Two days after the Oak Grove High School football program suffered a season-ending loss in the 2013 playoffs, the coaches called for a team meeting. They insisted the session would be a look to the future rather than a remembrance of the past.
So fewer than 48 hours after a loss to Maryville, the eventual Missouri Class 3 champion, Oak Grove gathered in a weight room. And thus began the preparation for the 2014 season.
“This crew knew what it took to be championship quality. They saw that from Maryville a year ago, because that’s an unbelievable program. And to compete with them was awesome,” Oak Grove coach Pat Richard said. “We came in the weight room the Monday after that loss, dried our eyes and got after it.
“We lifted all winter, all spring, all summer.”
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That motivation, Richard said, has stuck with the Panthers in 2014.
A week after mowing over Maryville — earning payback for that 2013 defeat — Oak Grove rolled past California 49-14 on Friday for a spot in the Missouri Class 3 championship game. Oak Grove will face John Burroughs at 1 p.m. on Friday for the Class 3 state title.
The most important factor on Oak Grove’s side Friday may be momentum. The Panthers are scoring 61.2 points per game during the playoffs.
A three-man backfield of Aaron Graham, Landon Cairer and Jake Harrenstein has proven difficult to slow down. The trio is responsible for nearly 400 rushing yards per game during the postseason. All three topped 100 yards in Friday’s victory.
“Our offensive line honestly does so much work before practice and after practice,” Graham said. “They deserve as much attention as I do.”
The defense does, too. At least as of late.
The Panthers held both Maryville and California — two teams with completely different styles of offense — to their lowest outputs of the season.
“Our kids have just executed the (defensive) game plans to perfection,” Richard said. “When we’ve needed stops, we’ve made them.”
Oak Grove is aiming for the first football state championship in school history. It finished second in the state in 1986 and 1990.