In some ways the Higginsville Huskers and Boonville Pirates football team mirrored each other in 2011.
While the Pirates dropped their opening game last year against the Pleasant Hill Roosters 27-16, the Huskers also fell in the opener against the Concordia Orioles by a score of 28-26.
Boonville and Higginsville also put together a nice little winning streak last year. While the Pirates win streak stretched to 10 before losing to Osage in the second round of the state playoffs, Higginsville managed to take its win streak a little further by reeling off 13 straight. The Huskers also made a trip to the "Dome" in St. Louis, where they fell in the championship game against Lamar 42-19.
Fast forward to the 2012 season, where things haven't changed much for the Huskers. In the season opener last week, Higginsville pretty much dominated Concordia while leading 35-0 at the half en route to a 48-6 victory. As for Boonville, they fell last week on the road against the California Pintos 18-7.
With five starters returning on both sides of the ball from last year, head coach Steve Cook said four of those players were all-state in 2011-two on offense and two on defense.
"The other six players not counting the five starters returning from last year, I feel could have started their junior years with any football team in the conference," Cook said. "They had a lot of talent in front of them and just had to continue to be JV players."
Cook said the game last week against Concordia got ugly in a hurry. While running a total of 25 plays with the varsity team, the Huskers still managed to put up some pretty good numbers with 102 yards rushing and another 155 passing for a total of 257. As for the defense, Higginsville was pretty good there as well while holding Concordia to a net 96 yards while recovering two fumbles for touchdowns and picking off an interception for another touchdown.
"We scored three defensive touchdowns and four different players score offensive touchdowns," Cook said, "so we spread the ball around well. The defense also flew to the ball really well so I was pretty proud of that effort. And then with the varsity running only 25 plays, we practiced in full pads on Monday because we weren't very sore from the game. We should be fully rested going into the game Friday night against Boonville."
Senior quarterback Adam Reid sure made the most of the opportunity last week for the Huskers while completing 7 of 9 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back Cottry Lewis, meanwhile, rushed only nine times for 67 yards and one touchdown while senior receiver LJ Williams hauled in four passes for 89 yards and one touchdown.
On the defensive side of the football, junior linebacker Landon Figg led the Huskers with eight tackles while Ian Gash and Marcus Elmore added six and five tackles, respectively.
Cook also knows about the rivalry between Boonville and Higginsville. As the defensive coordinator from 2000-2006, Cook said the make-up of the two teams has really changed since then. He said back in the day the Huskers were running double-tight, splitback veer similar to what Boonville is running now and Boonville was more of a spread at that time. But now, he said they are a spread team and Boonville is more of an option team so the make-ups have kind of switched around a little.
"I am glad to get Boonville back on the schedule and rekindle that battle a little bit," Cook said. "We are very similar programs right now as far as size and all that stuff, so I look for it to be a pretty good matchup. We just want to get down there and try and get our work done and get home."
Of course the Pirates could have something to say about that. Despite being out-gained 382-233 in the loss last week against California, the Pirates led 7-6 after three quarters of play before giving up 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to suffer the loss.
Boonville also had the ball in the red zone three times against California with nothing to show for their efforts.
Boonville football coach Devin Brown said there were some good spots for the Pirates. "I wanted to see how we competed and we did," Brown said. "I thought for 2 1/2 quarters we played really well and then we kind of got a little tired, nothing like last year, and then we kind of laid down a little bit and they were able to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. We have to be able to finish. The penalties were a good thing, though. Last year we had a lot of penalties and last Friday we had only two, so that was a big thing. It just seem like when we got down inside the red zone we exhaled and let our breath out. That's when you really get tough and stick it in. But like any first game, we had bright spots and then we had dead spots, especially in the second half."
The Pirates are also developing a pattern on offense. In three out of the last seven games dating back to last year, Boonville has been held to seven points or less.
As for the offense this year, Cook said when Boonville gets in a Pro-I they have a really strong runner in senior Kelsey Callaway.
