By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
LAMAR, Mo. —
The Lamar Tigers are one step away from defending their state title.
Lamar overwhelmed Caruthersville 69-12 on Saturday at Lamar in the Class 2 semifinals. The Tigers will face Blair Oaks at 2:15 p.m. next Saturday in the state championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
“This was our main goal to start the season,” Lamar senior offensive lineman Austin Boice said. “We did it last year, but we wanted to repeat. That’s why the back of our shirt says, ‘One is not enough.’”
Lamar earned the right to defend its crown by running the football and stopping the run.
Junior running back Jared Beshore rushed for 218 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while junior quarterback Levi Petersen rushed for 159 yards and five touchdowns on 16 carries.
The Lamar defense limited Caruthersville running back Darrell Monroe, who entered the game rushing for more than 10 yards per carry, to only 21 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
The Tigers loaded the box early in the game to stop Monroe, who finished with 61 yards on 13 attempts.
“That was the whole focus of our defense this week,” said Lamar junior defensive end Sam Bailey, who picked off a screen pass and returned it for a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter. “When one of us gets there, the rest have to follow and make sure he gets on the ground. Because if you stop him, you stop their team.”
However, that doesn’t mean Caruthersville didn’t show signs of life.
Caruthersville held Lamar to a field goal on its opening possession and took a 6-3 lead at the 4:49 mark of the first quarter when quarterback Tyler Grissom hit Hunter Dickey on a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Caruthersville (10-3) later cut Lamar’s lead to 24-12 when Grissom found Steven Rodgers for a 53-yard touchdown pass with 6:09 left in the half.
But Lamar, which was bigger up front, began to wear Caruthersville down on both sides of the ball.
“Probably the biggest difference is when our offense goes out on the field, we have an offensive line that hasn’t been playing,” Lamar coach Scott Bailey said. “They’ve been on the sidelines and recovering. When our defense goes out on the field, it’s the same with the d-line. Their team, most of those guys were playing on both sides of the ball. As the first half wore on, you could tell they were getting tired. They were having trouble separating from blocks when we were running the ball. When our defense was out there, they were having trouble getting to us.”
And while Caruthersville cashed in on a couple of quick strikes with the passing game, Lamar stayed focused on stopping the Tigers’ running game, which is their strength. Caruthersville entered the semifinal rushing for nearly 300 yards per game, but it was averaging only 69.1 yards passing.
“They loaded the box on us defensively, and we just weren’t consistent enough with our passing to get them to back off on us,” Caruthersville coach Nathan Morgan said. “We had a couple big strikes but just not enough consistency to warrant them to back off our running game.”
Despite the big plays, Grissom was limited to 4-of-20 passing for 115 yards and one interception.
Lamar (12-2) quickly responded after Caruthers-ville’s second touchdown pass. Petersen scored on a 53-yard run two plays into the next possession, and Tripp Tucker scored on the conversion run to make it 32-12.
Then, the Tigers put the game out of reach. Petersen and Brett McDonald scored on touchdown runs of 21 and 31 yards, respectively, to make it 48-12. Bailey’s interception return with 23 seconds left in the half put Lamar ahead 55-12, and a running clock was used in the second half.
This was Lamar’s fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals and it will be the second consecutive appearance in the state finals.
Blair Oaks (13-1) beat Holden 46-32 on Saturday.
“It’s fantastic,” Petersen said of a return appearance to the Edward Jones Dome. “I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than St. Louis on Thanksgiving.”