Aug. 19, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- Five weeks from this weekend, some teams across Missouri will be 0-5.

In 10 weeks, some poor souls will be 0-10. At that point, at least, they'll be out of their misery.

Heck, in two weeks --- and before we even reach Labor Day --- some players on some teams will have lost interest after starting 0-2.

But oh my, opening night in high school football, there's nothing quite like it.

There's that warm buzz that comes with it, seeing the teams decked out in game gear, seeing the bands, the cheerleaders, even the referees --- until your team is called for holding.

Baseball's opening day is our most beloved debut in sports, for it marks the end of a long, cold, lonely winter. Flowers are in bloom, hopes are high, the Twins are still mathematically alive ... and a hot dog has never tasted so good.

Because really, how many hot dogs do you actually eat during the winter?

The NFL, of course, has the last say in our football season, which will draw to a close just seven short months from now. But it's high school football that has the honor of kicking off this grand sport each season, the sport we've grown to love.

Baseball is still our national pastime, to be sure, but football is our national passion.

Teams around Missouri opened the season Friday night. Some kids may have just been excited to wear the cool uniform on game night for the first time, and look for mom and dad in the stands. Or if they're lucky, their girlfriend.

Other players had slightly higher aspirations.

But every player and every team had energy, every player and every team had hope ... some just had a lot more hope than others.

There are those teams, after all, that hopes to win. It's all they have. Then there are those teams who thinks it will win. But what you really want is one of those teams that knows it will win.

Right now, in the middle of August, I'll take Webb City and give you the Class 4 field. How many players can you actually name on Webb City's roster? Same here. Does it matter?

You just know.

Certainly, it's hard to read too much into what happens in a football game during the Dog Days of Summer.  Still, it can you give you some idea.

For several of our local teams --- and if Friday night was any indication --- you can't wait for the next chapter, because this was a good read. For those teams who started 0-1, there's always next week.

There is, however, only one opening night. And there's nothing quite like it.

JEFFERSON CITY 38, McCLUER NORTH 0

AT ADKINS STADIUM, the Jays did what they do --- beat the Stars.

Jefferson City improved to 11-0 all-time against McCluer North --- one of those wins dates back 28 years, a 53-0 rout in the 1988 state championship game --- and beat the Stars for the ninth straight year in the season-opening rout.

Damarion Nelson-Winston scored on a pair of 1-yard plunges in the first seven minutes of the first quarter, which ended on an interception by Mason York. York's pick set up a 34-yard touchdown strike from Gunnar See to Dennis Barnes, before Maleek Jackson's 22-yard field goal made it 24-0.

That was the score when a lightning delay was called at 7:55 p.m., with 5:08 left in the first half. The game resumed shortly before 9 p.m. and when it did, it was more of the same.

Rashaun Woods' 6-yard run with 38 seconds left in the half made it 31-0 and --- after an abbreviated five-minute halftime break due to the lengthy delay --- the Jays coasted from there.

Corey Suttle's fumble recovery in the end zone with four minutes left in the third quarter bumped the final margin to 38-0 and kick-started the running clock, which helped this one speed to the finish.

The Jays preserved the shutout with a late defensive stand as time expired.

HANNIBAL 19, HELIAS 14

AT HANNIBAL, the start of this game was certainly better than last year's opener at Hannibal, when the Pirates belted the Crusaders into a staggering 35-0 halftime deficit.

In this one, the first two drives of the game were staggering in their own right --- they stretched two minutes into the second quarter.

First for Helias, quarterback Chandler Luebbert's 1-yard surge capped a 14-play, 76-yard, six-minute drive to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead.

Hannibal then chewed nearly eight minutes off the clock on its initial effort, as Trevor Watson's 7-yard dash finished off a 15-play, 80-yard march to tie it.

That was the first of three touchdowns in the second quarter for the Pirates, and that proved to be the difference. The other scores were supplied by electric, All-State running back Shamar Griffth, who ran 28 yards for a touchdown, and also turned a short pass from Watson into a 74-yard score to make it 19-7 at the half.

With 2:41 left in the third quarter, Jacob Storms made great move, reversing his field to scamper 27 yards and get Helias with 19-14.

But that's where it ended, as the Crusaders' last-ditch drive ended on downs at their own 29 with 80 seconds left.

BLAIR OAKS 34, KIRKSVILLE 0

AT WARDSVILLE, the Falcons jumped to a 14-0 lead in the opening five minutes against the stumbling Tigers, who went winless last season and have now lost 21 of their last 22.

Jake Van Ronzelen dashed 52 yards for a touchdown with 8:33 left in the first quarter for the Falcons' first touchdown of the season. After a three-and-out, and just 83 seconds later, Cody Alexander returned the ensuing punt 62 yards to paydirt to make it 14-0.

Some offense, some special teams, and plenty of defense. The Falcons forced six turnovers, including two fumble recoveries by Justin Cobb.

Sophomore quarterback Nolan Hair --- younger brother of last year's starter, the dynamic Jordan Hair --- finally put the Falcons back on the scoreboard in the final three minutes of the third quarter. Twice.

First, he scored on a 2-yard run, before tossing an 8-yard pass to Van Ronzelen to make it 28-0 after three quarters.

Hair made it a three-peat with his 34-yard touchdown toss to Brayden Pritchett with 7:54 left to end the scoring.

As festive as an opening night can be, this one certainly ended with a somber tone. Kirksville junior Braden Smith suffered a neck injury late in the third quarter and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. The severity of his injury isn't known at this time.

Prayers go out to Braden and his family.

UPDATE ON BRADEN SMITH

Smith has been released from the hospital and has regained feeling in all of his extremities, although he's still feeling some weakness, according to Kirksville head coach Conrad Schottel. The "most likely" diagnosis is a spinal cord contusion, Schottel said. Smith is scheduled to meet with a neuro surgeon later this week.

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at loefflerslink@hotmail.com.

There's just nothing quite like

high school football opening night

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