Tigers fall to seven-time defending state champions in district title clash

To be the best, you have to beat the best.

Versailles had an opportunity like that Friday night when the Tigers visited a Lamar team that has cemented itself as one of the top Class 2 programs in the state with seven straight state championships. Playing in its first district championship game since 2009, Versailles showed some fight but Lamar showed it may very well be on its way to an eighth title with a 51-28 win over the visitors in the Class 2 District 4 championship.

“If you are going to win it all, you have to play them at some point,” Versailles coach Broc Silvers noted. “As a team, getting here was the first step in our program. Would I have loved to win? Absolutely, but we wanted a shot and we took a good shot.

“It was still an unbelievable experience for our kids to be in this game and hopefully we get back and have another shot next year.”

Versailles took a couple of shots early on, actually, and they landed. 

After a rough start where Lamar recovered the opening kickoff on the Versailles 19-yard line and scored three plays later on an 8-yard touchdown run, the Tigers answered right back. Starting on its own 20, Versailles methodically moved the ball down the field in chunks, converting a 4th-and-3 play on a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Coby Williams to senior receiver Wyatt Espinosa and a 4th-and-1 play on a Williams’ quarterback draw. It eventually culminated in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Williams to junior receiver Brayden Morrison to tie the game back up after Versailles ate nearly seven minutes off the clock.

On the ensuing drive, Lamar fumbled a pitch on its second play at the Versailles 46-yard line and senior defensive back Colbey Boicourt pounced on the loose ball to set his team up in good field position. The Tigers were unable to take advantage on their next series with a three-and-out and Lamar responded with a 17-yard touchdown run on its next possession, but the Tigers answered the challenge once again. 

This time, senior running back Michael Trotter provided a spark with a 57-yard run on the first play. With Versailles facing 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line after Espinosa nearly came up with a touchdown reception, Silvers asked Williams to channel his inner “Cam Newton” (quarterback of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers) and jump over the top with a quarterback draw. Williams did not disappoint as he did just that to tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter against the defending state champs.

Unfortunately for Versailles, that is when Lamar found its groove. Taking advantage of two straight three-and-outs from Versailles, the hometown Tigers scored a touchdown on their next three drives to build a 35-14 lead by halftime. The first was an 80-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, but it was no big secret what Lamar was going to do offensively either. Behind a fairly sizable offensive line that Silvers estimated to average 265 pounds, Lamar bulldozed ahead to score on runs of 24 yards and 16 yards respectively to close out the first half.

“We had to grab everyone, cut them down and that makes it really hard on the linebackers. It’s not how you want to play football, but when you are 200 pounds or 185 pounds against 295, you don’t have a choice,” Silvers said of the defensive strategy. “It’s not like you get to recruit or draft or do any of that stuff so we had to do what we could. At times, it helped us out and sometimes it clogs up a hole. We knew we were going to have to score a ton of points to be in this game because their offense was so dynamic and we came up short on that end.”

And Lamar did not skip a beat with the first drive of the second half, marching 63 yards to finish off another touchdown drive with a 3-yard run to extend the lead to 42-14. On the ensuing drive Versailles marched to the Lamar 34-yard line, but came up empty once again. Lamar came back with its final touchdown of the night, courtesy of a 15-yard run and a 27-yard field goal in the fourth concluded the offensive output. Lamar finished with 482 rushing yards on the night while passing for just 25.

Versailles did not go quietly, though, with two more touchdown drives in the fourth. Trotter created a spark once again on the former drive that led to a 15-yard touchdown strike from Williams to Espinosa. The latter featured a 30-yard launch from Williams to junior receiver Dallas Waller who came down with the ball  in the middle of the end zone as Lamar defenders closed in. Silvers offered some praise for Waller who was not the same receiver who dropped a few passes in the season opener at Knob Noster.

“Dallas came out and I saw him mature from day one,” the coach remarked. “He could have had a couple of touchdowns against Knob Noster and I thought, ‘Oh man, there goes his confidence.’ He kept building it every week… and in the El Dorado Springs game he had two humongous catches and one of them, I don’t know how he caught it. He has great hand size and strength and if we don’t have him, maybe we don’t win a couple more of these ballgames.” 

Ultimately, it may be just one sign of good things to come. Silvers also commended the freshmen who were asked to play scout team and simulate Lamar at practice in the snow the night before and it is the little details like that can add up and eventually pay off in a big way. Despite the changes in playoff format over the years going from 16 district champions to eight, it was just the second time in school history that Versailles was playing football in the 12th week of the season. The coach drew a comparison to this game with that of Blair Oaks in week four to see how much his team improved since then and he liked what he saw against another fairly successful opponent as both programs head to the state quarterfinals.

“It was going to take a perfect game for us to stay with them (Lamar) neck-and-neck and if nothing else, we gave someone else a blueprint on how to have some success,” Silvers said. "It is going to take a team that is huge and more physical to be able to beat them or can outscore them like a Blair Oaks. They are a great ball club, they’re solid and they game planned for us really well.

“But I was proud of our kids. We took our best shot at them with what we had and they (Versailles players) got to hold their heads high, I am. Yeah, we would have liked to win that ballgame, but I’m proud of how we represented Versailles.”

Trotter led the Tigers with 138 of the team's 210 rushing yards and Williams added 70 yards of his own and a score. Williams also connected on 12 of his 29 passes for 138 yards and another three touchdowns. Waller had the biggest day for the receiving corps with six receptions for 66 yards, Espinosa finished with five catches for 50 yards and Morrison hauled in his lone catch for 22 yards.

On the defensive end, Trotter looked to keep his team fighting with a team-leading 21 tackles of which three came in the backfield.

Moving forward, Silvers and company want to maintain that reputation. After going winless in his first season in charge of the program six years ago, Versailles steadily improved to the point where the Tigers finished 7-5 for their first winning season since 2010. The coach emphasized that no team is ever the same year after year and that consistent success does not fall upon any one particular class or upcoming class in the future. 

“We have a great group of juniors right now, but what can we do after that group?… The question is going to be if we can maintain five or six wins on a down year. That is when you have a program like Lamar and you don’t have to win a title every year to have a great program,” Silvers posited.

“If we are ever going to build a contender, we are going to have to do it year in and year out so it is not just one group of kids that is going to do this… There are a lot of those young guys where everyone wants to talk about one group of kids, but it is not. It is going to take a bunch, the eighth graders moving up and to just keep building this program to where it can maintain itself. That is the goal.” 

But the bar was certainly raised this season as the program turned a corner. Silvers said there will be a little bit of time off to reflect and a Thanksgiving meal in the near future, but then it will soon be time to get back to work in preparation for 2019 and the coach has some optimism for the immediate road ahead.

“With this group of juniors, we have a shot and they can take us a lot of places. We are going to need to get some more guys in the weight room and I think this team can have an even better year next year and trump what we did this year,” Silvers stated. 

“But we are going to go right back to work and now the bar is set even higher for this program. These kids put us there.”