Eldon Mustangs, Versailles Tigers, Osage Indians and Camdenton Lakers

Keys to the game for Versailles and Eldon

The battle for Highway 52 bragging rights will be on the line Friday night when Versailles (1-6, 1-4 Tri-County Conference) meets its neighbor Eldon (1-6, 1-4 Tri-County Conference) on Friday night at 7 p.m.

Versailles tasted victory for the first time in 2019 after knocking off neighbor Osage last week 34-13 and will be eager to keep the good times going on home turf. Meanwhile, Eldon was unable to keep up with a Boonville team ranked seventh in the Class 3 media poll after week six, falling 56-26. However, the Mustangs picked up their first win just a week prior by beating California and would love nothing more than finishing the season off strong with complete Lake area bragging rights by knocking off neighbors Versailles and Osage.

Versailles won last year’s meeting between the two longtime foes by a final score of 41-24 for the team’s first win over the Mustangs since 2010. Whether Versailles can begin its own winning streak or Eldon can add to its recent success in this series will soon be decided on the gridiron in another edition of the “Friday Night Lights.”

VERSAILLES KEYS

1. Stay hungry

The first win of the season feels satisfying for any team, especially after an 0-6 start. Staying in the win column would obviously feel even better and that is why Versailles needs to stay hungry in order to keep enjoying the sweet taste of victory. Coach Broc Silvers has noted that everything his team has done all leads up to the week Class 2 week 10 playoff game where the Tigers will be fighting to keep their season alive and finishing the regular season on a three-game win streak would not only give Versailles momentum, but also help the team’s final district seeding where a finish in the top four guarantees one playoff game at home. There were a lot of good things the Tigers can build upon from the win over Osage as multiple players made key contributions. Stay hungry and the Tigers may quickly forget the struggles of those first six games.

2. Mix It Up

One of the best things about Versailles’ win over Osage last week was the fact that three different players caught a touchdown pass and two different players recorded an interception. In other words, it was a team win and not having to rely on one or two players for production is a wonderful asset to have on the offensive side of the ball as it keeps defenses guessing. The Tigers face and Eldon defense currently giving up 46.6 points per game and one thing that has hurt the unit is giving up big plays with yardage coming in bunches, including 302 rushing yards to Boonville last week. That bodes well for a number of Versailles playmakers. Returning senior All-State quarterback Coby Williams is at 1,380 passing yards and 11 touchdowns through the air with another 764 yards on the ground (5.1 yards per carry) and 13 more touchdowns. Senior tailback Jordan King has added 197 rushing yards (3.5 yards per carry) and there are quite a few weapons in the passing game. Senior wideout Dallas Waller leads the unit with 67 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns while senior wideout Brayden Morrison is at 19 receptions for 208 yards and three scores and junior wideout Michael Bell is at 16 receptions for 157 yards and a score. There are 10 different receivers who have registered at least one catch as well and if a good number of them can make some positive contributions, the Tigers should be able to move the chains.

3. Stop The Run

There are not too many big secrets when it comes to Eldon’s Wing-T offense that implements a heavy run scheme. Silvers, who was once an assistant at Eldon, knows the run is coming and the true test for the Tiger defense will simply be being able to stop what they know is coming. The Mustangs have not made it easy for opponents, averaging 305.1 yards and 21.1 points per game, and perhaps the two biggest threats are sophomore quarterback Dallas Hardy and senior fullback Kaden Dillon. The duo have accounted for 73 percent of the team’s 1,940 rushing yards and all but three of the team’s 20 rushing touchdowns. The Mustangs have totaled just 196 passing yards so forcing Eldon to go to the air and get out of its comfort zone is essential. To do so, the battle has to be won in the trenches and Versailles had a number of nice defensive stops in the win over Osage. Senior linebacker Quinn Randall continues to lead the way with 58 total tackles including 6.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles and his leadership will be called upon once again.

ELDON KEYS

1. Finish Strong

Eldon has been presented with its fair share of challenges over the course of the 2019 season, but the Mustangs now have an opportunity to finish the year off strong with a pair of wins over Versailles and Osage to claim Lake area bragging rights and move to the playoffs with momentum. A strong finish to the regular season will require some strong finishes within each game. Eldon certainly knows what it takes after outdueling California two weeks ago in a 44-36 win that required big plays from all four quarters. The Mustangs were on the right path once again last week against Boonville, exchanging the lead in the first half a few times with the Pirates before the visitors derailed things in the second half. So, Eldon just has to get back on the right track and set the right tone for the rest of 2019 by putting pressure on Versailles to make plays the whole night. Getting healthy should help with that goal as the team has recently dealt with the flu bug.

