A new classification means new opponents once the football postseason arrives.
Webb City, the reigning Class 4 state champion, moved up to Class 5 this season, and it plays Lebanon in a quarterfinal game tonight at 7 at Cardinal Stadium.
“That’s one thing that’s neat about it,” Cardinals coach John Roderique said. “You have the potential to play teams you’ve never played before, unless some of them move up just like we have.”
The Cardinals (10-1) and Yellowjackets (7-3) haven’t played since regular-season eight from 1992-99 — coach Kurt Thompson’s last five seasons and Roderique’s first three seasons. The Cardinals won all eight games, and the closest scores were 17-7 in 1992 and 22-12 two years later, both in Webb City.
Lebanon, coached by former Marionville coach Will Christian, suffered its three losses in a four-week span in the Ozark Conference — 30-26 to Kickapoo, 20-7 to Bolivar and 63-14 to league champion West Plains.
Since the loss to West Plains on Oct. 2, the Yellowjackets have won four straight games, scoring 52, 48, 47 and 52 points. The first two were shootouts — 52-38 over Camdenton and 48-41 over Rolla.
Like Webb City, Lebanon relies on the running game, averaging 391.2 yards per game on the ground. Four backs have shared the load — seniors Isaac Ledbetter (76 carries for 890 yards, 11 TDs), Antonio Rogers (139 for 806, 13 TDs) and Drew McBride (166 for 798, 13 TDs) and sophomore Nathan Bartel (52 for 600, 8 TDs).
“They like to run the ball right at you,” Roderique said. “They are a flexbone offensive team. The only other team on our schedule would be Ozark that runs the flexbone, and not everybody is the same in the flexbone. Everybody has their own philosophy. They are a patient team offensively. They are very, very content with four yards and snapping it again. ... The whole thing is driven by their guys up front. They are big and physical. They are coming right at you, and you have to be ready to maintain the line of scrimmage as a defense. Of course, you have to be able to get to the edge when they pitch it.”
Lebanon has thrown just 36 passes this season but averages 25.2 yards on its 15 completions. Junior Peyton Mitchell has hit 9-of-18 passes for 283 yards and two TDs, including a 30-yard touchdown toss to Cardell Zebel in last week’s 52-18 victory over Glendale for the District 5 championship.
“The games we’ve seen, they don’t throw it a whole lot of times,” Roderique said. “But like a lot of us who run it more than we throw it, when they do throw it, they usually have a guy wide open. They are pretty effective throwing the ball when they want to.”
The Cardinals average 393 yards a game — 323 on the ground and 70 through the air.
Devrin Weathers has nine 100-yard games and 1,478 yards and 23 touchdowns for the season. Dupree Jackson has 669 yards and nine scores, and quarterback Cole Gayman has rushed for 561 yards and eight TDs and hit 38-of-70 passes for 731 yards, seven TDs and two interceptions.
The Cardinals’ defensive leaders include Treghan Parker (87 tackles), Matt McDaniel (74), Brayden Hollingsworth (59), Lucas Ott (56) and Jaystin Smith (55).
Webb City is coming off a 42-21 triumph over rival Carthage for the District 6 championship.
“You’re always concerned as a coach when you’re coming off such an emotional game,” Roderique said. “But there is still a lot to play for. The most important thing is you’re playing for the chance to play another game. I think our kids will be highly motivated and excited about playing for sure.”
Tonight’s winner advances to the semifinals Nov. 28 against Platte County or Grain Valley. Webb City or Lebanon would play at home against Platte County or on the road against Grain Valley.