O’FALLON, Mo. — The "Revenge Tour" is complete.
Joplin jumped out to a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter and never relinquished it, defeating Fort Zumwalt West 41-20 on Saturday afternoon at Hoekel Stadium to secure a berth to the Class 6 state title game.
“This feels awesome,” Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. “It really feels great. I am so happy for these kids because they earned it with all of their hard work this season.
“Monday, we are going to get after it and make sure we are as prepared (for the state title game) as we can be, and we will enjoy every moment of it.”
The No. 3-ranked Eagles face No. 1 De Smet in a matchup of 13-0 teams for the state championship at 3 p.m. Saturday in Columbia at the University of Missouri's Faurot Field. The Spartans blanked Raymore-Peculiar 37-0 in the other semifinal.
Joplin is playing for a state championship for the first time since 1984 when Parkwood lost to Jefferson City Helias 23-13 at Arrowhead Stadium.
The victory also gave the Eagles revenge for all three of their losses last season — to Webb City and Carthage during the regular season and in the state semifinal game.
Joplin was led by senior Isiaiah Davis, who finished with 40 carries for a game-high 175 yards and five touchdowns. Davis also had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on defense.
“That guy is an absolute monster,” said Joplin wideout Zach Westmoreland, who had 14 catches for 121 yards. “There are so many different things he can do. Just watching him grow up and do the things he is doing, it’s amazing to watch.”
“I am so shocked and can’t believe it,” Davis said. “We have worked so hard as a team since the end of May. We overcame adversity so many times this year as a team, and look where it has gotten us.”
Though it was billed as a road game, Joplin was playing in front of a sizable away crowd. More than 200 Joplin High School students filled four pep busses, with the funds raised by the community, and made their way 4 1/2 hours to show support for their Eagles.
“The crowd was a huge part of the game today,” said Joplin quarterback Blake Tash, who completed 26-of-34 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown. “It almost didn’t even feel like a road game because of how many students and parents we had here supporting us. That means the world to us as a team.”
Joplin took first possession and marched down the field on 14 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Davis’ touchdown, from 2 yards out, with 7:58 in the first.
Fort Zumwalt West came up with points on its first drive after Matt Lange drilled a 38-yard field goal with 5:14 to play in the quarter to cap a 12-play drive while trimming Joplin’s lead to 7-3.
It turned into a two-score game when Davis took a handoff left from 12 yards out, going airborne at the goal line for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-3 with 38 seconds left in the opening stanza.
On the Jaguars’ third play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Davis picked off Jake Murphy's pass for the game’s first turnover.
Fort Zumwalt West turned it over again on the third play of its ensuing possession when Davis stripped Max Koviak after his first reception of the game, with Davis falling on the loose ball at the Jaguar 32-yard line.
Three plays later, Davis broke off a 14-yard run up the middle and fumbled the ball just as he got to the goal line, but the senior fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to put Joplin on top 21-3 with 8:09 left in the opening half.
Murphy found Koviak over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown with less than four minutes to play in the second for the Jaguars’ first touchdown, but the Eagles answered with a 25-yard passing score when Tash connected over the middle with Nathan Glades, who made a man miss before sprinting to the end zone to bring the score to 27-10 with 1:35 to play.
Fort Zumwalt West drove down the field, with Murphy keeping the ball for a 6-yard rushing score as time expired to trim Joplin’s lead to 27-17 with two quarters to play.
The Jaguars opened the second half with a nine-play drive that ended with a 42-yard field goal by Lange to make it a one-score game, 27-20, with 7:53 left in the third.
But the Jaguars never got any closer as Joplin’s defense held them scoreless on their final five possessions of the game.
“The defense played absolutely amazing in the second half,” Westmoreland said. “There were some things we needed to fix from the first half and we adjusted well in the second half.”
One of those stops came at the end of the third quarter when Murphy and running back James Strauss fumbled the handoff exchange, with Joplin falling on it to gain possession.
Davis scored for a fourth time from 2 yards out with 27 seconds left in the third to push the lead to 34-30. Davis’ final score iced the win, getting to paydirt from 3 yards out with 1:46 to play.