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As the Eagles’ world turns, new stars continue to emerge

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Nixa coach John Perry’s watch list on Netflix includes the likes of “QB1 Beyond The Lights,” “Last Chance U,” “All-American,” “Titletown High,” etc.

“I love them. I’ve watched them all. I’ll watch (a season series) in one day,” he said. “Anything to do with football, I’m going to watch it, I assure you.”

Perry agreed his Eagles would make for a good reality series, what with all the riveting storylines that have encompassed the first three weeks of this season. There are an endless number of still photographers along the Nixa sideline on game nights, but a camera man might be better off shooting video behind the scenes and earn himself an Emmy. 

“We’ve got an array of characters on our team, no doubt about it. We’re a little off the charts,” Perry said.

Already, Nixa has a completely different offensive backfield than it started the season with. After a change at quarterback played out the first two weeks, the Eagles’ latest plot line centers on the broken collar bone suffered by running back Ramone Green.

Nixa played its first game Friday without Green in its backfield since 2018 and the Eagles responded with a 49-14 rout of Willard.

A running back by committee featuring Casen Hammit, Spencer Ward and Ryan Retone combined for four touchdowns, with a lost fumble being their lone miscue.

“When your star player goes down, you kind of fold your tent and your effort slacks off. But championship teams play hard, no matter who goes down or what happens,” Perry said. “We’ve challenged all three running backs to play well and all three did positive things tonight. All three of them were effective.”

Hammit responded to his first start with three touchdown runs.

“It sucks Ramone went down and I hope he makes it back soon. But it’s next guy up,” Hammit said. “You never know, I could go down next week and Spencer could take over. It’s a part of football.

“We’ve got depth (at running back) all the way through, even the jayvee guys are studs,” he added. “You saw Broden (Mabe) carrying guys with him tonight.”

The timing of Hammit’s trio of touchdowns couldn’t have been better, with his grandparents having made the drive from their home in Fort Worth, Texas, for the game.

“My grandparents are here for this game and next week’s game,” Hammit said. “My grandpa is retired now and it means a lot to me for them to be here.”

Likewise, Ward’s older brother, Steven, was on hand. Steven, who starred for Nixa the past two seasons, brought along a handful of his new Missouri State teammates.

“It meant a lot to me for him to be here because he’s a role model to me and having his friends here is cool, too,” Spencer said.

Ward, who starts at safety, showed off his explosiveness and elusiveness while breaking free for a 45-yard run that set up his one-yard touchdown run.

“Even with how good of a player Ramone is, we know we can step up and play at the same level we are at with him,” Ward said. “The good thing is we are going to be fresh by rotating us in at running back so we can get big runs.”

Nixa’s offensive linemen dominated the line of scrimmage, whether they were stepping back to pass-block or charging ahead to block on a run. They gave the Eagles’ wideouts time to run deep routes and for quarterback Connor Knatcal to unleash bombs.

Knatcal fired two touchdown passes to Kael Combs and threw another scoring strike to Austin McCracken, as Nixa went up 28-0 in the first quarter.

“At the beginning of the season, we struggled along the line. But they have worked their tails off,” Hammit said. “They are such a good group. They make the holes happen. Sam (Brower) gets down on down-blocks and clears his guy out.”

“They’ve gotten a lot better,” Knatcal added. “Having the time I do to be able to throw the ball is awesome.”

It took the Eagles a bit longer to turn on the turbo clock than they hoped. After putting up four touchdowns in the first quarter, they were scoreless in the second quarter.

“It’s hard for high school kids to keep their foot on the pedal,” Perry said. “We slacked off in the second quarter. We let up and started making mistakes on offense, defense and special teams. We got on them at halftime and I think they came back and played well in the second half.”

Perry reported a timetable for Green’s comeback is wide varying at this juncture, with doctors having said he will be out anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Green underwent surgery Friday.

“We hope we have a chance to get him back for the playoffs,” Perry said. “He’ll have his shoulder fixed and be better than before. They will put a steel rod in there and he won’t have any more issues with that shoulder. He’ll have problems with the other shoulder before he has problems with that shoulder again.”

“Ramone is one of the hardest workers I know and it’s tough to see this happen to him,” Knatcal added. “But I know he’ll come back. I don’t know when that will be. But he will rehab and be better than ever when he does come back.”

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