One team began the season losing its first four games, but has rebounded by winning three of its last five. The other team was coming off a Class 3 quarterfinal appearance and won its first five games, but has dropped three of its last four. Both teams are Spartans and both Richmond and Moberly will claim the final playoff spot from District 14 when they meet at Tom Adams Field Friday night.
Richmond felt it had a chance for the district title last week, but fell short at Boonville 20-13. Although his Spartans won the statistical battle, and did a good job of battling back coach Rob Bowers said the few mistakes were costly.
“Its been a year where we don’t have a huge margin for error, so when we do make a mistake, it’s big for us,” he said. “Every penalty we had Friday put us in a long yardage situation. We didn’t react very well to it and struggled with pass protection. We gave up a lot of sacks and that would just compound the error. We have to do a better job of not letting those things snowball on us and putting us in bad situations.”
Although returning just four starters on offense and two on defense from last season’s 11-1 team, Moberly was the preseason pick to take the NCMC. They started out with five wins, but ran into a buzzsaw and a 41-14 loss to Hannibal – sending them into a three-game slide that did not end until a touchdown in the final minute lifted the Spartans past Odessa 27-20 last week.
Moberly Coach Jason Ambroson, a former offensive coordinator at William Jewell, said injuries took its toll on his team.
“We’ve had a lot of guys banged up with injuries at different times and it’s kind of killed our continuity and maybe shook our confidence a little bit,” he said. “We just kind of got in a rut and didn’t play very well. We didn’t deal with the injuries very well and weren’t making the plays we did earlier in the year.”
Ambroson feels his team is back in stride. Despite the injuries, the balanced Moberly offense has been productive – led by junior quarterback Kris Cupp, who has battled back from a concussion suffered in the Hannibal game. His favorite target is 6-6, 215-pound senior wide out David Tooley, who is being eyed by a lot of colleges. Running backs Brock Sisco and John Dixon run behind a line featuring three all-conference players in Kyle Stoecklein, Terrell Graves and Brett Hopper, who average 260 pounds.
“They’re completely balanced,” Bowers said. “They’ve got a big receiver who they throw to a lot, and they run out of the one back and spread it. They’re huge up front so that will be a challenge for us to get pressure on the passer. They have real tight line splits and use zone running plays so it will be a challenge for our defense to stop both.”
The Moberly 3-3 stack defense is led by linebackers Hayden Berry, who leads the central Missouri area in tackles, and Issac Carter. Bowers said it will be important for his team to be able to move the ball on the ground.
“If we can’t run the ball against them without making them bring people back into the box it will make it tough for our offense,” he said. “If we can run it and pass it and keep them guessing what we’re trying to do, we have a better chance to be successful.”
Ambroson feels the Richmond offense has improved as the season has gone on.
“Watching them on video, I can tell they are awfully talented and have some kids who play really hard,” he said. “They have some really good skill possession players coming out of their ears and good speed on the perimeter. I was impressed with the whole group of kids.”
Bowers is proud of the way his team has fought back and has a chance to make the postseason.
“It’s been a little frustrating and a year of missed opportunities,” he said. “We felt like we had a chance to be district champions, but we didn’t get that done. It’s important for us to finish strong, especially on senior night. We can’t change anything that has happened, but we can start building from here.”
Friday night’s winner will advance to sectional play on Wednesday at the home of the District 13 champion.