By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
This has been a season of superlatives for the Miller Cardinals.
The Cardinals won the Spring River Valley Conference for the fifth year in a now and had their first undefeated regular season ever.
Even though Miller has outscored its opponents 445-97 and is ranked No. 3 in Class 1 by the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, the Cardinals have survived a few challenges along the way.
Miller came from behind in the fourth quarter and defeated Lockwood 42-36 on Sept. 21, and the Cardinals will face the Tigers again at 7 p.m. today for the district championship at Miller.
“They’re the only school we’ve been down to this year,” said Miller head coach Dustin Baldwin. “They led for a good part of the second half and we scored with 45 seconds left.
“We had to drive 80 yards in two or three minutes,” he said. “It was a confidence builder and a gut check to come back and win a close game.”
Lockwood takes a four-game winning streak into the game even though the last three weeks have been more of a battle for survival.
The Tigers are without all-conference running back Brent Chambers because of a knee injury and two-way all-conference selection Elijah Pitts because of pneumonia.
“Both of our running backs are out,” said Lockwood head coach Clay Lasater. “I thought our kids played their guts out (in the first game against Miller) and hopefully they’ll do the same and we’ll see what happens.”
Lockwood, led by four-year starter Isaac Lasater at quarterback, advanced to the district championship last Wednesday by defeating Jasper 39-21.
Lockwood’s winning streak also includes victories against Diamond, Pierce City and Greenfield.
“Our guys have gotten better all year,” Lasater said. “The biggest thing is up front. We continue to get better running the ball.”
Miller has a diverse ground attack that averages 290 yards per game, led by all-conference running back Derrick Estell, a 195-pound senior who has rushed for 946 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging 13 yards per carry.
He operates behind an offensive line that includes all-conference selections John Nunez, a 205-pound senior, and Kyle Davidson, a 210-pound senior.
Quarterback Dalton Gulick, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, has rushed for 1,074 yards and 16 touchdowns. Through the air, Gulick has completed 100 of 190 passes for 1,659 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has seven interceptions.
“Since the Lockwood game, we moved some personnel around and we’ve played great defense,” Baldwin said. “I think our defensive line is what sets us apart.”
Defensively, the Cardinals have all-conference linemen in Nunez and Jacob Lundquist, a 235-pound senior, in front of all-conference linebacker Brenden Richardson, a 185-pound junior who has 78 solo and 122 total tackles. Chance Taylor, a senior, was all-conference as a defensive back.