By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
District football kicks off around the Ozarks on Friday night. Here is your primer to what you can expect to see in district play.
Harrisonville is the defending champ in Class 4, but Kearney and Platte County have looked really good at times this year. It is also worth mentioning that this is yet another class were two local teams could meet with Rolla going with St. Louis. Ultimately, I would be shocked if someone from the Ozarks doesn’t make its way to the title game.
This might be the most grueling district in Missouri; four teams in it have been state-ranked at some point this season. Six teams in the district finished with winning records, with the seventh team being Bolivar. That’s craaaaaazy. But, ultimately this is a top heavy district with Webb City and Carl Junction being the Joneses (not Ryan) that everyone is trying to keep up with. I have a hard time seeing anyone in Missouri beating this district’s champion.
Favorite A – Webb City
Class 4 still goes through Webb City and that won’t change anytime soon. The Cardinals bounced back from last year’s disappointing finish by drilling everyone on the schedule. Carl Junction has been the only team that could stay within two scores, everyone else has just been physically overmatched. Obviously nobody has proved they can consistently stop the veer for four quarters, but Webb’s defense has been the most dominant unit in the Ozarks, except for Lamar. The Cards haven’t given up more than 13 points all season. They’ve been great from a yardage standpoint, but they’ve also been really good about getting the football back, forcing 21 turnovers in nine games and allowing opponents to convert less than 28% of third downs. Senior quarterback Cash Link has been steady all season, if he continues to protect the ball and complete timely passes I’m not sure anybody beats Webb City.
Favorite B – Carl Junction
The team most equipped to beat Webb City is just eight miles to its west in Carl Junction. The Bulldogs lost that season opener to WC and haven’t been touched since. This is Coach Buckmaster’s best defense at Carl Junction, with Zeke Wall being absolutely unstoppable all season. He’s such a dominant force that it allows everyone else to play at a higher level. Junior running back Ray Weston has also made several plays defensively. The only Missouri school to score more than once against Carl Junction is Webb City. Also, the progression of Joe Kennedy cannot be ignored, especially as a passer. With Weston in the backfield and speedy receivers Aaron Ludders and Lucas Berliew, Carl Junction is the only team in the district that can stretch you horizontally and vertically.
Best of the Rest
West Plains and Camdenton are very much mirror images of each other from a schematic standpoint; both rely on physical football and defense. West Plains shocked many with the run its sustained this year, with sophomore back Brayden Lidgard being a stud. He’s rushed for 2,155 yards and 33 touchdowns while also leading West Plains in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns; he’s a monster. Andrew Wheeler has quietly been the leader for Defensive Player of the Year honors in the OC because of his ability to make plays on the ball. Junior Lane Jett seems like he can be in the same mold. The crazy part is West Plains returns almost everything next year; this is a team playing with house money… Coming into the season I thought that Camdenton had the best chance of any local team to make a state championship run, thanks to a mammoth offensive line and experience all over the field. Injuries have greatly altered Camdenton’s trajectory, but the Lakers are still a program with tradition and high expectations. Against Glendale they seemed to get their mojo – and health – back which included Jay Griffin rushing for 200 yards. Their size might offer a unique matchup for the COC teams. If they can get past Hillcrest, the Lakers trip to Webb City in the district semifinals would offer a Webb City/Camdenton matchup that we haven’t seen since 2005 when Camdenton came to Cardinal Stadium and beat Webb in the quarterfinals. The two historic programs have split their last six meetings… Hillcrest has been one of the best stories in the Ozarks this year. Experts swore that this team wouldn’t be much outside of Josh Powell, which may have been a galvanizing factor for the Hornets. John Beckham has gotten great quarterback play out of Haden Parton and Malik Starks has been a force on both sides of the ball. They’ve typically struggled with big, physical teams (losses to Camdenton, West Plains and Lebanon) but Hillcrest is athletic enough to play with anyone.
Don’t forget about Rolla…
They’re in District 4, which also houses undefeated St. Francis Borgia and a really good Parkway West team. Parkway West actually ended Rolla’s season last year, this after the Bulldogs – who went 1-8 during the regular season – upset St. Clair and Union to reach the district championship. This year’s team seems more than capable of duplicating that run. Rolla was an improved 4-5, but that doesn’t nearly tell the story; this team was four possessions away from winning the Ozark Conference. That sounds bizarre, but four of Rolla’s five losses came by six points or less (-6 vs. Lebanon, -5 vs. Joplin, -3 vs. Camdenton, -4 vs. Hillcrest). They’re so explosive offensively that they’re difficult to game plan for. Josh Pritchett has put together an all-state campaign and Jon Franks has done a tremendous job of moving Blaize Klossner and David Buhr around and taking advantage of the matchup problems they create. The length of Rolla’s run will hinge on its ability to get stops.
Co-Hudl Film I Love: Alex Gaskill, Webb City
He’s not going to overwhelm you with athleticism, but Gaskill just makes plays and seems to always find his way to the ball. He leads Webb City with four interceptions and directly caused two more with big hits that forced the ball to pop straight up in the air. Gaskill has also been Webb City’s primary receiver thanks to clean routes and great ball skills. His instincts and anticipation are some of the best you’ll see from a high school kid.
Rolla QB Josh Pritchett
Multiple MIAA teams have already offered Josh Pritchett a scholarship… to play basketball. The 6-foot-4 senior isn’t a football player by trade, but that might have to change after the clinic he’s put on this fall. He’s still raw in many ways, but he’s managed to complete 67% of his attempts, passing for nearly 2,500 yards. On the ground he’s hit 100 yards in every single game. He’s intriguing because he’s accurate enough to be zone coverage but if you play man he’ll carve you up with his legs. He has a Lamar Jackson quality to his game because it’s pure electric; every play feels like it could be a highlight. There’s really not a great way to defend him, which it seems he’s well aware of. Stay tuned, someone may change his mind by Signing Day.