It’s officially over.
And not a moment too soon.
The area’s fall sports season came to a close Saturday afternoon in Jasper County as the Webb City Cardinals knocked out the Sullivan Eagles, 35-6.
The second foray by an area high school into that cathedral of Missouri high school football was much more successful than Union’s 42-7 defeat there two years ago.
I believe the better team won the game, but this year’s Webb City squad didn’t seem to be as overpowering as past teams. The Cardinals are very smart in their playing style. Early in the game, Webb City looked for cracks in the Sullivan defensive line by probing with middle rushing plays. But Webb City used that to set up the outside game and the passing game and was able to move the ball successfully on every drive.
Special teams also played a huge role for Webb City, but that will be addressed a little later.
Huge crowds haven’t awed the Eagles this season as Sullivan has been very boisterous in supporting its team this season. By the volume of new district championship T-shirts in the stands, you would think that shirt makers would be the most prosperous folks around.
Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t shut down the town, though. There was commerce in Sullivan on the way to the game.
The Eagles faced some tough choices early in the game.
On Sullivan’s first drive, it faced fourth and inches inside its own territory. It was a no-win situation for Pat Burke and his team. If you go for it and fail against a smart Webb City defense expecting an inside run, you give the Cardinals a short field to work with. And Webb City is much too good to give breaks.
Instead, the Eagles decided to punt, but it was into a stiff wind and Webb City had another edge in the fact that the ball wasn’t going to fly too far. Webb City took over and was able to control the ball and the clock as it pushed down for a touchdown. Along the way, the Cardinals converted on their own fourth down play.
The touchdown was a four-yard run by quarterback John Roderique with 4:03 left in the first quarter.
The play was typical of the drive. Roderique was able to bounce outside and score as everyone expected a running play up the middle and Roderique was tossing the ball to the official by the time anyone realized he was in the end zone.
The Cardinals managed another touchdown with 24 seconds left on the clock on a 33-yard pass play from Roderique to Kohl Slaughter.
The next key play came after Sullivan marched down the field through much of the second quarter. The Eagles attempted a 40-yard field goal with the wind, but Nate Brown blocked the kick and Phoenix Johnson picked up the ball and took it 67 yards for a game-changing touchdown.
So, with 5:44 to play in the half, Sullivan now trailed 21-0 instead of it potentially being 14-3.
After getting the kickoff, the Eagles sputtered and had to punt. But any benefit of kicking with the wind was expended when Brown blocked his second kick of the quarter and the Cardinals took over at the Sullivan 22.
It took one play for Cooper Smith to run in for a touchdown with 1:32 left in the half.
So, it now was 28-0 instead of something a bit closer.
Webb City executed a good onside kick into the wind and recovered, but gave up the ball on fair catch interference.
By the time Webb City marched to score on its first possession of the second half, the game was pretty much over.
Give Sullivan a lot of credit. The Eagles never gave up during the game.
Sullivan also tried a lot of different things. Quarterback Adam Tiefenbrunn threw a lot more Saturday than in other games and at times he found success.
The Eagles employed Justin Biermann a number of different ways, including in a wildcat formation. Biermann broke through the Webb City defense for Sullivan’s only score of the day, a 31-yard run with 4:28 to play in the contest.
But that pesky wind thwarted the extra point. Jake Lochner’s kick appeared to be right on, but the wind blew it wide left.
The wind seems to be a constant in Webb City. Anyone who made the trip there in 2010 probably remembers how cold the wind was that day, too. Saturday’s wind came from the south and it was warm enough that you could have worn shorts and windbreaker and have been comfortable. Fortunately, the weather which brought the rain and cold didn’t head through there until the next day.
Weather is something folks in that part of the state watch closely. They’ve learned the hard way May 22, 2011, the day Joplin was hit by an EF5 tornado.
Almost a year and a half later, you don’t have to be a stormchaser to figure out where the storm went. When you drive through the damage path, you get the feeling of being in a wasteland. There are no trees and anything built is extremely new.
After the football game, there was something else of interest for anyone willing to stick around town. Missouri Southern hosted Pittsburg State in the final home match of the season.
Southern had two seniors this season with one being former East Central College standout Aleisha Joyce, who played middle hitter for the Lions. When AJ played at ECC, she always had tremendous support from her family and it was good to see them again.
Borgia graduate Katie Politte led Southern in kills this season and it was great to see her healthy and playing again. Many remember that she suffered a major knee injury during her senior season at Borgia.
Like the Joyces, the Polittes always have been a very supportive and friendly family.
Also playing was Warrenton’s Sarah Cunningham. While Southern lost in three games, it was good to see the locals playing.
It definitely was a long, but rewarding day in southwest Missouri.