Nov. 29, 2018

WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- Blair Oaks busted down a door Saturday they hadn't been able to figure out the last three years.

One quarterfinal loss and two semifinal losses --- but that semifinal win sent the Falcons back to the state championship game for the first time since 2012.

Frustration to elation.

Lathrop busted down a door they hadn't been able to figure out since ... well, forever.

Some Mule players may have had some postseason frustration, but it wasn't these players. It was frustration felt by their grandparents.

It was a semifinal loss that dates back 47 years, a 1971 setback to Tarkio that was the only semifinal appearance in school history for Lathrop prior to this year.

Certainly, there must be elation at this school and town of 2,000 located 38 miles north of Kansas City. It's just a very different kind of elation.

Now, these new kids on the block will take on one of most established programs in Missouri the past 20 years, as Blair Oaks (14-0, ranked No. 1) will collide with Lathrop (14-0, No. 3) for the Class 2 state championship at 3 p.m. Friday at Faurot Field.

Biggest game of the year, obviously, but the approach remains the same.

"It's pretty simple --- 1-0," said Falcons coach LePage, who was doing his sixth interview of the day after Wednesday's practice. "We started the season with Maryville and all we talked about was 1-0 that week; we've never wavered off that, and the players have never wavered off that. We just want to do what it takes to win the next game.

"That's a beautiful thing."

What a beautiful season it's been for the Falcons and their fans, a Green Dream come true.

"It's been great," said senior Nolan Atnip, who's been a stalwart on the defensive line all year and wreaked havoc on Lutheran North in the semifinals. "But we're not done yet, we have another game to finish."

And what a game it should be, as these are two teams who have bludgeoned their way to the title game.

^ The Falcons have outscored their opponents 745-128 and have had only one game decided by single digits, that coming in the season opener against Maryville, 38-35.

^ The Mules have outscored their opponents 697-107 and likewise, have had only one game decided by single digits, last week's 28-21 win over seven-time defending state champion Lamar.

We can't let that pass without further comment --- seven-time defending state champion.

"You don't win seven in a row by chance," LePage said. "You win seven in a row by coaching your butt off and at the same time, they've had great players. They set a standard that I don't think you'll ever see again in high school football in the state of Missouri.

"So that was a really, really great win for Lathrop."

These numbers are also worth noting:
^ The Falcons' opponents finished this season with a record of 81-79, but two of those wins were against winless California. Blair Oaks also played a schedule that was littered with Class 3 schools.

^ The Mules' opponents finished 92-69, but several of the wins were against Class 1 schools.

Still, just getting through Lamar is enough to open eyes.

"They play with great discipline, they don't make mistakes and they have great speed," LePage said. "They're not very big, they remind me a lot of ourselves. But they play with incredible heart and they're incredibly fast at every position.

"You may not assume they're fast, but they are."

This may be a slight edge for the Falcons --- they took part in a 7-on-7 camp this summer at Faurot Field, so those players know the setting. And they faced some stout competition when they were there, including Trinity Catholic and Cardinal Ritter, teams that will meet for the Class 3 state title Saturday.

This will be the third consecutive run-heavy team the Falcons will face. But all season, they've taken all comers and styles of play and, for the most part, punished them.

The improvement has been easy to notice, LePage said, since Day One.

"Oh my gosh," LePage said. "We watched the Maryville game again, because Lathrop's coach (Chris Holt) had been at Maryville, and this team does a lot of the same things. Every week, we've just kind of climbed the ladder and a lot of that has to do with the approach these players have taken.

"They're so unselfish. The coaches have come in each week and asked them to do this much more and they're like, 'Okay, let's do it.'"

Driving the bus is senior quarterback Nolan Hair, who's been remarkable this season --- 46 touchdown passes, no interceptions.

"First of all, he's a tremendous young man," LePage said. "He's very coachable and he has the humility it takes to play quarterback, because the quarterback has all the arrows pointed at him. Everybody sees them. But every week, he's come back and is trying to do better than he did the week before.

"Nolan is extremely accurate and I think our run game has really helped him this year. We've rushed for almost 2,800 yards and thrown for a little over 3,000, so we're pretty balanced. Teams have to commit more guys to stop the run and with Nolan's accuracy ... "

After a pause and a smile, LePage continued his thought.

"I told Ben (Thomas) and Brayden (Pritchett) and Marcus (Edler) before the year started that your catches may go down this season," LePage said, "but your yards and your touchdowns will go up. And after this last game, Ben and I were laughing about it on the sidelines and he's like, 'You were right.'"

Blair Oaks will dismiss school at noon Friday so all involved can enjoy the festivities.

One to go.

"You can definitely see a big difference in the emotion everybody has (at school)," Hair said. "I mean, the teachers are excited, everyone's excited. The players are excited, too, but we just have to keep the same emotions that we've had in all the other games."

That's easier said than done, especially when you consider ...

"This was always a childhood dream to be in the state championship," Hair said, "and now it's coming true. It's just amazing, it almost sounds too good to be true.."

Believe it, Nolan. Now, this wonderful Green Dream is down to one, final chapter.

The Blair Oaks Falcons go through workouts during Wednesday's practice at the Falcon Athletic Complex. After the final practice of the season Thursday, the Falcons will meet Lathrop for the Class 2 state championship at 3 p.m. Friday at Faurot Field.

Loeffler's Link

One to go: Blair Oaks set to clash

with Lathrop for Class 2 state title