Three Postseason-Veteran C-T-area High School Football Squads will Play District-Title Games Tonight
Southwest WIldcats will host North Shelby in 8-man state quarterfinal for second year in row. Marceline rematches with guest Harrisburg and Hamilton visits Princeton in 11-man action
- Southwest-North Shelby clash at Ludlow is repeat of 2019 district finale
- Hamilton: Penney in district-title round for 13th year in row; Southwest in 9th-straight appearance
- Marceline looks for second win over Harrisburg in three weeks
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Some time back, Southwest Livingston High School’s marauding football 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 instead will have SLHS coach Oren Magruder’s club – comprised of students from Southwest Livingston, Hale, and Tina-Avalon schools – hosting a North Shelby Raiders which has had the last two Friday nights off in tonight’s (Friday, Nov. 13) 7 p.m. District 2 title game.
The 2019 state-runnerup Wildcats’ only loss in 10 games this 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 has significant shine 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 obviously the graduated Ma. Anderson 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.
In the district finals for a ninth-consecutive year, Southwest Livingston is after a second-straight trip to the state semifinals.
If it advances to next week's semifinal, it either will host the Bobcats of Drexel/Amoret: Miami or travel to Archie to face the Whirlwinds.
Drexel/Miami is the District 1 No. 1 seed and has not lost a game on the field (its season-opening win subsequently was ordered forfeited for use of a not-yet-eligible player). It whipped second-seeded Archie 43-6 on Oct. 2, but Archie reportedly was without several players – presumably in quarantine – on that occasion.
The C-T plans to have photographic coverage of the Southwest Livingston-North Shelby game online over the weekend and in next Wednesday's next print edition.
Whether heavily-favored or perceived underdog, it seems there’s never any denying Hamilton: Penney High School’s football Hornets a berth in the state playoffs.
Four times state champions during the run, the Hornets (8-3) last Friday advanced to the postseason’s round of 16 – the district finals in the current iteration of Missouri’s state-title-deciding playoffs – for a 13th-consecutive year by dominating Class 1 District 7 No. 1 seed South Harrison 40-28.
That triumph helped set up an unlikely district championship game this evening at 7 o'clcok. The Penney High team will travel to Princeton to play the third-seeded Tigers (8-2), who shocked host second seed Milan 42-36 with a fourth-period rally last week after losing to the Wildcats 39-8 during the regular season.
“They are playing well,” Penney High head coach Caleb Obert says of Princeton, which defeated South Harrison late in the regular season.
The winner at Princeton almost ceertainly will host undefeated Mid-Buchanan in next Friday's state quarterfinals. "Mid-Buck," which rolled over Hamilton 63-6 in KCI Conference play at the MBHS field at Willow Brook in midseason, is expected to turn back in-county and KCI Conference rival East Buchanan at home tonight.
Also set for a crack at another district championship tonight is Marceline (9-1) which will host Harrisburg (8-3) for a second time in three weeks in District 6 action.
Third seed Harrisburg earned the second crack at the defending district champs by emphatically reversing its 24-22 regular-season home loss to Westran with a 46-8 blowout on the road last Friday.
Mostly-underclassmen Marceline crushed Harrisburg 56-8 in its regular-season finale, taking the ball away from the Bulldogs seven times. With an offense with the ability to be as balanced as it needs to be and a strong defens, the host Tigers are a clear-cut favorite to move on to the state4 quarterfinals against the District 5 champ next week.
If top-seeded Adrian defeats Sweet Springs in the District 5 title game tonight, the Marceline-Harrisburg winner will host the quarterfinal contest.