By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The difference in the messages may seem subtle, but there is indeed a difference.
The Missouri Class 2 defending state champion Lamar Tigers aren’t focusing on getting back to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Instead, the coaches are stressing to the players — especially the seniors — to do everything they can to extend the season.
Lamar will be at home at 1:30 p.m. today against the Caruthersville Tigers in the Class 2 semifinals. The winner will play in the state championship next Saturday in St. Louis against today’s winner between Blair Oaks and Holden.
“We’re not worrying about St. Louis next week,” Lamar coach Scott Bailey said. “We’re just worrying about what we have to do. We have to be ready to play Caruthersville when they show up. Right now, one hiccup ends your season.
“We’ve preached this to them for a number of years now. A lot of years the team that wins isn’t always the most talented. It’s the one who doesn’t want their season to end. You don’t want to go out because the other team cared more than we did. We want our season to last as long as possible. The winner will be the one who absolutely wants another seven days of football more than the other one.”
Lamar’s focus on extending the football season has been evident through the playoffs. The Tigers have rolled through the first four rounds of the playoffs, winning by a combined score of 256-42 against Stockton, Ash Grove, Butler and Liberty (Mountain View-Birch Tree).
Lamar (11-2) is on a 10-game winning since losing in the second and third weeks to Seneca and Cassville. Since then, the Tigers have gotten some injured players back in the lineup and have done a better job protecting the football.
They are using their two-quarterback misdirection offense to rushing for 407.1 yards per game and score 44.7 points per game.
Junior running back Jared Beshore is the team’s leading rusher with 1,739 yards and 24 touchdowns on 146 carries. He is rushing for an astounding 11.9 yards per carry. Junior quarterback Levi Petersen has compiled 1,657 yards and 26 touchdowns on 200 rushes.
However, Lamar’s defense has been just as impressive. The Tigers are allowing 12.8 points per game and an average of less than 100 yards rushing. Senior linebacker Jade Morgan has 108 tackles and 6.5 sacks, while senior linebacker Chad Rice has 107 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Junior defensive end Sam Bailey leads the team in sacks with 7.5.
Caruthersville (10-2) will try to challenge the Lamar defense with its star running back Darrell Monroe.
“They’re going to get the ball to No. 21 Darrell Monroe,” Bailey said. “If I were their coach, I’d get the ball to him, too.”
Monroe, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, has rushed for 1,399 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 139 carries. In last week’s 54-37 win against Maplewood — the team Lamar defeated in the 2011 semifinal — Monroe rushed for 260 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
“He’s got a lot of size and you can tell he’s strong,” Bailey said. “You throw in his speed with his size and strength, and he’s the total package.”
Junior quarterback Tyler Grissom has passed for 796 yards and 11 touchdowns and has rushed for 756 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Kendall Pittman is the team’s leading tackler with 106.
“We want to keep things consistent,” Bailey said. “Now’s not the time to change. We want to try and establish our run game and try to limit their run game. The keys remain the same for us. We need to score when we get the opportunity to score and limit the number of possessions they get.”