By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
We have reached the district championship round of the football season. Jordan Burton takes a look at what to watch for this week below.
Class 6 District 3: Joplin (10-1) at Lee’s Summit North (10-1)
The Story: Not sure if they’ve ever played.
What to Know: They have an identical record and although they share a pair of common opponents, that doesn’t really give much info. Both teams handled Ozark and while LSN destroyed Lee’s Summit, Joplin needed overtime to handle LS. However, that game came without the majority of Joplin’s biggest names AND, LS actually won three of its last four to end the season and nearly knocked off undefeated Park Hill South; they weren’t even close to the team LSN saw in Week 2. This game will come down to two things for the Eagles. Can Joplin finish drives and can they stop the run? North has pitched three shutouts this year and the only teams to score more than 14 points against them are No. 2 Liberty North and Blue Valley North (Kan.). LSN has allowed 34 points total in its last four games. But for as good as their defense is, it’s the offense that’s truly a problem behind the combo of senior Mizzou commit Armand Membou and junior Cayden Green (6-5, 310lbs). Membou is a 6-4, 280lb monster and Green has been offered by every major conference including Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M and Notre Dame. They pave the way for an offense that averages nearly 40 PPG. SIU bound QB Tre Baker commands the offense, passing for 1,675 yards with 19 TD and one pick. Joplin is coming off of a strong performance defensively against a very good Nixa team. Senior QB Always Wright (2,029 passing yards, 25 TDs | 382 rushing yards, 8 TDs) will lead be key for the Eagles. Joplin is no stranger to this stage under Curtis Jasper. The Eagles have won double-digit games in Class 6 in three of the last four seasons (including 2021) with the previous two resulting in district titles. North hasn’t won a district championship in more than a decade. That may play as big of a role as any physical measurable in this game.
Class 5 District 5: Glendale (8-2) at Lebanon (9-1)
The Story: Lebanon has won 13 of the last 16 meetings, including six straight.
What to Know: These two met in Week 5 and Lebanon pulled out a huge 31-28 road win thanks to a late Quinton Doughty field goal. On paper, the numbers are nearly identical. Both teams average right at 40 PPG and allow 20 PPG. Lebanon beat Camdenton – who beat Glendale (26-25) – and Glendale beat Rolla (30-26) who beat Lebanon. The biggest difference is how these two get their points. Glendale is trying to toss it all around the yard while Lebanon prefers to toss it as few times as necessary. If Lebanon is able to pound the rock and Cade Muscia and company are ripping off 4-5 yards a pop then forget it. It’s worth noting that the projected forecast is 39 with a minimal chance of rain. Lebanon has won the previous three playoff meetings and it’s easy to argue the Jackets play a brand of football that travels well this time of year. In the first meeting Cole Feuerbacher attempted just 18 passes. He’s been a monster when he’s on the field. If this Glendale defense – one of the best Glendale has seen under Mike Mauk – can limit Lebanon’s time of possession, this one could be a barn burner.
Class 5 District 6: Webb City (7-3) at Carthage (10-0)
The Story: Webb City has won 13 of the last 16 meetings overall and 4 of 5 in the playoffs
What to Know: Carthage handled Webb City 42-14 earlier this season. The Tigers have been the most impressive team in the Ozarks all year and I still maintain that junior Luke Gall has earned a two-way COC Player of the Year award, especially with Carthage running the table in the COC. Joplin is the only team that’s been able to stay within three touchdowns of the Tigers. But, none of that matters if they don’t win on Friday. I was at the game back in 2007 at Webb City, which was the last time Carthage beat the Cardinals in the playoffs. Since then it’s been 41-14 (2009), 55-20 (2013), and 42-21 (2020). Carthage’s ability to manage the stage and emotions will dictate if the Tigers will win their seventh district title in the last eight years, or if John Roderique will extend his district title streak to 22 (that’s not a misprint).
Class 4 District 6: McDonald County (10-1) at West Plains (10-1)
The Story: West Plains def. McDonald County 35-2 in 2020. The only previous meeting.
What to Know: What McDonald County has done has been incredible, with Kellen Hoover guiding the program to a school-record 10 wins. If Lamar didn’t exist, the Mustangs would’ve won a Big 8 championship. They’re also fortunate to have a senior QB in Cole Martin who has won a ton of games. But, they’re running into a buzz saw in West Plains. The Zizzers have scored at least 50 points six times this year, including each of the last four weeks. I’ve said several times that this team has as much top-end talent as anyone in the Ozarks, regardless of class. More importantly they seem singularly focused on getting over the hump. West Plains has won district championships in two of the last three seasons. In 2018 they lost to eventual state champion Ladue Horton Watkins and in 2020 they lost to eventual Class 4 state champion Helias by a touchdown (36-30). This group of seniors was in the program for both of those games. Matt Perkins and West Plains are on a mission, it’ll be interesting to see what Hoover and McDonald County can throw at them.
