By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nixa, Mo. — Sean Sample couldn’t have picked a better week to break out.
The Nixa senior racked up 174 yards and scored four touchdowns as the Eagles rumbled to a 42-14 victory over Ozark Friday night.
While the Backyard Brawl rivalry has a long tradition, both teams entered the 31st edition with just a single win between them — a 17-13 Nixa victory over Republic in week two.
Sample got off to a slow start for Nixa — he didn’t even touch the ball until the 1:42 mark — as Alex Wentz carried most of the load in the first quarter.
That said, Sample wasted little time making an impact.
His first carry went for 42 yards and Nixa’s first touchdown of the night.
Sample attributed his success to the team’s execution.
“We started off, and I wasn’t getting the ball very much,” Sample said. “And then we kind of worked into it. My line was doing so much for me, and the other guys — they work working hard, too. It wasn’t just me.”
Ozark opened the second quarter with an answer when quarterback Chance Strickler ran the ball in from three yards out to tie the game.
Strickler’s scoring plunge was set up by a 46-yard pass play to Jacob Skaggs.
Sample added another score in the second quarter on a 9-yard run to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
On the very next series, Sample intercepted a Strickler pass late to give Nixa another scoring opportunity from the Ozark 19.
The Tiger defense stiffened at that point, and Ozark head coach Chad Depee was relieved to head into the locker room down only one score at that point.
“I thought in that first half, it was down to the wire,” Depee said. “It was great to keep it close, and we got that big possession and score. What I thought was real critical for us, defensively, was right before half when they got a short field and we kept them from putting points on the board. That’s all we could ask at that point.”
Unfortunately for Ozark, the third quarter turned into a Nixa waterfall.
The Eagles scored four touchdowns in the quarter, and Sample did most of the damage with scoring runs of 43 and 47 yards.
Super Sample aside, the game’s turning point might have been Trent McFall’s fumble recovery score early in the quarter.
With Ozark deep in its own territory, the Tigers’ senior linebacker blew up an option play, caused a fumble and then scooped up the ball for an 11-yard score.
McFall was quick to credit his coaching staff for preparing the team for that exact scenario.
“I had pitch on that play, so I ran up and hit him as the quarterback pitched it to him,” McFall said. “I knew the ball was out, and it just had a good roll. I’ve got to give credit to Coach [Kyle] Nelson, my outside linebacker coach. We do a drill every day where we scoop up a fumble and run with it, so that touchdown goes out to him.”
Up 28-7, Nixa’s third-quarter scoring spree was far from over.
Following a four-yard plunge from Jared Spence, Sample notched his curtain call on a 47-yard knockout sprint to end Nixa’s dominant period.
Ozark scored the Backyard Brawl’s final points late in the fourth quarter whan Strickler hit Skaggs on a 22-yard strike.
After the game, Nixa head coach Rich Rehagen talked about the Eagle rushing attack and how Sample’s monster game was a calculated result from his teammates’ efforts.
“I thought some of [our success] was some of our other guys made some nice runs and took the eyes off of Sean a little bit,” Rehagen said. “I thought Alex Wentz ran the ball really well, and our wide receivers ran the ball well on our jet plays. I thought that helped open it up a little bit, and then Sean just had a real nice game.”
Nixa racked up 253 yards on the ground and 94 in the air, with Wentz accounting for 54 yards on seven carries.
Ozark managed just 204 yards of total offense on the evening.
McFall attributed Nixa’s defensive success to its overall scheme.
“We had a tough loss last week, so we came into the week determined,” McFall said. “Coach had a good game plan, and we just executed … that’s all it was.”
As for Sample, the senior standout could barely contain himself during postgame interviews.
“I was so tired,” Sample said. “That was a long game, but I’m not tired anymore. I’m going to celebrate with my teammates, I’m going to take a couple pictures with that trophy and I’m going to kiss it a few more times.”
Week four matchups have Nixa (2-2) hosting Neosho, while Ozark (0-4) welcomes Carl Junction.
Nixa – 42, Ozark – 14
Nixa 7 7 28 0 — 42
Ozark 0 7 0 7 — 14
First quarter scoring
Nixa – Sean Sample 42-yard TD rush (Andrew Anello kick)
Second quarter scoring
Ozark – Chance Strickler 3-yard TD rush (Thomas Rushing kick)
Nixa – Sample 9-yard TD rush (Anello kick)
Third quarter scoring
Nixa – Sample 43-yard TD rush (Anello kick)
Nixa – Trent McFall 11-yard Fumble recovery TD (Anello kick)
Nixa – Jared Spence 4-yard TD rush (Anello kick)
Nixa – Sample 47-yard TD rush (Anello kick)
Fourth quarter scoring
Ozark – Jacob Skaggs 22-yard TD rec from Strickler TD rush (Rushing kick)