The up-and-down season continued last week when Joplin suffered a 41-20 loss to defending Class 5 state champion Carthage.
The Eagles (3-4) hope to bounce back against Branson (3-4) tonight at 7 at Junge Field.
“Branson’s a very good team,” Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. “The first two weeks they played with a lot of people out due to quarantine. Since then, the only two games they have lost are Carthage and Webb City — two really good teams. Branson is a very good team. Their running back (Cristian Beruman) and their middle linebacker (Colton Cooper) are both very good players.
“Cooper turns around on offense and becomes their fullback-wingback-tight end. Those two are partnering up on both offense and defense. Their line is extremely solid. They have three very good receivers. Offensively, they can be pretty balanced. Defensively, they bring a ton of pressures.”
The Joplin offense was hindered by a barrage of penalties last week against the Tigers. But there are always positives that can be taken away from a game.
And the Eagles’ plus was they shrank a 28-point halftime lead to 8 in the third quarter before Carthage closed with two unanswered scores to pull away for the victory.
“Carthage is a really good team,” Jasper said. “That being said, we made some mistakes, especially in the first half, that cost us and dug us a hole. After halftime, we showed a lot of resiliency and fought back. And then Carthage did what good teams do and shut the door on us again.”
Joplin accounted for more than 320 yards of offense but couldn’t keep up with the Tigers on the scoreboard due to 10 penalties — three in the red zone — and a pair of turnovers.
“I tell the kids every day that we have to do all the little things it takes to get better individually, so we can get better as a team,” Jasper said. “That’s the goal this Friday when we come out. We watched film with our kids on each penalty that was made. In practice this week, we really focused on the skills and the drills that it takes where we don’t make those penalties.”
Standout tailback Nathan Glades was the featured weapon for the Eagles and he reached a milestone last Friday. The senior surpassed 1,000 yards rushing after finishing with 74 yards on 25 carries. He is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season and has reached the end zone 14 times. He’s at a whopping 1,603 all-purpose yards.
Quarterback Always Wright completed 20-of-30 passes for 202 yards. He finished with one touchdown pass — a 23-yard connection to Landon Atherton early in the third quarter — and one interception.
Wright now has a completion percentage of 74% and has thrown for 1,705 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Seniors Keaton Renfroe and Trayshawn Thomas lead the receiving corps with 35 and 32 catches, respectively.
Senior linebacker Scott Lowe leads the defense with 110 tackles, and strong safety Jayden Holt and linebacker Marcelino Puente have 81 and 58 tackles, respectively.
Branson snapped a two-game losing streak in Week 7 with a 48-14 victory over Willard.
Junior quarterback Tristan Pierce has hit 69-of-107 passes for 890 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. His primary targets are Brady Blackwell (37 catches for 577 yards), Ethan Jones (23 for 240) and Payton McCormick (20 for 193). Beruman leads the ground attack with 93 carries for 544 yards.
It has always been said that football games are won in the trenches. That will certainly be the case again this week for Joplin, which has found success with a new rotation of offensive lineman in recent weeks — Alex Curry moving from left tackle to center. Dontrell Holt at left tackle, Davis Ramsey at right tackle and Dawson Phillips and Stone Karcher at the guards.
“Offensively, we have got to have our eyes up, see where their pressures are coming from and be true to ourselves,” Jasper said. “We have got to pick up those blitzing linebackers. They like to run a lot of power and counter, so defensively we have to beat the double-team and beat the down-block. We have to keep their run game bottled up. Beruman and (David Hadaller) are extremely hard, talented runners, so we need to tackle well.
“Winning the battles up front on both sides is going to be key for sure.”