Here are key games to watch entering this week’s Missouri high school football district action:
1. Blue Springs South (5-4) at Rockhurst (5-4)
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The second year of a new playoff system in Missouri leads to a bevy of rematches. Here's a good one. It wasn't a typical season for Rockhurst or Blue Springs South, but their slates are wiped clean. Rockhurst defeated the Jaguars 27-6 on Sept. 27, but that won't factor much into this first-round district game. The return of quarterback Chris Swingle has Blue Springs South Jaguars carrying some momentum and a two-game winning streak. They're not the only ones enjoying a late-season turnaround. Rockhurst has won three in a row and five of six after an atypical 0-3 start.
2. Raymore-Peculiar (4-5) at Liberty (6-3)
The revamped postseason alignment in Missouri football allows a fresh start for teams frustrated by missed opportunities. Liberty and Raymore-Peculiar both fall into that category. After putting together a three-game winning streak, Liberty fell apart during a loss to Blue Springs South last week. That's the bad news. The good news is Liberty is still awarded a home playoff game against a Ray-Pec team it defeated earlier. That was a breakout game for Liberty playmaker Devon Bryant, who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown and also passed for a touchdown. The postseason comes at a good time for Ray-Pec, which had its best offensive output in two months in last week's win over Lee's Summit North. Tailback Isiah Truss ran for four touchdowns.
3. Raytown South (3-6) at Harrisonville (6-3)
Might Raytown South be figuring it out at precisely the right time? We'll find out Thursday night. The Cardinals shook off an early 1-5 record and won two of their last three games, including an impressive three-score conquest of Platte County last week. They're producing at a level they expected to see all season. Nevertheless, playoff victories don't come easily against Harrisonville, a school that has won four state championships since 2003. Quarterback Zach Davidson is dangerous, especially in the running game, and he led the Wildcats to the Class 4 state semifinals last season.
In one of the most balanced — and perhaps toughest — districts in Missouri Class 4, Excelsior Springs won only four games. It still finished in only seventh place among its eight-team group. Just how balanced is the Class 4, District 8 field? A matchup between Excelsior Springs and Van Horn should be fairly telling. Both teams are well-equipped to move the chains and have had no problem doing so all season. Van Horn has found a real weapon in tailback J.J. Rivers to couple with quarterback Anthony Winningham. Excelsior Springs looks to Nick Masoner to make plays in first-year coach Josh Buford's offense. Masoner has 20 touchdowns.
5. Lincoln Prep (6-3) at St. Pius X (5-4)
It should come as no surprise that St. Pius X is playing its best football of the season. After all, the Warriors did the exact same thing a year ago, and for the second straight season, they will take a four-game winning streak into the postseason. The Warriors have excelled in close games, winning one-possession games three times in the last four weeks. They may be staring at another tightly-contested matchup Thursday against Lincoln Prep, champion of the Interscholastic League. Colandus Rucker III leads a balanced rushing attack for the Tigers, who have 2,500 yards rushing.
6. Smithville (5-4) at Platte County (4-5)
One year after Smithville running back Zach Parmenter ran for 1,754 yards, the Warriors didn't have a tailback top 700 yards in the regular season. By no coincidence, it has been tough sledding for an offense that had no problems moving the football last season. That may change Thursday night. In part due to a couple of key injuries, Platte County's defense has been in a tailspin over the last five weeks, allowing an average of 40 points per game. That's equated to a three-game losing streak for the Pirates, who will need a better defensive effort to repeat last season's run to the Missouri Class 4 state quarterfinals.
7. Park Hill (3-6) at Park Hill South (5-4)
Park Hill will get another chance at its rival. That might not be good thing. Park Hill South dominated every facet of the game in a 38-0 win over Park Hill last Friday night. The Panthers can credit much of their success to an overpowering offensive line, which paved the way for 169 yards and two rushing touchdowns for Ronnie Bertelsmyer. Park Hill South was just as impressive on the defensive line, which held the Trojans to negative rushing yards. Park Hill must be more physical in the rematch, or it could be another long night.