a group of all stars,” said East head coach Bill Voohris, who led Fair Grove to an 11-1 record. “You expect it to be close, and those kids on the other side are good. On that other side, they’ve got a couple of state championships and it showed.”
Lamar (Class 2) and Monett (Class 3) both won state titles and represented the West, which improved its all-time record to 14-2. The West claimed a 27-0 victory in 2015 and a 16-15 victory last year.
This year’s game came down to defense.
“Going into it, I figured it would,” said West coach Derek Uhl, who led Monett to its first state title since 1977. “With offenses, it’s kind of hard to gel sometimes. In practice, I thought our defense was pretty good. Joking around with our defensive coordinator I said, ‘We might just kick off twice.’ In all seriousness, I kind of knew it was going to be a game like this.”
Zay’Shawn Weston (Carl Junction) and Jalen Timberlake (Neosho) both had interceptions for the West. Elijah Floyd (Salem) and Luke Masters (Branson) had picks for the East.
Both teams made key defensive stops. But the all stars from the West had a few more, and that proved to be the difference in the game.
With the West team holding a 7-6 lead, East linebacker Justin Nichols (West Plains) recovered a fumble at the West 11-yard line. On fourth-and-five from the West six-yard line, and 5:22 to play in the fourth quarter, the East team attempted a field goal that was unsuccessful.
The East team got another shot on offense. This time, the West team got a big stop from Hayden Young (Nixa) with 1:38 to play when the East faced a fourth-and-six situation from the West 47.
The West team was able to run out the clock from there.
“I thought our guys played really hard and the coaches coached hard,” Voohris said. “It was a fun experience.”
Jokeim Crawford (Joplin) was named the West’s Most Valuable Player on the defensive end.
Stidham earned the East’s Most Valuable Player honors on offense, while Latham Melton-Farmer (Mountain Grove) was named the East’s Most Valuable Player on defense.
Melton-Farmer was a late addition to the team after undergoing surgery in December to repair an ACL.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to play because of my ACL. I just got cleared a couple days ago.”
All of the proceeds from the event are donated to the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, also known as The Tooth Truck, a mobile dental unit that provides dental care for area at-risk children.