The first-year head coach of the 0-6 Dragons will take them a few miles up the road to Hillsboro on Friday night as the surging 5-1 Hawks celebrate Homecoming. Hillsboro can wrap up the Mississippi Area Football Conference Red Division championship with a win.
Woodland played football for Hillsboro and at one time was an assistant coach there, but he’s not putting much stock in the familiar ties between the two programs. He’ll be starting a freshman quarterback, Austin Missey, against a Hawk defense that just held Windsor (3-3) to -6 yards rushing. Conversely, the Dragons must confront Hillsboro’s punishing run game, which rotates 200-pound backs who practically live in the weight room when they’re not toting the rock.
“Pride in general is the job,” Woodland said. “You’ve got to keep them up for whoever you’re playing. We have to stay focused and compete. It’s a tall mountain to climb. Hillsboro has good backs and they fly around on defense and create chaos.”
Missey made his first start against Festus on Sept. 17, a 62-6 defeat. Like any other freshman barking out signals under the Friday night lights for the first time, Missey struggled, throwing two interceptions while limited to negative yardage in rushing. Woodland didn’t want Missey starting this year, but senior Brody Fischer was converted from wide receiver and forced into the QB job out of necessity to start the campaign. The Dragons were shut out in their first three games, forcing Woodland’s hand.
“He’s going to be a good one,” Woodland said about Missey. “The good part about him, he’s like a sponge, but he needs some time. He’s got physical and mental growing to do. He’s a mature kid who has a lot of moxie and isn’t afraid to tell the older kids what to do. We shifted the offense around and I’m trying to make it easy for him.”
A quarterback’s best friend, especially for a QB just learning the ropes, is a good running game. Senior Caleb Coleman has delivered that with strong performances in De Soto’s last two games. In the 28-7 loss to Fredericktown last Friday, Coleman rushed 25 times for a season-high 193 yards. He churned out 180 yards the week before in a 24-16 conference loss to Windsor.
“This is the first year he’s getting all the carries,” Woodland said. “He’s picking up his vision and is the type of kid who wants it for us, not himself. He makes tough runs and the long ones. He’s a competitor and he runs hard. He’s seeing the cutback lanes and seams and is taking advantage of them.”
Fredericktown (1-5) was winless when it came north to De Soto Friday but took advantage of Dragon lapses on special teams with two touchdowns, on a 99-yard kickoff return and a blocked punt.
“Simple execution is where we’re falling down,” Woodland said. “If a lineman doesn’t take the right step, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, a winless team or undefeated one, it won’t work.”
De Soto also has missed two-way senior starter Bradley Hunt, who plays running back and linebacker but has been quarantined for the last two games.
“That’s hurt us in stopping the running game,” Woodland said.
It was sophomore Payton Brown’s turn to lead Hillsboro in rushing in last Friday’s 53-0 shutout at home over Windsor. Junior running backs Jaxin Patterson (nine carries, 78 yards, three touchdowns) and Austin Romaine (six runs for 81 yards) throttled back as the outcome was decided early and Brown filled in with eight carries for 140 yards, a 17.5 yard average. Patterson scored the game’s first three TDs and Tyler Watson (two carries for 63 yards) made it 27-0 in the second with a 57-yard scoring jaunt. Brown scored his first touchdown from 25 yards with 1:59 left in the half. Backup quarterback A.J. Heuszel completed a 22-yard TD pass to sophomore receiver Chase Sucharski, son of Hillsboro head coach Bill Sucharski, on the last play of the half and the Hawks led 34-0.
Starting QB Griffin Ray had a nagging injury, so as a precaution Bill Sucharski held him out against Windsor and started Heuszel.
Hillsboro hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season and the stingy Hawk defense won’t want that streak to end against Coleman. They generated four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles) against the Owls.
“Stopping the run has forced teams to get rid of the ball quickly and throw bubble screens and tunnels,” Sucharski said. “It’s a variety of ways, bringing guys at different angles. Our three defensive linemen have done a good job with scheme and technique. They don’t rack up a bunch of tackles, but they allow our linebackers to flow hard.
“We were watching game film (against Windsor) and nine or 10 times we had at least five hats to the ball.”
Friday’s Homecoming contest will be the Hawks’ third in a row at home. Their final two games before the Class 4 District 1 playoffs are at St. Francis Borgia (Washington) and Poplar Bluff, two inhospitable places where winning doesn’t come easily. The Knights won in Hillsboro 35-8 last season and the Hawks lost 39-26 at Poplar Bluff in 2019.
