It all happened so fast that Ozark’s offensive linemen could have easily not caught the number of the Nixa defensive end who sped by them seemingly in a blur when the teams met in a jamboree at Kickapoo last month.
If the linemen needed to be alerted of the No. 40 jersey number donned by DeSean Downs or a reminder of the manner in which he ran by them, they received it repeatedly this week leading up to the Backyard Brawl.
“The coaches told us all week, ‘No. 40, No. 40, No. 40,’” Ozark offensive lineman Hunter Tennison said.
Tennison and his cohorts responded by falling a mere :28 short of 40 minutes of epic ball-hogging in the Tigers’ 20-14 victory versus Nixa on Friday.
Ozark’s offensive linemen were on the field for so long they lost their anonymity. They were able to do so by first addressing Downs and keeping him from being disruptive, as he was in their jamboree matchup. Downs still had two tackles for a loss this time around, but wasn’t the constant presence in the Tigers’ backfield he was a month ago.
“No. 40, I don’t know what his name is, but he’s good and he’s huge,” Ozark running back Tylr Bolin said. “Our line did a good job keeping him contained. We contained him where he wasn’t making too many tackles like he was (in the jamboree).”
It was a prime-time matchup worth zeroing in on whenever the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Tennison would go man-on-man against the 6-3, 200-pound Downs.
“He definitely challenged me. I had to fall back on technique. I couldn’t overpower him,” Tennison said. “I stuck with what our coaches told me to do. One thing I tried to make sure of when he came across me was that he wouldn’t get past me.”
“Hats off to that dude, he’s a ball player and a tough challenge,” Ozark lineman Logan Brewer said of Downs. “He gave us his best and we tried to do our best against him.”
“(Downs) is a very good player,” Ozark coach Chad Depee aded “He gave us fits. We hope that with whatever people are doing to us that we have an answer to it.”
Ozark (3-1) answered both of Nixa’s touchdowns with scores of their own on their way to 341 yards rushing. Depee felt the Tigers had no bigger answer than their first scoring drive to end the first half in response to the Eagles gaining a 7-0 lead.
Four minutes into the second quarter, Nixa’s Steven Ward blocked a 48-yard field-goal attempt by Thomas Rushing, held onto the ball and dashed downfield for a touchdown. At that juncture, the Eagles had held the ball for only 1:39, including :09 on Ward’s touchdown, but led 7-0.
“We got the jump on them,” Ward said. “I thought we had a breakout play and had Ozark down.”
Not deterred, the Tigers made it 7-all at the half on a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chance Stickler to running back Thomas Rushing.
“The one thing that sticks out to me in the first half is was how we responded to their special teams play,” Depee said. "Answering right before the half was a pretty big influence on the game. We had controlled the ball and the defense was playing well, now we had to go finish and score some points.”
“It was one mistake that had us tied,” Strickler said. “It was our game and we were going to show them it was.”
Nixa’s offense was three and out to open the second half and Ozark gained its first lead, 13-7, at the 6:00 mark of the third quarter. Bolin capped a 56-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run. Nothing fancy, just straight-ahead running behind a surging offensive line, Bolin pointed out.
“I saw big holes, but always knew their free safety was coming up and I would have to lower my shoulder,” he said. “I’m not one to try to make a cut. We like the short chunks to wear the defense out.”
The Tigers clearly won the battle of the attrition along the line of scrimmage, highlighting their night with a 91-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Strickler hit wideout Owen Brockman for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 6:51 remaining.
“I was reading the defense, focusing on my footwork and putting the ball where it needed to be,” Strickler said. “The safety jumped, so I knew I could float the ball over the top and we would be good. We did exactly what we wanted to do tonight.”
The Strickler-to-Brockman touchdown came on the only sequence all game in which Ozark had back-to-back pass attempts. On the play prior to the TD, the Tigers had a completion for a first down waved off due to a 15-yard crack-back block penalty.
“That was a mental mistake we made and it could have cost us,” Depee said. “But Owen can run and Chance, with good pass protection, threw a dime. It was a great play. We saw an opportunity to try that play and fortunately the kids executed.”
Nixa’s offense, which didn't have a first down in the first half, finally put something together. Quarterback Reid Potts hooked up with wideout Evann Long for a 49-yard scoring strike with 5:41 to play. But the ensuing extra-point was the Eagles’ last offensive play of the night.
Tennison, Brewer and fellow linemen Jacob Wofford, Adam Baker and Devin Griest allowed Ozark to run out the clock. The Tigers converted on a 4th-and-1 from the Nixa 25-yard line with 1:51 left.
All deserving props went to Ozark’s offensive line.
“This is the best offensive line performance we’ve seen here in a while,” Brewer said. “I’m so proud. We dominated. We can’t play any better. After every play we were congratulating each other and loving each other.”
“There is a lot of pressure on the offensive line because about 90 percent of the beginning of the play is about them and the blocking was great,” running back Ethan Pritchard said. “Every team we have played so far has tried to take away the pitch and try to get the quarterback to dive. Nixa didn’t play that way. They tried to take away the quarterback and B-back. But our blocking was great on sweeps. I’m proud of everyone on the offense. Everyone was in sync.”
“I think it was about the attitude everybody had,” Tennison said. "Everyone was focused. We had a positive attitude and positive energy. Some guys had more power, some guys had more technique. It all blended well.”
Ozark 20, Nixa 14
Nixa 0 7 0 7 - 14
Ozark 0 7 6 7 - 20
N - Ward 52 return on block field goal (Anello kick)
O - Rushing 28 run (Rushing kick)
O - Bolin 7 run (kick blocked)
O - Brockman 29 pass from Strickler (Rushing kick)
N - Long 44 pass from Potts (Anello kick)