Three Kansas City-area teams will play in Missouri football state semifinals: Park Hill, Kearney and Oak Grove. Here are previews of their games.
CLASS 5: Park Hill (12-0) at Nixa (8-4), 7 p.m. Friday
Offensive difference makers: With its top two quarterbacks — Tyler Holmes and Jeremiah Benson — questionable to take the field on Friday, Park Hill will rely even more on its running game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After opening the season as a backup, Matt Harris has totaled 1,290 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground this season. He was named the offensive player of the year in the Suburban Red Conference. His backfield mate, Kenyatte Harris, is 36 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard rushing plateau.
Defensive difference makers: Take your pick. Park Hill has a bevy of playmakers on the defensive side of the football. But let’s start with inside linebacker Carter Anchors, who was named the conference defensive player of the year. Anchors has 111 tackles, including 24 for loss, and he has played a part in creating five turnovers. Clayton Cole leads the team with 122 tackles, and Chester Graves has a team-best 14 sacks.
Bottom line: Don’t let Nixa’s record fool you. While it has lost four games this season, all of those came in the first five weeks. Nixa has since reeled off seven straight wins — with impressive results on both sides of the football. Park Hill will likely focus its energy on slowing down Nixa running back Alec Murphy, a Mississippi State commit who scored two touchdowns last week. Murphy (6-0, 220) is ranked as the eighth best recruit in the state.
CLASS 4: Kearney (12-1) at Webb City (13-0), 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Offensive difference makers: Kearney may line up in a spread formation, but the Bulldogs still run the football nearly three times as often as they throw it. And with good reason. Senior Reagan Frakes has been a monster in the backfield this season, running for 1,729 yards and 25 touchdowns behind an offensive line led by Tanner Owen. But if Webb City opts to take away the running game, Kearney senior quarterback Johnny Weidmaier can make plays. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season.
Defensive difference makers: The list starts with Kearney junior linebacker Cale Garrett, the heart of a Kearney defense that has held eight of its 13 opponents to single digits. The Bulldogs play a physical brand of football defensively, and Garrett anchors that mentality. The owner of 140 tackles, including 17 for loss, Garrett is a hard-hitting linebacker. Seniors Kyre Bosler and Jacob Babb each have six sacks. Matthew Rule and Marcus Harris have four interceptions apiece.
Bottom line: Webb City has won four straight Missouri Class 4 state championships, and the Cardinals have rolled through the playoffs without much of a hiccup. The Cardinals also throttled Rockhurst 40-14 in Week 2. Webb City possesses a powerful offensive line that paves the way for nearly 300 rushing yards per game. That will put Kearney’s physicality to the ultimate test.
CLASS 3: California (13-0) at Oak Grove (11-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Offensive difference makers: Oak Grove running back Aaron Graham ran for 137 yards in a season-opening win on Aug. 22. Turns out, that was his least productive output of the season. Graham continues to pick up momentum as the season ages, totaling 2,448 yards and 34 touchdowns in 12 games. He produced an all-time memorable performance in last week’s win against Maryville, with 345 yards and seven touchdowns. But what makes the Panthers’ offense truly explosive is that it doesn’t completely rely on Graham. Landon Cairer has found the end zone 15 times.
Defensive difference makers: He may be a few inches shy of six feet tall, but Oak Grove’s Dalton Brinegar is a big-time playmaker. Of his 109 tackles this season, 27 of them have gone for loss, including seven sacks. He has also forced four fumbles and recovered three. Michail Winstead leads Oak Grove with 113 tackles. Kenton Wilhoit has picked off four passes.
Bottom line: After halting Maryville’s 42-game winning streak last week, Oak Grove can’t afford a letdown. California is back in the Class 3 state semifinals for a second straight season. Its undefeated record includes a pair of impressive wins against Blair Oaks. But if Oak Grove can continue to move the ball with the same ferocity, it could be playing for a state championship next week. The Panthers have averaged 64.3 points per game in the playoffs.