By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
The Webb City defense had been performing in stellar fashion.
But maybe the Cardinal “D” took it to another level on Friday night.
“I was proud of the defense,” Mike Smith, defensive coordinator for John Roderique, said. “The players accepted the challenge.”
Webb City stopped Ozark 28-7 in a clash of 7-0 teams that likely settled the Central Ozark Conference Large Division before a packed Cardinal Stadium on “Senior Night.”
“I knew we’d have to play an outstanding game,” Smith said. “Ozark is a fine team.”
Webb City, ranked No. 1 in Class 4, and Class 5 No. 7 Ozark entered with 7-0 overall records and 5-0 in the conference.
The Cardinals, two-time defending Class 4 champions, hiked winning streaks to 38 overall and 89 in the regular season.
Ozark, in its second year under Mark Bliss, entered the showdown with game averages of 51 points and 507 yards.
Said Cardinal senior inside linebacker Dalton Humphrey: “I couldn’t be more satisfied with our defense. I thought we came out and put the pressure on them.”
The Cardinals led 14-0 at halftime and a stand by their defense just before the half had to stun the Tigers.
Ozark seemed primed to cap an impressive drive with a first-and-goal from the Webb City 9.
But a two-yard loss, a yard loss and a five-yard carry by quarterback David Salazar left the Tigers facing fourth-and-goal from the 7. Undaunted, they lined up and a trapped Salazar eluded the defense and headed for the goal line. He was dragged down by a flock of Cardinals inside the 1 at 1:23.
Cooper Smith’s 20-yard run, capping a seven-play, 71-yard drive, gave the Cardinals their first touchdown at 6:07 in the first period.
John Roderique’s 11-yard pass to Jalen Vaden and Roderique’s 17-yard run were key plays in the series.
Roderique’s 16-yard run at 9:56 in the second period capped a 10-play, 51-yard drive for the second Webb City score. Phoenix Johnson, whose nice punt return earned the excellent field position, carried six times during the drive.
Roderique’s 41-yard pass to Kohl Slaughter on second-and-6 on the Cardinals’ second possession in the third quarter boosted them ahead 21-0 as Alex Easley kicked his third extra point.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Slaughter, a senior, said he lined up as a receiver rather than tight end.
“We had to run the ball quite a bit,” Slaughter said. “That was our plan. Phoenix (Johnson) and Cooper (Smith) really produced.”
Agreed Cardinal head coach John Roderique: “We wanted to keep the ball away from them. We did miss connections some of the time with our passing game.
“Ozark makes you earn what you get,” Roderique said. “They’re so fast, aggressive and physical.”
Ozark, denying the Cardinals a third straight shutout, broke through with an 80-yard scoring drive after the Slaughter TD. Salazar ran the last two yards at 1:39.
Webb City closed out the scoring on Smith’s three-yard run at 6:04 in the fourth period to cap a 71-yard drive. Johnson and junior Trey Parra keyed the ground game.
Webb City, according to its statistics, led 327-179 in yardage with 269 on the ground. Johnson rushed 16 times for 104 yards, Parra eight for 62, Smith nine for 53 and Roderique seven for 47.
The teams remain in the league next week with Webb City visiting Branson and Ozark entertaining Neosho.