The 2013 Spartans unofficially is the fourth football team in Moberly school history that has went through the regular season unscathed, winning all nine of its games heading into the state playoffs. The last program finding such success was the 2007 Spartans who also won a North Central Missouri Conference football championship en route to reaching the Class 3 state quarterfinals only to finish with a remarkable 11-1 record.
Although Class 4 fourth-ranked Moberly is outscoring its competition by an average score of 41 to 13 while piling up more than 400 yards of total offense, their success primarily has been attributed to the Spartans defense.
As defensive coordinator, Tony Stoneking and the rest of the coaching staff has put together a scheme making it a relentless, aggressive unit that has generated 20 turnovers putting Moberly in the plus 15 in that department. The Spartans defensive has collected 17 quarterback sacks, thrown ball carriers for a loss 61 times and has hurried opposing QBs into throwing the football on 41 occasions so far this football season.
Moberly has often demonstrated a bend-but not break-attitude on the field until the defense seemingly shifts into more of a lock-down mode when the other team pays a rare visit into the red zone. It's also part of a strong equation that has given the offense prime field position to set up shop for a worthy scoring drive.
Come Friday night, Moberly, the second-seed in District 6, will look to make St. Dominic Crusaders of O'Fallon its 10th victim and live to play another day.
St. Dominic of the AAA Large Conference, a second round playoff contender a year ago, has fallen on difficult times this season with a 2-7 overall record.
During the course of the season, the Crusaders of O'Fallon have been outscored by a 27-13 margin while generating just 114 rushing yards and 56 in passing per contest according to the website at stlhighschoolsports.com.
Under head coach Jim Cook (60-21, 8 yrs.), the Crusaders will enter the stadium here as the district's seventh-seed to battle the Spartans for the first time in football history.
"St. Dominic has kind of been an up and down football team this season, and a lot of that I believe is because they lost a lot of starters to graduation from a team that won many games a year ago (finished 9-2), and there has been games in which they primarily run the football and others when they pass a lot," said Moberly football coach Jason Ambroson. "They may have been struggling with some continuity as well, but I also have noticed they will do some things very well so they are kind of streaky in their methods of play."
"With that being said, no matter who we are getting ready to play we just need to be prepared doing the things that we need to be doing. We need to be taking care of ourselves in all facets of the game."
Ambroson said it mainly comes down to analyzing matchups across the broad spectrum in all three phases of the game for him to adequately measure the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent.
Video footage, eyewitness accounts and learning how Moberly's next test has performed against common opponents gives him a better understanding about the task that lies ahead.
"I would say the advantages we have over St. Dominic is that we are older, we are physical, we have kids who are playing with a lot of confidence at positions right now and when you can do that you set yourself up for success," Ambroson said. "I think our kids are playing with a high level of confidence right now, and rightfully so, they should be. But it's different now because we are playing someone we do not know, and we do not have any common opponents, so this is different."
Quarterback Luke Mennemeier of St. Dominic has thrown nearly as many interceptions has he has completing them to the same color jersey. Mennemeier has completed 46 of 116 pass attempts for 464 yards and six TDs, but he also has been picked 21 times.
Top receiver on the team is John Hagan with 15 receptions totaling 203 yards. Tyler Kalist has 11 catches for 109 yds. and Nathan Livingston has caught nine passes for 99.
Leading rusher Tony Papa has ran 100 times for 374 yards. Max Mathews has 263 yards rushing on 45 carries, and Mark Weis has gained 189 yards on 59 carries for the Crusaders.
Spartans coach Ambroson said his team is keeping its attention on preparing for St. Dominic during practices this week, and they are not taking the Crusaders lightly while thinking about a possible district quarterfinal game that would appear Nov. 6.
"I do not think our kids are looking beyond this football game. We addressed that issue immediately after our win over Mexico. We (coaches) reminded the kids about what happened last year at this time when we stubbed our toe losing the first round of playoffs to a Marshall team that we beat and handled pretty good in the regular season but we did not get it done when games counted more," he said. "We cannot afford to take any opponent lightly, especially from here on out because any team can suddenly get into the right mode of a winning streak, keeping their season alive and if you do not play your best it can come down to just one single play that will end your season. Therefore we must focus attention on us, working hard and doing the right kind of things to make us a better football team."
Moberly is among 24 undefeated teams, including one of four in Class 4 (No. 2 Bolivar, No. 6 Pleasant Hill, No. 10 Miller Career Academy), across the state entering first round of district playoffs.
Critics may suggest a Moberly soft schedule is the foundation for its perfect record. Six of the Spartans opponents through Week 9 have losing records, and the combined record of all nine opponents is 38-43.
Ambroson was asked if he thought the season's schedule has prepared his team well enough for post-season play.
He quickly pointed out that Moberly's football team has faced different forms of adversity and overcome those challenges. In Week 1 temperatures were in the upper-90s when the Spartans defeated Class 2 defending state runner-up champion Blair Oaks, who operates an up-tempo style of play.
Ambroson also said his players successfully overcame tough, hostile playing environments at both Marshall and Kirksville. Also the fact that the squad is currently making adjustments dealing with the loss to key player injuries of juniors Gregg Bain and DeAndrae Dameron.
"We'll find out starting with this next game. You never know until that time comes. We have not faced a ton of adversity this football season, but we have faced enough. In the adversity that we have shared, the team has stayed together, played together, come together and overcome it," Ambroson said. "To the degree of adversity that we might see down the road, I don't know."
"We do not need to know right now because our focus is only on this next game."