The Ozark Tigers left Willard with foul smells in their nostrils—literally.
Willard’s Tiger Stadium is surrounded by agricultural operations on two sides. Those beef farms produced a distinct agricultural odor that hung just right on a westerly wind as Willard put the boots to Ozark 40-3. Insects also made their presence felt on Friday night, frolicking on the rarely-seen-anymore natural grass playing surface.
“Why do so many farms smell like (expletive)?” a Willard defensive player asked aloud during a stoppage in the fourth quarter.
“What’s with all these bugs? Dang,” an Ozark player asked in frustration after a punt.
Then there was Reece Dawson. The Willard quarterback was 6-of-11 passing for 220 yards, two passing touchdowns and an interception. He rushed 11 times for 43 yards and two rushing touchdowns. His backfield mate Garrett Rice, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound bruiser, ran 16 times for 79 yards and a touchdown, and caught a 40-yard touchdown pass that was about 25 yards after the catch to the endzone.
“It’s not easy to beat Ozark in anything, and so we knew we were in for a tough battle tonight,” Willard coach Brock Roweton said. “I feel like that our kids really played well and played four really good quarters.”
Roweton credited his team’s offensive line for handling immense pressure from Ozark’s blitzing defense. Ozark had a positive turnover margin with an interception, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt, but Willard’s offense managed to move the ball consistently to score 33 points from scrimmage.
“(Ozark) put everybody on the line of scrimmage and were bringing a lot of people, and we dominated up front and I thought that showed,” Roweton said.
Ozark coach Chad Depee talked to his players after the game about staying with each other, and being willing to battle back from a difficult loss.
“We’re continually focusing on our locker room and our kids, the brothers inside there—their attitude and focus and remembering that we’re in a continual process of trying to get better,” Depee said. “We are trying to build something special here, and the special part is the people. It’s these kids.”
Offensively, Depee said that Ozark missed opportunities to gain some breaks in the game.
“It’s our job to execute. We had some chances. We just didn’t ever get the chunk play that could get the chains moving. I thought we had some opportunities, and when you can’t string together first downs, it’s hard to get into a flow,” Depee said.
While the natural grass surface is an increasingly rare sight, Depee said the field and the environment didn’t impact Ozark’s game plan.
“They have a beautiful field here. It is what it is. It is a little bit nostalgic or whatever, you don’t see grass very much,” Depee said.
Ozark struggled to move the ball offensively, its only points coming on a 33-yard field goal by Thomas Rushing late in the second half. Willard answered back with an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown by Evan Hancock in the game’s final minute.
It was just that kind of tough night for Ozark, and it didn’t feel good or smell good.
Willard 40, Ozark 3
At Tiger Stadium, Willard
Willard—Garrett Rice 3-yard run (Eli Aye kick)
Willard—Garrett Rice 40-yard pass from Reece Dawson (kick failed)
Willard—Dawson 1-yard run (pass failed)
Willard—Aye 31-yard pass from Dawson (Aye kick)
Willard—Dawson 9-yard run (Aye kick)
Ozark—Thomas Rushing 33-yard field goal
Willard—Evan Hancock 87-yard kickoff return (Aye kick)