Southwest Livingston High Wildcats in Another District-Title Game This Friday
Will host North Shelby again after 88-22 crushing of Concordia in district semifinal last Friday. SLHS Wildcats enter as state's highest-scoring team, averaging over 68 points a contest
- 2019 state runnerup Southwest Livingston in district-title game for ninth year in succession
- Wildcats senior quarterback Wes Hughes second in state in average yards from scrimmage, total TDs
- Southwest Livingston has numerous weapons despite likely injury absence of dangerous RB/WR Neptune
- Led by RB Jacob Lunsford, QB Stoneburner, North Shelby has had the past two weeks off
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
LUDLOW — Some time back, Southwest Livingston High School’s marauding Wildcats seemed headed toward a 2-weeks break between the end of their regular season and the start of their postseason playoffs.
Even though nothing changed in the ’Cats’ performance in the interim, altered circumstances in the 8-man football ranks around the state eliminated the need for a fourth round of district play in two districts (including Southwest’s District 2), leading to the Missouri State High School Activities Association axing it.
That erased a scenario in which SLHS coach Oren Magruder’s club comprised of students from Southwest Livingston, Hale, and Tina-Avalon schools would have sat idle from game play in the first two rounds of district competition.
However, in keeping with the vast oddities and incongruities of COVID-19-flummoxed 2020, while the Wildcats (9-1) had only the first week of district play off before suffocating Concordia 88-22 at home last Friday, their opponent in this Friday’s district-title game – the North Shelby Raiders – did, in fact, end up with back-to-back Friday nights off the past two weeks.
After originally-assigned District 2 members Braymer/Breckenridge and Keytesville/Mendon: Northwestern opted out of postseason competition, cutting the district ranks to seven teams, Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran had another flare-up of coronavirus issues at the end of the regular season, causing it to also pull out at the last minute. That left both the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds with no quarterfinals foe.
However, then early last week, No. 3 seed Norborne/Hardin-Central also became sufficiently victimized by the virus that it had to cancel its participation in the would-be semifinal at North Shelby (8-2). The forfeit moved the Shelbyville team into the district final/state quarterfinal without having played a down yet in the postseason.
That prospectively will change Friday at Ludlow when Southwest Livingston will welcome the Raiders for a 7 p.m. contest. It will be the Wildcats' ninth-consecutive appearance in a district-title game.
The 2019 state-runnerup Wildcats’ only loss of the year came in week four in an injury-impacted 40-36 loss in the last minute to 2-times defending state champion Mound City, which faded then during the second half of the season and has been ousted from the playoffs.
However, Friday’s foe also has significant sheen to its record. North Shelby’s losses were by two points in overtime at home to District 4 top seed and finalist Stanberry and 44-20 at District 3 top seed, finalist, and state No. 1-ranked North Andrew (11-0).
Southwest Livingston and North Shelby don’t have any common 2020 opponents, but they did square off at Ludlow last November in the district finals, too. The Wildcats also entered that contest with one loss and the Raiders with two.
Southwest won that very competitive game, 56-38, after trailing 20-16 after one stanza and 32-30 at halftime. Then-senior All-State quarterback Mack Anderson scored seven of the eight SLHS touchdowns on runs as he carried 32 times for 324 yards.
Afterward, Magruder said of his team’s 26-6 scoring advantage after halftime, “We didn’t do anything exceptionally different in the second half. We didn’t change the defense or anything like that. Our kids just wore them down.”
As for his assessment of the challenge NSHS’ Raiders will present Friday, the Southwest Livingston head coach told the C-T recently, “North Shelby is kind of a mirror image of us – not overly-sized, but a fast and physical team.
“They just choose to run the spread option offense instead of the ‘air raid’ (the Wildcats utilize).
“Coach Bass does a phenomenal job and their team plays very hard for him. … I know it will be a fast, physical game, just like it was last year.”
In terms of offensive weapons, North Shelby leans most heavily on senior quarterback Cale Stoneburner (6’1”, 170 pounds) and junior running back Justin Lunsford (5’10”, 170). However, juniors Carson Orr and Noah Greenwell also are utilized.
If it is able to move the ball on the ground, NSHS prefers that to passing.
Ju. Lunsford has over 1,100 rushing yards and Stoneburner over 900, according to stats posted online by North Shelby. Stoneburner has thrown only about 75 times for 600-plus yards with around 15 touchdowns and only one or two interceptions.
Defensively, linebacker Ju. Lunsford and senior lineman Jackson Lunsford (5’10”, 208), junior linebackers Kyle Smith and Landon Bender, Greenwell, and Orr are the top Raiders, in terms of tackles. Ja. Lunsford has 19 tackles for losses.
Stoneburner has a team-high four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the secondary.
Team-wise, North Shelby averages scoring 51.5 points, compared to Southwest’s state-leading 68.8 (SLHS played only two quarters in several games). The Raiders have allowed an average of 15 points, while the Wildcats have surrendered nearly 30.
While the graduated Ma. Anderson obviously won’t be in uniform for the Wildcats this time around, another 2019 All-Stater who, as a junior, was a key component of last year’s SLHS victory remains questionable or doubtful for playing in the rematch.
Wildcats standout senior running back/receiver/defensive back Chase Neptune remains troubled by a lingering injury. He has missed the last three games and, barring a sudden turnaround in his condition, might sit this one out, too.
In his absence, Magruder and his coaching staff have made tweaks to the offensive and defensive lineups which have proven effective.
On offense, Jaeden Sears, likely an All-State repeater as a lineman, is having his versatile athleticism and good size exploited now as a wide receiver at times and has made an impact there.
He also provides a running/passing option from the quarterback position at times after having projected to be Ma. Anderson’s successor there until senior Wes Hughes’ family moved back to the district from Illinois earlier this year and Hughes proved to be a highly-effective passer and runner that allowed Magruder to keep Sears on the formidable “O” line.
Now, on occasion, instead of making them, Sears is taking them with Hughes available for either handoffs or in a wide receiver’s role, helping fill the gap left by Neptune’s absence.
The senior-dominated Southwest Livingston offense has plenty of other weapons, as well, in running back Patrick Warren and wideouts Parker Keeney and Ethan Hoerr, allowing Sears still to provide interior blocking on many plays.
We. Hughes unofficially enters Friday’s game averaging the second-most yards from scrimmage of any 8-man player in the state at 376 per game and has had a hand in 61 Wildcats touchdowns as a passer or ballcarrier, also second-most in the 8-man ranks.
Warren is fifth in tackles with 120 and Sears is 12th with 101, three more than Greenwell’s NSHS-high total.
Following its single week off, Southwest Livingston cruised into the district-championship contest with its quadrupling of Concordia last Friday, which SLHS led 40-14 after one period and 64-14 at intermission.
Statistically, We. Hughes threw for 264 yards and six touchdowns on 13-of-18 accuracy, while also running for 101 yards and two scores on a mere five carries.
Sears threw and completed two passes for short yardage while snaring five We. Hughes aerials for 107 yards and three TDs.
Keeney led the receivers with 127 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions. Warren and Hoerr each had a rushing touchdown.
Hoerr also scored on defense, taking an interception back 61 yards. He was in on seven tackles – one behind the line of scrimmage, as well.
Warren led the tackling with 11, while Hunter Colliver participated in eight and Owen Oesch had two tackles for loss – one a shared sack – among his five stops. We. Hughes picked off an Orioles aerial, as well.