Southwest, Marceline at home, Hamilton on the road, all facing challenging assignments

The three high school football district-championship games (not including Chillicothe’s) on tap for area teams this evening (Friday, Nov. 15, 2019) seem to split evenly between one squad being a clear-cut – but not top-heavy – favorite, one a heavy underdog, and one in a game that could go either way.
In 8-man ball, Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon will welcome North Shelby to the field at Ludlow for what projects as the toughest game to identify the most-likely victor.
In Class 1 11-man competition, Hamilton: Penney will visit substantial favorite Mid-Buchanan in the District 7 title clash, while Marceline will host Sweet Springs/Malta Bend with the District 5 laurels on the line.
Southwest Livingston (9-1) had expected to face North Shelby’s Raiders (9-2) after the Shelbyville school, by far the northeasternmost Missouri school playing 8-man style, stunned previously-unbeaten passing powerhouse Pattonsburg/Gilman City/North Harrison 92-88 – the highest-scoring game in Missouri football history, 8-man or 11-man – in week eight.
However, when North Shelby apparently let down the next week, it was knocked off by Orrick, allowing the Bearcats to claim the district’s No. 2 seeding ahead of NSHS and forcing the Raiders to play a quarterfinal game.
That proved to be an inconvenience at most, though, as North Shelby pummeled Braymer/Breckenridge a second time before hammering home its superiority over Orrick last week with a 54-6 shellacking at Orrick.
Even though Southwest’s Wildcats will be at home and the Raiders make the approximately-2-hours bus ride, the area co-op club looks to need to play at a higher level than it has any time this season to advance to next week’s state semifinals – where it presumably would have a rematch of last year’s district final with Pattonsburg, et al.
The Wildcats’ best win of 2019 unquestionably was its shocking 58-34 week four triumph at Mound City, last year’s state champion. However, Mound City was without one of its top returning players that week, taking a bit of the shine off the Southwest Livingston accomplishment.
By defeating Pattonsburg/Gilman City/North Harrison, North Shelby unexpectedly showed its ability to play – at least offensively – with 8-man’s elite in 2019. The Raiders’ only loss prior to the first Orrick clash was to an Iowa team in the season’s opening week.
Having decimated Stewartsville for a second time in its postseason opener last week, Southwest Livingston should be physically and mentally fresh for this one. North Shelby, on the other hand, will need to show it can play at a high level in back-to-back games – a test it failed in the regular season’s last two weeks – after being keyed up to avenge its prior loss to Orrick. Making a second long trip in a row might also negatively impact the freshness of the Raiders.
If Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon does get past North Shelby tonight and Pattonsburg/Gilman City/North Harrison avenges its state semifinals loss to Worth County – neither of those a sure thing by any measure, a rematch would occur at Ludlow a week from tomorrow, this time with a berth in the Nov. 23 state-championship game at stake. If Southwest and Worth County claim the district crowns, their contest would be at Grant City because WCHS’ Tigers will be on the road tonight.
Hamilton (6-5) will have a double rematch tonight and will require a different ending to the third go-around in the past 13 games to extend its 2019 season.
On a cold Saturday afternoon at Hamilton last November, the Hornets, who had edged Mid-Buchanan in overtime during the regular season, kept battling from behind until they caught the Dragons at 21-21 early in the fourth period.
However, just when it seemed the playoffs-tested home team had seized the momentum, then-freshman quarterback Javon Noyes and his MBHS teammates – particularly the Dragons’ wide receivers – emphatically refuted that claim. Scoring three touchdowns in the last 10 minutes, “Mid-Buck” emerged a clear-cut winner, 41-21.
Ousted in a 14-13 heartbreaker in the state semifinals the next week, Mid-Buchanan (10-1) has been considered all of this season as a state title contender, since it has virtually all of its key weapons still around, including the stumpy, but elusive and speedy, Noyes.
Hamilton certainly can’t dispute the  Dragons’ potential, not after last year’s playoffs loss and this year’s 35-0 week five whipping that was called at halftime because of both a thunderstorm-produced lightning interruption and the one-sided score.
It probably doesn’t help the Hornets’ chances any that Mid-Buchanan is coming off a tougher-than-expected test from its in-county rival East Buchanan last week. That likely has the Dragons refocused.
In this season’s first Hamilton/Mid-Buchanan game, the Hornets managed only 14 net rushing yards and less than 100 total yards, while the Dragons ran for over 260 and passed efficiently for 80 more.
The silver line for Hamilton might be that it had similar difficulty running the ball against Plattsburg, last week’s district semifinals opponent, when they clashed early in the regular season, then shredded the Tigers for over 300 a week ago.
It might not take a perfect game for Hamilton to turn the tables on the Dragons in tonight’s game at the school at Willow Brook, but something close to perfect – as well as Mid-Buchanan being off-form – could be required.
Should Hamilton score the upset, it would host a state quarterfinals game a week from Saturday if the foe is South Harrison. If Putnam County, the No. 5 seed in District 8, upsets No. 2 South Harrison, the Midgets would have the right to play at home against either Hamilton or “Mid-Buck.”
While Marceline (10-1) rates as a favorite over Sweet Springs’ Greyhounds (8-3) – particularly after how the Tigers ran over Carrollton last week, the Saline County foe can’t be summarily dismissed.
Sweet Springs, which has a co-op agreement with Malta Bend, has lost only to good-quality opponents, all of which posted at least eight victories this season. Two of those three are in district finals tonight themselves, including last year’s Class 1 state runnerup Lincoln (11-0) and Windsor (9-2). While the loss to Lincoln was a blowout, the Greyhounds fell to Windsor only 38-30 in the season opener.
Marceline’s lone loss, of course, came in its Linn County rivalry classic “Bell Game” to Class 2 Brookfield in week three. While Brookfield’s record ended up poor, the Bulldogs were better than their record indicated as they played a mostly-Class 2 and Class 3 slate.
While MHS and Sweet Springs had no common regular-season opponents, when the Tigers took on and defeated Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran 48-14 in their playoffs opener, tonight’s combatants  gained one. Sweet Springs routed St. Paul Lutheran 54-6 in the second game of the season.
Having the big home crowd behind them at Chester Ray Stadium tonight should add a bit to the Marceline edge, but the Tigers probably will get all they want from the Greyhounds and will need to be at the level they were against Carrollton a week ago, if not higher, to move on to the Class 1 quarterfinals.
Should MHS prevail, it would get to host next Saturday’s game, if Brentwood captures the District 6 crown. If Marceline and South Callaway – Chillicothe head coach Tim Rulo’s former school – are the quarterfinalists, their game would be at Mokane, since South Callaway is visiting Brentwood, a St. Louis suburb, tonight.