By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
OZARK — The fall weather finally hit the Ozarks Friday.
And there was thunderous hitting on the gridiron as the Joplin Eagles defeated the host Ozark Tigers, 50-14.
The win pushes the Eagles’ overall record to 7-0 on the season — highlighted by wins against Webb City and Carthage.
Ozark drops to 4-3.
The Eagles — the No. 4 team in Class 6 — stormed their way to a 48 points-per-game average, while allowing 22 prior to the win.
In short, the Eagles mean business this year — their second season in the Central Ozark Conference.
Senior running back and University of South Dakota (verbal) commit Isaiah Davis was up to his old tricks, juking defenders, using spiral moves, and carrying, sometimes, three defenders draped across his back as he hunted the end zone.
Davis finished with three scores (28, 26, and 2 yards) on 140 yards.
Davis is a rare breed: utilizing finesse, raw power, and a horizontal elusiveness that leave many scratching their heads — including defensive coordinators.
In short: Davis runs as if he’s mad at the turf, and his feet are in continuous movement.
“Coach [Curtis Jasper] always preaches to be the more physical team. That is what I do every day. Don’t run the ball if you’re not a physical player,” Davis said.
The Eagles wasted little time in setting the tone, as Davis high-stepped his way 28 yards for the score, a mere two minutes into the tilt.
On Ozark’s initial possession, a high snap on fourth down sailed high, and senior defensive back Eli Eminger pounced on the rock in the end zone for the safety.
After Davis’ 22-yard burner, quarterback Blake Tash hit Zach Westmoreland for the 16-yard score.
While the offense illuminated Tiger Stadium, the defense rounded out the balancing act.
Eminger snuffed out a screen pass by Ozark quarterback Chance Strickler, knocking down the ball and, after two bounces, found its way into the senior’s hands as he sprinted 26-yards, as the Eagles found themselves up 22-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“Oh, man, it was awesome,” Eminger said. “I realized that when I start thinking, I mess up. So it was like, ‘Hey, go out and play.’ Go have fun, which is what our coaches do. Do your job with great effort and high intensity and things will be good. I had a lot of fun doing that.”
With the running game intact and Tash finding the right reads and the defense swarming to the ball and dictating Ozark’s play-calling, the offensive line dictated the trenches.
“Every day at practice, they work. Every week they come out, make blocks, give me my holes, and let me have the chance to win one-on-one battles,” Davis said of his line.
But, for Davis and company, more work lies ahead.
“It’s all good that we are 7-0, but we have an end goal. And to get that goal, we have to have small goals,” Davis said. “Our small goal is to win every single game.”
The offense opened up the playbook in the second quarter, when Trayshawn Thomas hauled in the 31-yard touchdown, increasing the lead to 29-0.
The defense came up big once again on the Tigers’ ensuing possession, as a long, errant throw by Strickler in the middle of the field on a post route sailed high and hung up in breezy conditions, as Westmoreland came up with the interception.
The Eagles orchestrated a 10-play drive, which culminated on Davis’ 2-yard score.
But, the Eagles hungered for more.
After a 3-and-out by the Tigers, Keaton Renfro snagged the 10-yard slant for the score, and the Eagles cruised to the 43-0 lead at intermission.
The Tigers got on the board on their first possession of the second half, as junior Ethan Pritchard scored from 25 yards out with 5:44 remaining in the third.
Joplin and Ozark added one score each in the fourth quarter to conclude Week 7.
Joplin backup quarterback Always Wright hit Anthony Ratliff for the 3-yard score.
With the defense allowing 21 points per game, Eminger said it’s nice to complement the offense, but the unit has yet to scratch the surface: giving the Eagles the required 1-2 punch to make a deep postseason run.
Said Eminger: “We are doing all right, [but] 21 points, we would like to get it lower than that. We have to put up a goose egg, which is what we want. It is what we are looking for. Right now, we have a lot of confidence. But once we do that, it is going to skyrocket.”
As a team, Joplin tallied 326 yards of total offense.
The Eagles host the 4-3 Nixa Eagles next week for Senior Night.
Nixa defeated Branson, 41-3, Friday.