Big plays spark Osage football past Eldon in district opener

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
Osage senior receiver Drew Elley celebrates his 32-yard touchdown catch against Eldoni n the Class 3 District 5 playoffs on Friday, October 30, in Osage Beach.

Sometimes, the best recipe for a winning formula is to simplify things and stick to the strengths. 

School of the Osage hosted rival Eldon for a rematch in the first round of the Class 3 District 5 playoffs Friday night and it was a game that mirrored the previous meeting between the two rivals on September 11. The Mustangs carried some momentum to the half, only to see the Indians surge and pull away after the break. 

This time, the result was a 49-16 win to send Osage to the district semifinals. 

“At halftime, our adjustment was we are just going to simplify it again and let’s do what we do. We are going to run the ball, do some quick passing plays and just do what we do,” Osage coach Devin Johnson said.  

“Our guys responded very, very well and honestly, the last two times we have played them it has been like that. It has been a battle at the half and in the second we were kind of able to run away with it a little bit. I adhere a lot of that to the tempo and style that we play and just being able to wear them out.”  

Part of that credit can go to Osage’s offensive line, known as the “Blackfoot”, and they certainly made their presence felt Friday night allowing ball carriers to get yards in chunks while keeping junior quarterback Brockton McLaughlin upright throughout the evening. Hanging on to a 14-10 lead at halftime, the Indians quickly scored 35 unanswered points in the third quarter with five straight scoring drives. 

“The ‘Blackfoot’ has been money all year, offensively. We are a team who can score points and put up some yards and we’ve been able to do that” Johnson said of the unit. “A lot of that is because of them and we are very fortunate because those five guys don’t start on defense. We get to make adjustments on the fly between each series, which a lot of teams are not able to do.  

“They’ve done a great job and Eric Hood and Brockton McLaughlin, that is a pretty good ‘one-two’ combo behind it,” the coach added of his running back and quarterback who combined for five rushing touchdowns.

McLaughlin got started with a 10-yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive drive of the game and he also found senior wideout Drew Elley for a 32-yard touchdown pass up the seam to give the Indians a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. 

But it was not all smooth sailing for Osage. 

Eldon freshman Jace Roberston blocked a punt at the start of the second quarter that resulted in a safety for the Indians and the Mustangs came right back on the ensuing drive and drove 46 yards before freshman quarterback Hunter Hees finished the series with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Senior running back Mason Kirkweg ran in the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 14-10 as the Indians could not get much going the rest of the half.  

“In the second quarter we just kind of of get in a little bit of a lull and some of it was bad playcylling on my end,” Johnson stated. “We put in some new stuff this week we thought looked good and it was probably more than we needed to and over-coaching a little too much.” 

That certainly was not a problem the rest of the way. 

On the second play of the second half, McLaughlin found junior receiver Keigan Vaughn across the middle of the field for a 68-yard touchdown pass and it set the tone the rest of the way. 

“Our passing game can definitely be a big threat. Especially with our offensive line, I can have plenty of time in the pocket,” McLaughlin noted. “Our receivers do well to go and catch the ball so I think we’ll be pretty good overall.”  

The Indians came right back with Hood as the sophomore added a pair of touchdown runs from 34 yards and 38 yards, respectively, and McLaughlin added two more touchdown runs of his own from 11 yards out and 56 yards out to wrap up the scoring. 

“This year is probably one of our best ‘Blackfoot’ years. I mean, we have two 6-foot-5 tackles who are over 290 pounds,” McLaughlin said of his protectors. “The first half we just threw the ball too much, went back to the basics and realized that the running game was going to work pretty good against them.” 

Osage scored its first three touchdowns of the second half in just five plays and while Eldon coach Chad Hult was certainly willing to give the opponents some credit, he also pointed to his own defense for making that feat a little easier.

“They did a great job and played extremely hard,” Hult said of Osage, “but we had a lot of mental mistakes and you cannot win football games that way. 

“It is momentum and we talk about that all the time in high school kids. It is always the momentum factor and we just did not execute. We had a lot of blown assignments allowing people to run down the field untouched.”  

It was quite a different story for the Osage defense.  

On the third play of the game and Eldon’s first passing play, sophomore defensive back Hunter Graber pulled down the first of two interceptions on the night to set the tone as the Indians allowed just one more scoring drive after the second quarter, a 2-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Krystopher Shepard to to start the fourth quarter.

“We just came out with some heart and played some football,” Graber said of his team’s defensive efforts.

Osage forced a trio of three-and-outs and got other key stops along the way as well including turnovers on downs that halted Eldon in Osage territory at the 6-yard line and 33-yard line while there was another play on Eldon’s first drive of the second half where Hees was stopped one yard shy of a first down on 4th-and-5 at his own 34-yard line.

“You start to wear a team out and it works on both sides of the ball. Offensively, you are still a little bit tired and we’re fresh,” Johnson said of his defense. “We start a lot of sophomores on defense and they are growing up. Every week they are getting better and I thought they took a big step in the right direction this week. Jackson Funderburk played very well and was all over the football. Riley Newton is a senior who is getting better each and every week. 

“That goal line stand brought our confidence up a ton defensively,” Johnson added of the stop that took place at his team’s own 6-yard line on after a play action roll out pass fell to the ground. Eldon originally had the ball at the 1-yard line on 4th-and-goal before an illegal shift penalty set the ball back five yards. 

“To know that we can make big stops in critical moments because that has kind of been our ‘M.O.’ (method of operation) to get beat on third downs and fourth downs.” 

Eldon’s season comes to an end at 2-6 overall after the Mustangs previously saw two of their regular season games cancelled due to COVID-19. Hult was glad to see his guys see it through until the end in unprecedented times. 

“I’m proud of them, especially those senior guys. You always want to send them out with a win, but only one team gets to win the last game each year and unfortunately, we are done right now,” the coach said. “Extremely proud of those guys and it is a season like no other. There is no playbook for this year and they did a great job of sticking through it and doing what we asked them to.”  

Hult also will point to these seniors should better times be ahead for this program down the road. 

“They’ve been extremely important to the program and that is what I told those guys, there is nothing to hold their heads about,” the coach continued. “Once it gets turned around and we start winning more football games again, they are instrumental in that. Great leadership, great kids and I could not be more proud of those guys.”

And there may be some reason for optimism down the road, too, as the coach pointed out how many young kids got valuable experience on the gridiron. As the Mustangs begin the work to prepare for 2021, Hult wants his players to remember this night. 

“Remember this feeling right now,” he said. “This bad feeling at the end, that is one you got to remember to make sure you don’t get it again.” 

Osage (4-6) will be making a trip to top seed Buffalo (7-2) next week for the district semifinals with kickoff scheduled for Friday night at 7 p.m. The Indians won’t waste too much time preparing. 

“We are just going to have to start watching film this weekend preparing on what we are going to see,” McLaughlin noted. “Just have a really good week of practice and come out really strong on Friday and try to get the win.”