By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Football in the deepest part of Southwest Missouri thrives on two things; execution and physicality.
And for nearly four quarters, Pierce City was the epitome of the two words, drilling rival Miller en route to a 44-12 home win that clinched at least a share of the Southwest Conference championship.
“It was a great overall team effort,” said Pierce City head coach Brad Hocker. “They’re small, but they don’t care; they get in the weight room and work hard. They’re not going to shy away from anything. They’re great kids and I love each and every one of them.”
In a game where they scored a season-high 44 points, it was Pierce City’s defensive effort that was most impressive.
Miller scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the game – a six-yard Nick Johnson touchdown run – but couldn’t find pay dirt again offensively, with their second score coming via a Johnson 77-yard kick return in the third quarter.
The Cardinals had averaged 43.3 PPG during their four-game winning streak that was snapped on Friday.
“Coach Pendergraft (defensive coordinator Gary Pendergraft) does a great job and we had a great scheme tonight,” said Hocker. “The kids went out and executed and I’m really proud of them.”
Offensively, despite a cold and wet night, junior quarterback Colton O’Hara dropped dimes, softening Miller defensively and forcing them to adjust to a 3-4 base for large portions of the game. Not even highly explosive Class 2 Strafford had lit up the scoreboard for 44 points against Miller.
He found Jackson Kleiboeker for Pierce City’s first score of the game. Pierce City took a 7-6 lead and would never trail again.
O’Hara was also fantastic defensively, routinely calling out plays before they happened on the field, but he also finished with an efficient 129 yards on 8-of-16 passing with a pair of touchdowns.
“He gets the ball where it needs to be; to our playmakers,” said Hocker. “He’s been doing that all year long and I’m really happy for him because he works hard.”
Trey Sagehorn finished with a hat trick, with one of his touchdowns coming via reception and the other two coming on the ground. Chanse Ford also added a pair of touchdowns.
For Miller coach Jamie LaSalle, mental errors marred his team’s performance, one of which cost the Cardinals a touchdown.
The Cardinals continue to transition from the role of hunter to hunted after winning five total games over the last two seasons. Part of that growing process is learning how to win big games.
“We’ve taken touchdowns off the board before this season and when you play lesser opponents you might be able to overcome that, but it’s a little more difficult against a good team,” said Miller coach Jamie LaSalle. “If we go up two scores then maybe we put them in a position to do something out of their game plan. But once they settled in and took the lead, they could take advantage of a good game plan.
“We didn’t play well and we didn’t have a good week of practice; I was going to be really surprised if we played well tonight, I’ll be honest. Hopefully we can learn from this – refocus on Monday – and have a better week of practice and take it more seriously. Our season isn’t over, districts are what is important and a game like this prepares you for that. We may see them again.”
With the win, Pierce City not only guarantees itself at least a share of the Southwest Conference championship, but the Eagles – barring divine intervention – will have home field advantage throughout district play.
Both will have a chance to be official next week when Pierce City takes on Pleasant Hope.
“We’re happy about that. We don’t want to travel to Thayer, Cabool or anything like that,” said Hocker. “But, we’ve got one more step to go and I know that people are putting the cart before the horse but we’re going to and try to prepare for Pleasant Hope next week. Any win is big, especially when it’s against Miller, but we’re just going to try to continue to improve and get better.”