"When he is given daylight we are going to have to be sure tacklers," Cook said. "We are stressing to get to the ball and tackle well. I am also impressed with the speed of Damario Walker on the outside. As for their defense, they are a 4-4 stack and seem to fly to the ball well. They also have good size on defense across the board. Really they are a lot like us in that they start nine players on both sides of the ball, which is very similar to what we have to do.
"The key every week for us is to protect the football and create turnovers. We were able to create five turnovers last week and my freshmen team fumbled the ball once at the very end of the ballgame and kind of let us down there a little bit. We scored three times on defense so that's what we look to do. We want to win the turnover battle."
As for Higginsville's offense, Brown said they have four skilled guys back from last year. He said their quarterback is a great athlete and then they have two running backs and a receiver that they get the ball to, and they can run.
"Up front they are pretty solid and obviously the team went to the dome last year," Brown said. "They are pretty balanced. They will throw the ball and then they will run the ball so you have to be able to do your assignment because they will try a lot of zone-option read and then they will run the Utah like Mizzou with a bubble screen off of it. Everybody has a job to do and be sound on Friday.
"We have to keep their spread guys from breaking long runs and that means no explosive plays. When I say that we are talking 15 yards or less on an explosive play and everybody rallying to the ball. We can't arm tackle like we did a little bit last week. We have to wrap up and take these guys to the ground."
As for Higginsville's defense, Brown said they have a lot of players going both ways as well. While running a 3-3 stack, Brown said they will send their linebackers or somebody on almost every play. And when they do, Brown said the offense has to be very sound up front.
"The offensive line has to know who to pick up and when," Brown said. "In that kind of defense they are going to set you sometimes and sometimes they are not. You just have to be sound and just keep playing because sometimes it's going to be a negative play and then sometimes we are going to break loose a little bit and get some big plays."
Brown said the key offensively for Boonville will be up front. He said when you have missed assignments up front, they are going to have good plays on defense.
"We just have to be able to block those guys and maintain those drives, and this week inside the 20 we have to score. We just want to go out and play our best on Friday and win the football game. I will be surprised if we don't play better."
Although the two teams haven't played since 2007, the Huskers won the last-two meetings by the scores of 19-16 and 28-22. Boonville's last win against Higginsville came in 2055 by a score of 27-12. However, in 2004, the Huskers won that game by a score of 20-19.
Brown said playing at home gives the kids energy and hopefully that will help them play good and get the victory.
The Pirates could use a "W" after dropping their opening game last week against a district opponent. While competing in the Class 3 District 6 playoffs this season, Boonville was one of five teams to suffer a loss in Week 1. Centralia currently leads the district at 1-0 with 33 points, followed by California at 1-0 with 31 points and Macon at 1-0 with 22 points. Centralia defeated Highland 33-6 while Macon upended Palmyra 24-22.
After Centralia, California and Macon, Chillicothe is fourth at 0-1 with 19 points, Southern Boone fifth with 7 points, Boonville sixth with minus 1 and Fulton and Missouri Military Academy both at 0-1 with minus 3 points.
Chillicothe fell last week against Marshall 26-25 while Southern Boone lost to Kirksville 51-22. Osage also defeated Fulton 50-14 while West Hancock in Illinois turned back MMA 53-8.
In games this week in the district, California host Mexico, Centralia will host Palmyra, Fulton will host Versailles, Southern Boone will host Father Tolton, Boonville will host Higginsville, Chillicothe will play at Palmyra, Macon will play at South Shelby and MMA will play at Van Far.
On an individual note last week, senior Kelsey Callaway led all rushers for Boonville with 11 carries for 76 yards. Callaway also scored the Pirates only touchdown last week after stripping California's ball carrier of the ball in the second quarter and running it in for the score from 37 yards out.
Junior quarterback Jacob Francis, meanwhile, completed 7 of 18 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Damario Walker had three catches for 75 yards to lead all receivers.
As for the defense, senior linebacker Jalen Poindexter had 10 solo stops and six assisted tackles for a total of 16. Junior Tyler Peterson had eight solos and four assisted tackles for a total of 12 tackles while Kelsey Callaway and Dakota Meyer each had nine total tackles.