Big 8 showdown in Monett
State-ranked Mountaineers, Cubs to battle
One of the biggest games in southwest Missouri on Friday will be hosted at Burl Fowler Stadium, as the state’s No. 7 Cubs and No. 8 Mt. Vernon football teams will do battle.
Last season, it was Monett (2-0) that twice got the better of the Mountaineers (2-0), including a 44-28 victory in the district championship game.
Friday’s tilt will go a long way in determining district positioning and seeding.
“It’s safe to say that Mt. Vernon is the fastest team that we will face to this point in the season,” said Derrek Uhl, Monett coach. “You look at their roster, and they have a lot of guys that were there last season. They have a good running back and some guys that can catch the ball.”
Two key losses to graduation, quarterback Garrett Hadlock and receiver Jarrett Massie, have slowed the rebuilding process at Mt. Vernon, as the duo combined for more than 3,000 yards of offense last season.
This season, the Mounatineers have relied on their defense and running back Sammy Robinson to carry the load.
In Mt. Vernon’s season-opening win against Reeds Spring, the Mountaineers scored 21 points with defense and special teams play.
Last week, they ground out a 16-14 win against Springfield Catholic, scoring twice in the last four minutes of the game, including kicking the game-winning field goal with five seconds remaining.
“Really, in both of our games, we played well at the beginning and at the end,” said Tom Cox, Mt. Vernon coach. “We haven’t put everything together yet. We’ve been able to ride the momentum when we have it.”
For Cox and his Mountaineers, the improvement of receiver Ethan Johnston, along with the continued growth of quarterback Ty Boswell, have eased the stress of graduation loss.
“Offensively, we haven’t put up big [stat] numbers,” Cox said. “Boswell has thrown a few interceptions, but I’ve told him that when you are a team that likes to throw the ball, you will have incomplete passes and interceptions.”
While Cox declined to release his team’s season stats for this article, Matt Turer, who covered the Catholic game for The Joplin Globe, reported on Twitter that Boswell was 12-for-25 passing for 123 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. He also carried the ball seven times for 27 yards.
Robinson gained 67 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown. Chance Fenton led the receivers with four catches for 41 yards.
As the Mountaineers turn their attention to the Cubs on Friday, Cox said one thing always stands out about Monett — offensive line play.
“I was privileged to be on Coach Uhl’s staff for the Sertoma All-Star game in the summer,” Cox said. “You can tell Uhl has a great grasp on the game and concepts. He does an amazing job with the offensive line, and you see that on Friday nights. This season, their line play has been great the first two weeks.”
Cox said his defense has to be up to the task.
As for the Cubs, they see Mt. Vernon’s speed as the biggest obstacle. Uhl said if the Mountaineers get the edge, they can score from anywhere.
“Defensively, we have to take great angles to the ball,” Uhl said. “Last week, our defense got to the ball carrier and improved on our tackling. You can’t simulate game speed in practice, but when we have a chance to make the play, we have to make it.”
Keys to the game
• Defense, Defense Defense
Both of these teams’ defenses have overshadowed the offenses in the first two weeks. Look for a low-scoring game Friday as both teams ratchet up the pressure. In this contest, 14 points may be enough to secure a win.
• Win the turnover battle
Last year during the regular season, the Mountaineers killed themselves with turnovers. Boswell is still finding his rhythm throwing the ball, and look for Monett to get greedy if they force him to throw. The Cubs’ running backs held onto the ball last week, and ball security must still be a priority.
• Block out the noise
This game is huge in its importance in the conference standings and district seeding race. Players need to forget about that, forget about the state ranking and just go play the game. The team that is more loose and relaxed on Friday will win.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.