2. Control The Clock

The beauty of Eldon’s offense when it is successful is that it allows the Mustangs to dictate the tempo and control the game. Nothing is more demoralizing for a defense than a team simply being able to run the ball through the heart of it and Eldon has the players to make it possible against a Versailles defense giving up 411.7 yards per game (including 8.2 yards per rush) and 45.3 points per outing. Dillon continues to lead the charge with 791 rushing yards (6.4 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Hardy is at 617 rushing yards (6.4 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns while junior running back Braydy Hill has reached 247 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and two scores. Eldon actually has five players who have crossed the century threshold on the ground with the team averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry and keeping the ball out of the hands of athletic playmakers on Versailles’ offense will be key. Senior receiver Nathaniel Wardenburg (two receptions for 56 yards) and junior tight end P.J. Bledsoe (three receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown) are nice options in the air if Eldon can sneak behind the Versailles defense.

3. Contain The Quarterback

Eldon will be tasked with stopping a dual-threat quarterback in Williams who has led the Tiger offense to 341.7 yards and 25.7 points per game. Williams has accounted for 90 percent of his team’s offensive yards and has played a part in all 21 of the team’s touchdowns so slowing him down will be vital for the Mustangs to come out with a win. It does not help matters that Williams also has the luxury of some athletic receivers to go to, but if he is free to run around as well it simply just makes things that much worse. The quarterback has also thrown eight interceptions so if the Mustangs can find a way to apply some pressure and make the quarterback uncomfortable, the team will have a chance. Another big threat Eldon will have to contain is Waller who has 48 more receptions and 551 more receiving yards than any other Tiger. Dillon, Eldon’s leading tackler at linebacker, and the rest of the Mustangs will have to be quick from sideline to sideline and force Versailles to grind out long drives.

School of the Osage to face another solid test in battle with Blair Oaks

The grind of the Tri-County Conference is a tough one.

The top four teams have a combined record of 23-5 and the Indians (2-5, 1-4 Tri-County Conference) will be facing perhaps the toughest conference opponent of them all when unbeaten Blair Oaks (7-0, 5-0 Tri-County Conference) comes to town Friday night at 7 p.m.

The Falcons are currently the top-ranked Class 3 team in the state and for good reason as the team currently averages 41.7 points per game and is giving up just 10 points per contest. Blair Oaks has given up a total of just 14 points in the past four weeks and have posted two straight shutouts including last week’s 40-0 win over Southern Boone.

“They are really good,” Osage coach Devin Johnson simply summarized of the defending Class 2 state champions.

Osage will have to quickly get back on track coming off a tough 34-13 loss at Versailles where the Indians had put together a number of solid drives, including six that ended up fruitless in Tiger territory.

“We just have to finish plays and series. We moved the ball well offensively,” Johnson said after Friday night’s defeat where the team coughed up four turnovers. “Critical turnovers at the wrong time and a couple of miscues here and there. It weighs on you and it takes two or three to finish a game.

“It was just us not doing what we have to do to win a game.”

The good news is that the Indians have personnel who have shown sparks all season of what the team is capable of and a healthy balance of the run and the pass will be key for the team to find some momentum and consistency in moving the chains against a tough Falcons defense. Osage currently averages 12.7 points per contest.

Senior quarterback Drew Edwards is up to 804 passing yards to go with six touchdowns and interceptions and young sophomore quarterback Braden McLaughlin threw the first touchdown pass of his career on a 19-yard strike to senior wideout Logan Havner.

Speaking of Havner, the senior is up to 31 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns as the team’s current leading receiver of the 2019 season. If he is healthy, senior running back Jack Dulle has added a solid eight receptions for 127 yards and two scores, fellow senior running back James Hutchcraft has totaled four receptions for 108 yards and a score and senior wideout Matthew Hans has hauled in 11 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown as well.

Hutchcraft continues to lead Osage’s rushing attack with 536 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. Edwards has put together 155 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns and Dulle had also reached the century mark with 106 yards (3.5 yards per carry) before his injury.

On the other side of the ball, Osage must absolutely win the battle in the trenches at the line of scrimmage. Hutchcraft (62 total tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks) is currently the top tackler at linebacker and senior defensive lineman Rudy Escobar is not too far behind him with 42 tackles including three for a loss and a team-leading six sacks. Those two certainly set the tone for an Indian defense giving up 27.6 points per game and if they can help lead this defense and make Blair Oaks have to grind out long drives, the opportunity to spoil a perfect Blair Oaks season should not seem out of reach.

For Osage, the process continues to remain the same as Johnson looks to have this club consistently improving on the road to the first playoff game in week 10.

