Short of a state championship game, it may not get much more exciting than an opportunity to go win a district title against a rival.

Short of a state championship game, it may not get much more exciting than an opportunity to go win a district title against a rival.

That is exactly what unbeaten Camdenton (11-0) will get a chance to do on Friday night when the top-seeded Lakers host third-seeded Lebanon (9-2) in the championship game of the Class 4 District 5 playoffs.

“We are just going to keep doing what were are doing, play even harder, get ready for them in practice and give 110 percent all the time,” Camdenton senior Talon Randazzo said after

his team knocked off the fourth seed Washington Blue Jays 56-7 in the district semifinals last week. “Love being under the lights, the wild crowd and best student section ever. Could not ask for more.”

Camdenton and Lebanon spent the entire season ranked in the weekly Class 4 statewide media poll with Camdenton finishing the regular season ranked second in the state, only behind Webb City, while the Yellowjackets finished sixth. The Lakers visited Lebanon earlier this season on October 4 and pitched a 28-0 shutout to win the Highway 5 trophy. That was also the last time Lebanon lost a game as the Yellowjackets have comfortably won five straight including last week’s semifinal at second-seeded Helias Catholic by a final score of 43-13.

The tale of the tape suggests a good one should be in store. Camdenton is scoring an average of 49.7 points per game and the defense is giving up 14.3. Lebanon is scoring 40.4 points per outing and allowing 14.2. The score of the previous meeting may have been a little lopsided, but the game was actually a little closer than it may appear.

Camdenton had 16 first downs to Lebanon’s 14 and produced just 61 more yards offensively than the Yellowjackets. It was a 7-0 game at halftime and 13-0 after the third quarter until the Lakers ran away with it in the fourth. The “Purple Haze” defense of Camdenton made a goal line stand on the opening drive of the game and forced two turnovers to stump the offensive rhythm of the rival.

Camdenton senior quarterback Paxton DeLaurent finished 21-35 for 173 passing yards and a touchdown in that game while junior wideout Cooper Ezard led the receiving corps with eight catches for 79 yards and a score. Senior receiver Jase Nicklas was also fairly productive with eight caches for 43 yards in the winning effort and junior receiver Jadin Faulconer added 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground while senior fullback Ryan Maasen did the same on two rushes for 13 yards.

The Lakers are hoping to get a similar kind of output for round two and the good news is that the team has continued to play like an unbeaten top seed. The 28 points Camdenton scored against Lebanon remains the lowest point total the team has put up so far this season, scoring no less than 35 points in any game since. Meanwhile, defensive starters have pitched three straight shutouts and have given up just one offensive touchdown in the last four games.

The strength of Washington (9-2) was the running game and Camdenton showed plenty of discipline in its district semifinal win over the Blue Jays allowing just 174 total yards, including 132 on the ground, while scooping up three fumbles. Lebanon is also a run-heavy team and unless the Yellowjackets have a few tricks up the sleeve or completely revamped the offense, the Lakers will need to have a similar kind of performance next week in stopping the run. In the previous meeting, Lebanon rushed for 200 yards while passing for just 39 more, attempting just seven passes the entire night. “We kind of look to see what they are doing if they put any wrinkles in to get ready for and see what changed up from last time,” Camdenton coach Jeff Shore said of the upcoming matchup. “We’ll just keep working and try to do the best we can to stop them on defense and do the best we can to score.”

Scoring is something Camdenton certainly knows how to do well.

DeLaurent completed 25 of his 31 passes for 376 yards and six touchdowns in the win over Washington. In doing so, he increased his season totals to 3,412 yards, 48 touchdowns and just six interceptions with a 68 percent completion percentage. He also rushed for 43 yards and is now up to 230 on the season to go with another five touchdowns.

“I thought Paxton played really great tonight. I thought he made some really great decisions and I thought our receivers blocked really well tonight,” Shore said of his quarterback who managed to hit targets in tight windows and mostly remain elusive to Blue Jay tacklers. “The guys up front, our ‘Hoggies,’ blocked well too and did a nice job protecting ‘Pac.’ We were clicking tonight so it was good. We are going to have to be clicking next week to move on.” 

Senior receiver Antione Lockhart led the Camdenton receiving corps with five receptions for 99 yards against Washington and has emerged as a key target over the past few weeks with 18 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Senior receiver Collin Thomas caught five passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns against Washington, senior receiver Jase Nicklas added a 44-yard reception and Faulconer hauled in three catches for 40 yards. Randazzo had a fairly nice night as well if six receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns is any indication.

A total of eight Lakers registered at least one catch and it just so happens that eight different Lakers have over 100 receiving yards on the season while 11 have caught at least one touchdown pass.

“It is just having trust with Paxton. I mean, we have a lot of key players,” Randazzo said. “Cooper, Jase, Collin and Jadin- you just have to get wide open and he hast he trust for all of us.”

Ezard continues to lead in receptions and touchdowns with 62 catches for 749 yards and 12 scores. Nicklas leads in yardage with 56 catches for 830 yards and seven scores, Randazzo has 36 catches for 392 yards and eight touchdowns, Thomas has 28 receptions for 395 yards and six scores and Faulconer is at 25 receptions for 335 yards and seven touchdowns to round out the top five.

Faulconer is also relied upon in the ground game with 38 carries for a team-leading 253 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He filled in for an injured Eli Griffin and the junior tailback will be a welcome addition if he can return to the fold soon. Through the first four games of 2019, Griffin was at 92 rushing yards (4.6 yards per carry) and two scores on the ground to go with another18 receptions for 156 yards and a score through the air before his injury. Senior Ethan Harris got to enjoy his first rushing touchdown in last week’s win as his first carry of the season went 22 yards to the house. When Camdenton needs some tough yardage, Maasen has answered the call with four touchdowns on just nine carries for 28 yards.

Maasen is also key on the defensive side of the ball as the returning All-State linebacker leads the team with 68 total tackles, of which 8 1/2 have resulted in a loss and 3 1/2 have gone for sacks. He also has an interception and a forced fumble and recovery as well. He is not alone in his efforts either as senior defensive lineman Cort Petty leads the Lakers with 13 of the team’s 35 1/2 sacks in 2019 and Nicklas has five of the unit’s 14 interceptions. Camdenton has forced 40 turnovers overall and is averaging 8.1 tackles for a loss per game.

Put it all together with a complete game from start to finish and and Camdenton may just find itself back in the Class 4 state quarterfinals next week with its 28th district championship in program history.

Camdenton Superintendent Tim Hadfield says that the hallways have been abuzz this week with students clearly ready for this game. In his position for a decade, he says that anytime these two teams come together, it brings the community together along with it.

With the anticipation of a large crowd, Hadfield says that they are well aware of packed seats and that they will plan accordingly. They may even bring out an extra set of bleachers to meet demand. Either way, he says that this district championship matchup should be special.

“We know this will be a big game and the school is ready for it,” Hadfield said.

Kickoff for round two of the Highway 5 showdown is set for 7 p.m.