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Eagles' overshadowed passing game likely to play more of a factor in post-season


Nixa wide receivers Rylan Michel and Wyatt Vincent have been content playing in the shadows of the Eagles’ vaunted running game, given their offense’s prolific results and the team’s undefeated run to the COC championship.

“Obviously, we want the ball,” Michel said. “But whenever the running game is as good as ours, with Malachi (Rider) and Dylan (Rebura), and I think our O-line is the best in the state, you run the ball.”

“You want to get the ball, but if the running game is going to get it done and win you games, you've got to be a team player,” Vincent said.

Nixa’s passing game has put up most of its numbers in blowouts against overwhelmed opponents and only after the running game built a lead.

The Eagles had 0 yards passing in their 34-28 win versus Carthage, 38 yards passing in their 31-28 win at Republic and 76 yards passing in their 14-7 win versus Webb City

The only passes of real consequence have been Drew Blevins’ game-winning touchdown pass to Michel against Webb City in Week One and Nate Uber’s strike to Michel to gain a pivotal first down at Republic in Week Eight.

Looking ahead to Districts and beyond, the Eagles’ passing game will almost surely have to make more of an impact to keep opposing defenses honest. If Nixa wins its District, a matchup with No. 1-ranked Lee's Summit (9-0) is a possibliity in the Quarterfinal round.

Michel and Vincent vow they’ll be ready when called upon.

“We have two of the best receivers in the COC and the state,” Michel said. “When we do get the ball thrown to us, we take advantage and get good yards. I think we'll take advantage of all our opportunities. We still got, what, five more games ahead of us — keep the ball on the ground and whenever they defend our ground game, we throw the ball in the air and me and Wyatt will take over.”

Michel has proven to be clutch and reliable over three seasons. His route-running, soft hands and field vision after a catch allow him to excel. Through nine weeks, he has 26 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.  His career numbers are 76 receptions for 1,407 yards.

Vincent is a burner who can stretch the opposing defense. He has 18 receptions for 504 yards, an average of 28.0 yards a catch. He's coming off a five-catch, 151-yard night verus Ozark.

Vincent gave Ozark fits in last week’s Backyard Brawl on deep routes by simply running past the Tigers’ defensive backs to get open.

Vincent wasn’t touched while receiving a 62-yard touchdown pass from Blevins.

“He hit me in stride and when he hits me in stride like that, I knew I had room to take off,” Vincent said. “I caught it in stride and saw the safety was still five or six yards away from me, so I knew it would be a touchdown.

“I know I'm the fastest dude in the state,” he added. “When I get the ball in the open field, I'm gone.”

Vincent’s baseball duties keep him too busy in the spring to give track a try. He’s curious how he would fare as a sprinter.

“I’d want to run the 100,” he said. “I was actually going to do track my seventh-grade year, but we had COVID (cancel the spring sports season), so I ended up not doing track.”

Vincent has never raced against former Nixa wideout and track standout Austin McCracken, who is now a volunteer assistant coach with the Eagles.

“It would be fun,” Vincent said of a race between him and McCracken. "He’s pretty fast, too. We have never officially raced, but we did a chase drill together.”

Vincent adds he shares the unofficial title as Nixa’s fastest player with safety Spencer Ward.

"On any given day, one of us will win,” he said.

Nixa’s offense has featured a rotation at running back with Rebura and Rider since Week Two. But the rotation at quarterback between Uber and Blevins was essentially scrapped after only a couple weeks, with Uber receiving all nine starts and taking the snaps unless the games are out of hand.

Neither quarterback seemingly ever separated himself. Uber is 45-of-68 passing for 1,021 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception, while Blevins is 16-of-28 for 333 yards with four touchdowns and no picks. Uber has a QB rating of 142.8, while Blevins is at 138.8.

Those numbers are somewhat inflated due to intermediate throws that the receivers turn into big gains. The passing stats could actually be better if not for overthrown passes to open receivers donwfield.

The presumption that the rotating QBs was nixed due to Uber being a right-hander and Blevins a lefty is shot down by Michel and Vincent. They  report a pass from a right-hander versus a left-hander has a minimal effect on them when they’re catching the ball.

“(The ball) spins the other way, but that's a given,” Michel said. “We practice enough with them and get enough balls from both of then that we're comfortable with both of them.”

“Most people think the different spin would throw us off, but it doesn’t,” Vincent said. “You don't even think about it during a game. They throw it, we go get it. It’s just about catching a pass. The ball is there and they both throw it pretty good.”

Nixa’s quarterbacks have the benefit of exceptional receivers to work with and a top-of-the-line offensive line to give them all the protection and time in the pocket they could ever ask for. Opponents have recorded a mere one quarterback sack against Nixa the entire season.

It all adds up to a passing game that could be worth keeping an eye on.

"It's a good quarterback room,” Michel said. "They make it easy on us. They’re super accurate. They throw a good ball and keep a good spiral on it.”

With all that said, Michel and Vincent will be willing and able to do their part to help Nixa continue to establish its ground game.

“We do a lot of blocking drills,” Vincent said. “The first couple of weeks, it was pretty rough on us. But, we realized it was going to be (important) for us to block on the outside and we began to take it more seriously."