At its best this season, Joplin has shown it has the ingredients to be a special team and a team that could really make some noise come playoff time in two weeks.
For one, the Eagles have an absolutely high-octane offense that can drive the length of the field or score in a blink of an eye. With premium athletes like Always Wright and Nathan Glades leading an Oregon, up-tempo style offense, Joplin can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
With more performances like the Eagles showed on defense against Branson, I believe Joplin is a sleeping giant come playoff time in two weeks.
“That was the best defensive game I’ve seen them play,” Glades said after Friday’s resounding 45-24 victory over the Pirates. “We had a couple of busted coverages, but that doesn’t mean anything. The way these kids came out and balled, I was excited. It was a tremendous effort by everybody on the defense.”
The Eagles were seemingly flying to the ball all night on defense and were constantly pressuring the Pirates quarterback Tristan Pierce. In fact, Joplin’s defense piled up seven sacks for minus-33 yards.
Senior Marcelino Puente recorded two sacks while Blake Farmer, Trayquan Peavler, Jacob Prosser, Scott Lowe and Joe Jasper had a sack apiece.
The Eagles came a long way on Friday from a team that faced its inconsistencies. One of the big things the team has emphasized this month is family-bonding, according to Glades.
In recent weeks, coach Curtis Jasper said that entails the players holding socially distanced player meetings and getting together more on their own. Two weeks ago, the players took part in a wiffle ball game after practice. Last week, the team went to cheer on the Joplin eighth-grade football team as it faced Webb City.
“I want to be the best team-player I can be,” Glades said. “Not the best me. I want to be the best team and the best leader on the field. I am proud of the way we showed up in practice all week. We’ve bounced back from being selfish to being a family again, and I am very proud of that. I hope we keep on doing it the family way.”
And you could feel a different camaraderie among the team in the huddle following the Branson win. It was a team that seemed more united after getting back to playing their style of football that Eagles fans were accustomed to seeing during last year’s run to the Class 6 state championship game.
Right now, Joplin is projected as the fifth-seed in the Class 6 District 3 tournament and is tentatively slated to play four-seeded Lee’s Summit West on Oct. 30. But with Lee’s Summit West, Lee’s Summit North and Kickapoo losing on Friday, all the Eagles have to do is win at Neosho on Friday night and hope West loses to North.
If this happens, Joplin becomes the fourth seed and will host Lee’s Summit West.
But Coach Jasper does not want to look too far ahead.
“We just have to keep working on consistency,” he said. “That’s the thing. We have some dynamic players and we do some really good things. We did a better job of minimizing our mistakes tonight. We need to continue to play smart and continue to focus on the little things because we know we can do the dynamic.
“Now, we got to do the Mondaying and stuff that goes unnoticed that’s so important.”
With one week left in the regular season, Friday’s game certainly looked like a stepping stone of things to come for Joplin.
“Regular-season, yeah, I want to close out the season with a win, but I want to make a run in the playoffs,” Glades said. “We don’t have the best of record right now (4-4), but that doesn’t matter. Winning comes naturally. We need to get to work next week, and that will be it.”
DEREK SHORE is a sports writer for the Globe and receives correspondence at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @D_Shore23.