Class 4 District 7: Nevada (9-2) at Lincoln College Prep (11-0)
What to Know: Nevada has a tall task on its hands with LCP being undefeated and at home. However, there are some positive signs. For starters, LCP has only beaten two teams over .500 on the season. One was Class 2 Maryville (27-26) and the other was Class 3 KC Center. The Tigers under Wes Beachler have rebuilt the program in typical Beacher fashion; physical, run-first football. Nevada hasn’t met anyone – including fellow district finalists Lamar, Seneca and McDonald County – that could stop its rushing attack. Two years ago this was a winless program. Now they’re 48 minutes away from a district championship.
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Class 3 District 6: Seneca (7-4) at Mountain Grove (8-2)
The Story: Seneca won the only previous meeting in 2002 (28-14)
What to Know: Not a single player on the field Nov. 12 was alive the last time these two met, which was also a playoff game. Right now, there aren’t many teams hotter than these two. Remove Lamar, and Seneca has won four straight. Of their four regular-season losses, three teams are still playing. The Indians rallied from a 12-0 deficit on Friday to continue Cody Hilburn’s magical first season. Grove has won seven straight at this point, which includes a win over Thayer. They’ll also enjoy home field thanks to Seneca’s upset. The Panthers are fast and physical, with a true dual-threat at quarterback in junior Tyson Elliot and a home run threat in classmate Hollen Glenn. But Brandon Rogers also has a defense that hasn’t allowed more than two scores in a game since Week 3. It’s also worth mentioning that Grove’s two losses came at the hands of currently unbeaten Ava and Fair Grove. Grove hasn’t won a district title since 2015. Their season was ended by a Big 8 team in Aurora, the same Dawgs that Seneca just upset. The Indians haven’t won a district title since 2013. That year they made a run to the Class 3 state championship game after losing three regular season games. Back then they had a different Graham in the backfield.
Class 2 District 3: Liberty (8-3) at Ava (11-0)
The Story: Ava is 9-5 vs. Liberty since 2010
What to Know: These two are extremely familiar with each other but Ava has dominated the matchup lately, winning six of the last seven including a 59-24 win this season. Liberty’s lone win came in 2020 and it was in Ava. The Bears went unblemished during the regular season and were basically untouchable. A 49-7 win over Strafford on Friday night proved there was no bye-week rust. Liberty has won five straight including Friday’s 46-21 rout of No. 2 Forsyth. The Eagles are finally getting somewhat healthy and it’s at the right time. There’s a reason they’ve been back to putting 40 on the board every week. Their last two playoff meetings have been relatively close, this one should continue that theme.
Class 2 District 4: Fair Grove (11-0) at Lamar (11-0)
The Story: Lamar is 4-0 vs. Fair Grove with all four meetings coming in the playoffs
What to Know: This is a tough one. I’m confident in saying you could put Fair Grove in Class 3 and this is a state championship-caliber team. In fact, they beat Class 3 district finalist Mountain Grove 48-19 to open the 2021 season. Fair Grove is loaded on both sides of the ball, scoring 51 per game, allowing just 16 and boasting a talented and experienced roster led by dual-threat quarterback and all-time passing lead Kody Stacye. But this Lamar team is (still) a different monster. The four previous meetings between Lamar and Fair Grove were all blowouts – (42-14 (2009), 53-0 (2016), 61-0 (2017), 50-25 (2019) – and this team has been as dominant as any Lamar group. The Tigers have allowed just six points in their last three games and currently own wins over three teams playing for district titles. Jared Beshore has a group that earned a state championship last year and knows exactly what it takes to get back. They’re the top dog in Class 2 until someone in the class beats them… which locally only Ava has been able to do since 2010.
Class 1 District 3: Thayer (8-3) at Marionville (11-0)
The Story: Thayer won the 2015 postseason meeting
What to Know: This one is always intriguing because we’ve seen this script so many times where an undefeated team with a mostly Class 1 schedule meets a multi-loss Thayer team and gets beat with Pierce City and Miller being their most recent victims. This Marionville team is looking to avoid the same fate the 2015 group led by Jacob LaSalle met when they went 10-1 through the regular season and lost 53-21 in the district championship. Thayer has seen four teams that will play for district championships next week, two of whom are still undefeated. Marionville has seen none. The Comets lost to eventual Class 1 state champ Windsor last year, who could be waiting next week. To get there they’ll have to knock off the best team they’ve seen to this point of the season.
Class 1 District 4: Windsor (11-0) at Skyline (8-3)
The Story: Windsor def. Skyline 44-36 in 2020
What to Know: Skyline had to watch last year as the team that ended its season won a state championship. Windsor walked through the three best teams the Ozarks had to offer in Class 1, part of their current 26-game winning streak. The biggest difference between this year and last year is a strong case can be made that Windsor will be the fourth best team Skyline has seen this year. The Tigers went at it with Valle Catholic (10-0), Fair Grove (11-0) and Warsaw (9-2), with Valle and Fair Grove having legitimate shots to win state titles. The Tigers have always been able to throw it around, but Ricky Woodhouse also gives them some balance. The 50-12 win over Lincoln showed just how locked in this senior-led group is. Lawson Beem and company are hungry for this shot and that schedule allows them to host the game.