By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
LAMAR, Mo. —
For about as long as Jade Morgan and Chad Rice can remember, they dreamed of playing high school football together.
They grew up with the same babysitter and have always been friends.
“I remember being in the seventh and eighth grades watching the high school and saying to each other, ‘That’s going to be us.’” Morgan said.
The dream has come true for Morgan, Rice and the Lamar Tigers. The two have emerged as defensive leaders, helping Lamar win the Class 2 state championship last season. Now, the Tigers are back in the title game for consecutive years and will face Blair Oaks at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis with a chance to repeat.
The two linebackers led the team in tackles as juniors as Morgan posted 134 and Rice was second with 107. This season, Rice leads the way with 121 tackles and Morgan is right behind with 120 tackles.
“The thing about those two that makes it so special is the high character level of the kids,” Lamar coach Scott Bailey said. “They are farm kids who are very respectful and know how to work. I’m going to miss coaching them.”
Morgan, who received all-state honors last year, also has seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries this year.
“Jade’s biggest asset that people don’t realize is how fast he is,” Bailey said. “He’s 6-1, 200 pounds, but he can flat cover ground.”
In addition to leading the team in tackles, Rice has 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“Chad’s biggest asset is that he’s as prepared as anybody,” Bailey said. “He does so much film study.”
There’s no doubt having the two of them roam around as linebackers makes the team better.
“It allows us to play a lot more man coverage,” Bailey said. “With them, the secondary isn’t needed to help with the run.”
The linebackers are leaders of a defense that has forced 29 turnovers and allowed only 106 first downs all season.
Lamar (12-2) is allowing 12.7 points per game on the season and only 10.8 points through the playoffs. Considering that all 28 points against Ash Grove were scored on reserve players, the defense has been even better than the numbers. The Tigers varsity defense allowed no more than one touchdown in nine consecutive games until surrendering two touchdowns each in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
In Saturday’s 69-12 semifinal win against Caruthersville, Lamar forced a strong running team to try and win through the air.
“When you have a run-first team and you take away their ground game and make them go to their second option, you have to feel good,” Bailey said.
The Tigers know they will be challenged by a Blair Oaks (13-1) team that has scored more than 30 points in every playoff game.
“Coach told us that they are a real physical team,” Rice said. “They don’t do anything fancy. They will come right at us.”
Morgan and Rice said they don’t want to have a bus ride back from St. Louis without the state trophy in hand.
“It’s very hard to win two championships in a row at anything,” Rice said. “That would be amazing.”