“Same way we always do,” the coach said Friday night. “We’ll watch film Sunday and we’ll have our weekly preparation and structure we’ll stick to and continue to improve.”

Time will soon tell if Osage has what it takes to rebound and defend home turf.

Camdenton coming back home with plenty of momentum for showdown with Rolla

There is plenty for Camdenton football fans to be happy about.

The Lakers not only remain unbeaten at 7-0 on the season, but have shown plenty of resolve in the two occasions the team was tested. Camdenton made key plays down the stretch in a 37-34 overtime win against West Plains earlier this season and that resiliency was on display once again Friday night in Springfield as Camdenton erased a late touchdown deficit against Glendale and put up two touchdowns in the final few minutes to walk away with a 50-42 win and keep the unblemished record intact.

“We had an exciting ballgame last Friday. Players did a great job of overcoming some bad breaks,” Camdenton coach Jeff Shore said. “They kept playing hard and ended up winning in an exciting finish.”

Now, the team is one step closer to an Ozark Conference title and one step closer to being the top seed in the Class 4 District 5 Tournament where the Lakers would get to play all their games at home. Camdenton remains the top seed with 51.81 points ahead of second place Lebanon (47.64) and the Lakers close out the regular season with two home games. Play the cards right and the team ranked third in the latest Class 4 statewide media poll may get to enjoy a five-game home stand through the district playoffs and into the Class 4 state quarterfinals.

Up next is Rolla (3-4) who comes to Bob Shore Stadium Friday night off a 43-7 loss to Lebanon.

The Bulldogs are currently averaging 22.4 points and giving up 32 points per outing. At its best, Rolla tends to opt to the run behind the legs of leading rusher Colton Franks who is one of six Bulldogs that have crossed the century mark on the ground this season. Quarterback Jack Hounsom is capable of throwing the pigskin, though, and Issac Hunter is the team’s top receiving threat.

“Rolla beat our last week’s opponent Glendale so we are prepared for a good ballgame this Friday,” Shore stated. “We are looking forward to playing at home and hopefully putting together a long home stand if we can keep winning.”

Glendale runs an offensive scheme very similar to Camdenton’s and it certainly presented the Lakers some challenges last week as big chunks of yards in a hurry can quickly change the numbers on a scoreboard. The Lakers have shown plenty of discipline against the run, though, and one need not look any further than the 28-0 shutout of a state-ranked Lebanon team that largely relied on that plan of attack offensively.

Camdenton currently allows an average of 14.6 points per game including 94.4 yards on the ground and 136 yards through the air. The “Purple Haze” defense is led by returning senior All-State linebacker Ryan Maasen who has registered 52 total tackles in 2019 including seven tackles for a loss and 3 1/2 sacks to go with an interception and forced fumble. The unit has been good about disrupting the backfield with an average of 8.2 tackles for a loss per game including three sacks per contest. Continue that trend Friday night and the Lakers will be pleased with the outcome yet again.

A solid defensive outing will certainly compliment an offense that has not been under too much pressure to produce all season. Camdenton is currently averaging 406.1 yards and 51.7 points per game and has shown no signs of slowing down, scoring no less than 28 points in any of the first seven games.

With some good pass protection up front by the “Hogs” on the offensive line, returning senior All-State quarterback Paxton DeLaurent has kept the wheels of this highly-efficient offensive machine turning as he is now up to 2,178 passing yards and 30 touchdowns on the season with just five interceptions. He has also scrambled for another 149 yards and four more scores on the ground.

Junior wide receiver Cooper Ezard and senior wideout Jase Nicklas had big games against Glendale as the former hauled in 11 receptions for 141 yards and the latter caught eight passes for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown against the Falcons with 55 seconds left.

Through the first seven games, Ezard has hauled in 10 of DeLaurent’s touchdowns with 46 receptions that have totaled 565 yards. Meanwhile, Nicklas is at 45 receptions for 702 yards and seven scores, senior Jadin Faulconer is at 19 receptions for 231 yards and seven touchdowns and senior wideout Talon Randazzo has totaled 19 receptions for 205 yards and three touchdowns respectively. There are seven different Lakers who have caught a touchdown pass overall and nothing has really slowed down this group just yet.

On the ground, Faulconer has filled in nicely as a running back in place of the injured Eli Griffin as the senior has tallied 190 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The Lakers hope to get the junior back soon as Griffin compiled 82 rushing yards and two scores on the ground in three games to go with 13 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in the passing game.

Camdenton was able to cruise by Rolla 56-13 a season ago and if the Lakers resemble any of the play that has led to a 7-0 start in 2019, the unbeaten mark has a very good chance of remaining that way. The Ozark Conference clash is set for 7 p.m.