Keeping Patterson and Romaine fresh and healthy is key to the Hawks’ success in districts. Patterson, with 834 yards on 93 carries, is approaching his third 1,000-yard season and has rushed for 3,445 in his career. He could break the 5,000-yard mark as a senior next year.
“Their carries (for Patterson and Romaine) are down from a year ago, but I reminded them they had four games that we won (with a) running clock and that will bring anyone’s totals down,” Sucharski said. “As the season goes on, the wear and tear on the body piles up, so any time they get seven or eight carries in a game, that keeps them fresher down the road.”
Romaine showed off another talent when he squibbed a kickoff against Windsor. The ball caromed off an Owl player in the front row and bounced back to the Hawks, who recovered it.
“We were joking on the sideline and saying, imagine if a kid could do that anytime,” Sucharski said. “It’s a freak play that happens every so often.”
Sucharski said he isn’t worried about the Hawks losing their focus because the Dragons are winless or because of all the Homecoming activities this week. He’ll dial up the pressure on Missey and pound that deep Hawk backfield at what he believes is a solid De Soto defensive front.
“We’ll get after it and see if we can rattle (Missey) that way,” Sucharski said. “We had a strip sack on Windsor’s quarterback (Nolan Hirth). It’s a matter of playing their assignments and bringing pressure.
“(Coleman) is a good back. They did a good job of running against Windsor. I thought they were going to win that game, but Windsor made some big plays. Keith is from here and coached here and he’s got his work cut out for him with numbers. They’re big up front, but we pride ourselves on being in shape and wearing those guys down.”
Valle squashes Blue Jays
If Alex Rouggly has anything to do with it, Jefferson has played its last football game against Valle Catholic.
And as activities director for the Blue Jays, Rouggly has the biggest say in the matter. It’s not that he doesn’t respect the 15-time state champion Warriors, about 20 minutes south in Ste. Genevieve, or their traditions. He’s just seen his team lose too many times to them. As I-55 Conference opponents, Valle beat Jefferson handily every year, dating back to 2012 when the league was formed. The Warriors have since left the conference, which was never able to provide any real competition.
Even with coming off a trip to the Class 2 semifinals in 2020, and plenty talented at 4-2 this year, the Blue Jays were no match for Valle in last Friday’s 56-0 road loss. In the 10 meetings between the schools, the Warriors outscored Jefferson by an average of 50-9.
“You drive in and there’s a cemetery in one of the end zones,” Rouggly said about Valle’s stadium. “I love the persona of the small-school atmosphere, but you see that ‘V’ on the field and you know you have to bring your A-game on every snap. If you do that, 90 percent of the time they will (still) expose you.”
The Blue Jays were held to a season-low 74 yards on the ground. Quarterback Drew Breeze completed 6 of 16 passes for 67 yards and an interception.
“We threw the ball a lot against Valle to give us a chance,” Rouggly said. “(Breeze) was banged up in the second quarter and we took him out, but he’s fine. We knew we had bigger fish to fry.”
Or Eagles to catch. Jefferson hosts Grandview (4-2, 2-1) on Friday in its final I-55 game this season. St. Pius X (5-1, 3-0) can nail down the conference championship in Perryville on Friday with a win over St. Vincent (4-2, 2-0).
“They’re having a really good year,” Rouggly said of the Eagles. “Coach (Dave) Dallas and his staff have done a great job of building that program up. They run the flexbone triple option just like we do, and they run the same defense, too. It will be two good teams battling it out. The team that has the most success is the one that makes the fewest mistakes. There’s a lot to play for.”
In another I-55 game last Friday, Grandview took charge in the second half against visiting Herculaneum, shutting out the Blackcats and scoring 21 points in a 35-14 victory.
Quarterback Clayton Riddle and running back Camron Hagen scored the game’s first two touchdowns for the Eagles, on 2-yard and 21-yard runs. After Herculaneum tied the game 14-14, running back Ryan Ruble doubled Grandview’s lead with scoring bursts of 2 and 35 yards. Hagen, who led the Eagles with 101 yards on 18 carries, capped the scoring with a 45-yard run.
The Grandview defense held the Blackcats to 116 total yards and three first downs. Each team lost three turnovers.
Other football scores from around the county from Oct. 1: Crystal City 22, Sherwood 8; North County 41, Festus 35; Ladue 35, Seckman 27; St. Pius X 37, Doniphan 13.