Ozark was beaten methodically 41-14 by Republic on Thursday, while in contrast quarterback Peyton Russell received what easily could have been a quick knockout blow from linebacker Cole Gimlin.
Russell’s response was one of the highlights for Ozark.
The sophomore signal-caller’s first varsity start in front of the home crowd saw him finish 9-of-16 passing for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Most of Russell’s completions and yardage came after Gimlin sacked him late in the first quarter. Ozark’s sideline argued there was helmet-to-helmet contact on the play, with the crown of Gimlet’s helmet violently hitting Russell’s face mask and causing his neck to jerk back from the impact.
Russell was obviously fazed by the blow and had to take a breather during the ensuing play.
“It didn't feel good. It was a jarring hit,” Russell said.
“He wants to play really bad, so I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to get back up and come in,” cornerback/wide receiver Sam Clark said. "He definitely does have my respect.”
“Peyton is an awesome kid,” coach Jeremy Cordell said. “He’s been a bright spot. You would have never known last week he was a sophomore starting his first varsity game and tonight he handled everything like a champ. He took that shot. I was concerned about him. But he came back in. He's a tough kid and a competitor.”
Cordell confronted the line judge when no flag was thrown.
“Right or wrong, I told the ref exactly how I felt because it was a head-to-head hit and he missed it and (they) missed it as a crew,” Cordell said. “I know officiating crews aren't perfect. I get that. But the game has been changed to protect our kids and that was a blatant shot. Whether it was meant to (be) or not I don't know. But it occurred and (a penalty) should have been called.”
Instead, numerous ineligible receiver and illegal shift penalties were called throughout the night. Go figure.
Penalties were about all that stopped Republic’s offense. The visiting Tigers gradually pulled away by repeatedly gaining first downs on third-and-short runs.
Republic quarterback Wyatt Woods threw for just 10 yards in Week One versus Carthage, but it would be an upset if he doesn’t go on to become the COC’s top QB. He ran in between the tackles and along the edges and connected with wideout/tight end James Rexroat for passes of 46 and 61 yards.
Rexroat ran right past Ozark’s defensive backs on his pass routes and was wide open for both catches.
“Bottom line is it comes down to execution and we didn't execute on both of those (plays),” Cordell said. “Schematically, we were in good shape for what they were doing, but we still have to execute.”
Republic reeled off 21 straight points to close out the second quarter, after Ozark took a 7-6 lead three minutes into the second quarter.
Russell lofted a spiral that Clark caught on the run en route to a 43-yard touchdown.
"I didn't think I was going to catch it, so I sped up and it fell right in my hands,” Clark said.
The Russell-Clark combo accounted for five passes for 102 yards.
“He's fast and gives me open looks,” Russell said. “I've just got to get the ball to him.”
Clark’s punting was also commendable. He had a 67-yard boot.
“That (came) out of nowhere,” Clark said. “Yesterday, (punting) wasn't going so well for me. But once I get in a game, it comes back to me. I was really mad so I was kicking the ball as hard as I could.”
Clark was mad at the score and mad at himself, after he was guilty of a missed tackle on Daniel Phillips’ 95-yard touchdown run.
“That should have never happened. That touchdown was completely my fault,” Clark said. “I was gassed. I was trying to catch my breath and he ended up getting outside of me.
“It's really hard to go three ways,” he added, referring to offense, defense and special teas. “I don't think I'll be doing it much longer.”
"Sam had another very solid game,” Cordell said. “He had great punts and the touchdown catch. Defensively, he was flying around. He's a valuable kid for us.”
The start of the third quarter saw Ozark recover a Republic fumble on a punt return near midfield and drive to set up running back Jack Bowers for a two-yard touchdown run.
Bowers couldn’t help but think what might have been if Ozark had been able to finish off its two opening drives of the night that stalled deep in Republic territory.
“It should have been a closer game than it was,” Bowers said. “In the first quarter, we put up a good fight. But we failed to score in the red zone. That’s on us. We dominated the first quarter. But we came out in the second quarter and lost it.”
Ozark tight end Jace Whatley missed the game after suffering an MCL injury at Carl Junction in Week One. He's due to have an MRI today to learn the extent of the injury.