It’s been two years since the Lamar football team saw its historic state championship streak snapped, but the target on the Tigers’ back hasn’t gotten any smaller.
“I think we’ve always had a target on our back ever since we started that run of seven state championships,” Lamar coach Jared Beshore said. “Even though the last two seasons probably didn’t meet our standards, we still made it to the semifinals or quarterfinals. But we still have that target on our back because we are Lamar.”
The Tigers (9-1) again find themselves in a familiar spot as they ready for today’s Class 2 quarterfinal against Liberty (Mountain View), a team that Lamar has faced and defeated six times in the playoffs since 2010. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Liberty High School.
The matchup will be a nostalgic one for Beshore, who competed against the Eagles three times during his playing days at Lamar.
“Whenever we go down to play Liberty, it is a great atmosphere for playoff football,” Beshore said. “Personally, I got to play three times down there. It’s your typical Saturday afternoon of playoff football. Fans are going to show up early. They’ll be loud.”
And Beshore doesn’t doubt that the atmosphere at Liberty High School could be even more electric than usual since the Eagles come into today’s contest with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. After all, Lamar has ended Liberty’s season in six of the last 10 seasons.
“I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with them,” he said. “We’ve had some battles. It’s a program that we’re definitely familiar with, and they’re very familiar with us. They have had a lot of success over the years with a lot of really good players coming through their program. (Former Liberty head coach Darin Acklin) did a very nice job of building that program up over the years.”
At the helm now for Liberty is Brock Kenega, who has the Eagles sitting at 10-2 after the Eagles claimed a 44-20 win over Fair Grove last week in the District 3 championship. The Eagles ride a nine-game win streak since stumbling out to a 1-2 start.
“It’s a very similar program under Coach Kenega,” Beshore said. “So we look forward to seeing the same brand of football they’ve played, which is getting their athletes and skill kids the football while taking away what we like to do offensively in the run game. They’re going to be a very tough matchup for us because of the athletes they have. They also have some bigger kids up front than they’ve had in the past.”
Liberty features a versatile offense that’s averaging nearly 28 points per game this season as well as 42 ppg in the playoffs.
“They like to do multiple things on offense, especially this year with their two-quarterback system,” Beshore said. “They run it well and they like to throw it around, too. So we definitely want to control the ball, control the pace of the game. When you have the ball, the other team obviously doesn’t and can’t score. So focusing on ball security and working ahead of the chains will be vital.”
Lamar, coming off a 53-6 win over Sarcoxie in the District 4 championship, rides a seven-game win streak since suffering a 42-41 loss to McDonald County in Week 3.
The Tigers are averaging 43.3 ppg and have amassed more than 3,200 rush yards on the season. Case Tucker leads the team in rushing with 1,309 yards and 20 touchdowns on 160 attempts, while Logan Crockett has totaled 623 yards and 14 touchdowns on 57 attempts.
Lamar has outscored its opponents by nearly 28 points per game this season. No team has come within 16 points of the Tigers since their setback to the Mustangs.
“We’re a lot better than we were at the start of the year,” Beshore said. “We’ve made improvements each week, and I think we’ve hit our stride at the best time. You want to be playing your best in November.”