By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
As soon as time expired in Seneca’s 36-33 win over Lamar in week four, people were pointing to the potential rematch in the state semifinals.
Turns out, the sequel wasn’t quite as exciting.
The host Tigers scored four touchdowns in the first nine minutes and earned a dominant 56-14 win over the Indians on Saturday afternoon in Lamar – and a spot in Friday’s Class 2 state championship in Columbia.
“There is a little bit of satisfaction in being able to bounce back from a team that beat us earlier in the year, but I think I was just more proud of how our kids played,” Lamar coach Jared Beshore said. “It wasn’t really about the opponent this week, it was about knowing what we could do and challenging ourselves and playing to our full potential, which I think our kids did an outstanding job of.”
Lamar, 12-1, will face off with unbeaten Blair Oaks at 3 p.m. at Missouri’s Faurot Field.
Saturday’s semifinal pitted two 11-win teams, with Seneca a perfect 5-0 in road games and Lamar a perfect 6-0 at home.
The Tigers opened the scoring on a 48-yard touchdown run by quarterback Joel Beshore, with Jose Juarez adding the extra point.
After a Seneca punt from the 50, Lamar’s Ty Willhite took a first-down handoff from his own 31 and sprinted in for another score. Then Seneca punted again, and Lamar added a 15-yard touchdown pass from Beshore to Cameron Sturgell to make it 21-0 with four minutes left in the first quarter.
Austin Wilkerson was the next to score – he intercepted a Seneca pass at the 28 and trotted in for another touchdown less than a minute later.
“We came out and threw the first punch, which is what we always preach to our kids,” Jared Beshore said. “We came out and executed. Our kids were playing physical on both sides of the football, especially up front which I thought was kind of the key to the game. Couldn’t have asked for a better start. The kids were ready to play and very proud of how they started.”
Seneca tried to get back into it before the end of the first; keyed by a 44-yard Jackson Marrs run, the Indians drove to the Lamar 21 before getting stopped for a yard loss on a fourth-and-7 play.
Lamar led 35-0 after Beshore connected with Wilkerson on a 62-yard catch-and-run with 9:22 left in the half.
After that, Seneca marched to the Lamar 25 – after a pair of fourth-down conversions – but again turned it over on downs after getting stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-3. The Indians again came up short on a fourth down from the Lamar 37 on their first possession of the third quarter.
Wilkerson hauled in another touchdown pass from Beshore later in the third, this one for 30 yards.
Seneca got on the scoreboard on a 35-yard pass from Gavyn Hoover to Blake Hurn with 25 seconds left in the third. The Indians later scored on a 2-yard run by Hoover and added a two-point conversion from Roman Miller.
But Lamar got touchdowns from Cooper Haun (23 yard run) and Logan Kish (15 yard run) and also benefited from an Alex Wilkerson interception.
“Credit to Lamar, a really good football team,” Seneca coach Cody Hilburn said. “They did some good stuff today. I can tell you I love our kids, the character of our kids. They never quit fighting. It just didn’t go our way today.”
It was Seneca’s first appearance in a semifinal game since 2013, when the Indians finished as the Class 3 runner up.
“That’s what I tried to let our kids know at the end there, the process is still growing,” Hilburn said. “Credit last year’s group and our seniors now for getting us to that quarterfinal game and this year’s group for taking it a step further. And now that’s part of it, it’s next year’s group trying to get it one step more.”
Joel. Beshore completed 5-of-7 passes for 150 yards and added 78 yards on the ground. The Tigers rushed for 330 yards in the game.
Hoover was limited to 8-of-21 passing for 110 yards, and Seneca rushed for 129 yards.
“This is I think one of the best conferences in the state of Missouri,” Jared Beshore said. “It prepares you for playoff football. I don’t know if two Big 8 teams have ever met this deep in the playoffs but a very cool atmosphere. Got to have a bunch of local people involved in this game. It was a really cool atmosphere for our kids.”
Lamar is seeking its ninth state championship since 2011. The Tigers finished second a year ago.