For the second straight week, the Joplin Eagles’ comeback bid fell short.
After falling behind four scores early in the second half, Joplin rallied late but a 44-19 deficit proved to be insurmountable in a 51-43 loss to the Ozark Tigers on Senior Night at Junge Field.
Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said the bottom line is the Eagles just have to get better.
“And we are doing some good things too, but we are just not being very consistent,” Jasper said. “I know it’s cliche. We will go back and watch some film among a handful of things. We have to evaluate, work on it in practice and adjust practice to what we have to get better at.
“We have to work hard, stick together and get better.”
There were some offensive fireworks in the first half.
Ozark drew first blood after quarterback Cannon Cox punched it in on a one-yard run for a 7-0 advantage.
After fumbling on its first series, Joplin’s running back Nathan Glades notched the score at 7-7 with a one-yard run. But Ozark scored on the first play in the second quarter as Cox ran the ball in from one yard out for a 13-7 lead.econd quarter.
Glades continued to run wild though. He put Joplin at Ozark’s 1-yard line thanks to a 51-yard run and scored from there. But a few seconds later, Ozark regained the lead after Colton Casteel returned the kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Joplin drew closer after quarterback Always Wright connected with receiver Keaton Renfroe on a 12-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles went for the 2-point conversion but came up short at the goal line.
Cox hit receiver Owen Brockman on a 54-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the ensuing drive. The Tigers went into the intermission with a 34-19 lead after running back Ethan Pritchard ran for a 13-yard touchdown.
To start the second half, Joplin looked poised to do damage. The Eagles collected 54 yards on just three plays to get in the red zone. But Wright fumbled the ball on the 11-yard line and Ozark’s Jacob Kronebusch picked up the loose ball, and went 88 yards for the touchdown and a 41-19 lead with 10:47 left in the third quarter.
Seven minutes later Ozark’s Jace Easley connected on a 27-yard field goal for a 44-19 lead.
As time expired in the third frame, Wright connected with receiver Drew Atherton for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cut Ozark’s lead to 44-27. Joplin faced third down-and-30 and third-and-31 on that drive and converted both times.
But Cox hit Brockman on another big touchdown pass, a 31-yarder for a seemingly safe 51-27 lead.
But the Eagles continued to battle. Glades powered his way into the end zone for a pair of short touchdown runs down the stretch. After defensive end Jacob Prosser recovered a fumble for Joplin around midfield, that set up an opportunity for the Eagles to tie the game in the closing minute.
With 41 seconds left, Wright went back for a pass and had a receiver open in the end zone for a split second, but Ozark picked off the pass near the goal line.
“We did get better as the game went along, but we have to get better from the get go,” Jasper said. “They ran the option well. They are really physical up front, double team at the point of attack. You have to be really physical at the point of attack. I thought their offensive line played a really good game.”
For Ozark, Cox carried the ball 20 times for 76 yards. He was 2-for-4 through the air with two touchdowns and one interception for 85 yards. Pritchard rushed for 101 yards on eight carries and scored a touchdown.
Running back Tylr Bolin rushed for 107 yards on 23 carries. Brockman caught two passes, both for touchdowns totaling 85 yards. Ozark had a total of 387 yards of offense.
On the Joplin side, Wright completed 23-of-35 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Glades ran for 268 yards on 33 carries and scored four touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. He also caught four passes for 52 yards, and Renfro had five catches for 101 yards.
Joplin ran 67 plays for 698 yards of offense.
“They were making plays,” Jasper said. “Nathan’s a bulldog whether it’s the running game or the passing game. He makes good reads and finishes runs. Always was able to use his legs to buy himself some time and make plays with guys open. He did a good job and made some really good decisions.”
Joplin travels to Carl Junction, which lost at Branson 21-20, next Friday at 7 p.m.