There have been some surprising breakout teams in southwest Missouri throughout the first five weeks of the 2020 high school football season.
Some appear to be state-title contenders while others have made strides in turning their programs around.
Now that we’re more than halfway through the regular season, here’s a look at the biggest surprises so far:
We knew there would be some changes under new head coach John Perry but we didn’t know Nixa would be this good.
The Eagles appear to be one of the better teams in the state after five weeks of play.
Nixa runs a new run-pass-option offense which has featured the breakout of sophomore tailback Ramone Green — who might be the best tailback in the area already. The scheme has been fun to watch and it’s been unstoppable.
NIXA FOOTBALL COVERAGE
Defensively, the Eagles fly to the football with linebacker Stephen Ward leading the way. In four of Nixa’s five games, the defense has allowed fewer than eight points.
Don’t be surprised if this talented bunch goes on a special run this postseason.
Across the county might be a team that’s flying a bit under the radar.
Amongst all the Nixa hype, the Ozark Tigers have been taking care of business as they have a 4-1 record after going 4-6 just a season ago.
“One of our mottos that we have is staying hungry and being unsatisfied,” quarterback Cannon Cox said. “I feel like a lot of us are coming out after every game and we’re like, ‘What could we have done better — what could have improved? Let’s do that for next week.’ We’ll get chippy in practice, but we’ll be brothers in the end.”
Aside from having the perfect first name for a quarterback, Cox has led the Tigers to a 30-point uptick in its points-per-game production from two seasons ago. The Ozark offense has gone from scoring just 6.6 points per game in 2018 to 33.6 this season.
The defense has stepped up too — shaving off 10 points per game from a year ago.
This week’s Backyard Brawl between Nixa and Ozark is going to be a fun one.
The Poo established itself as a contender in the Ozark Conference from the first two weeks of the season when it knocked off defending-champ Camdenton and earned a win at Lebanon in back-to-back weeks.
Kickapoo has featured a good offensive line and some talented tailbacks. The defensive line isn’t half bad either as the Chiefs continue to improve.
The Chiefs defense has allowed 23.4 points per game after allowing an average of 39 just two years ago.
Kickapoo has dropped two-straight against a pair of the best teams in southwest Missouri in Webb City and West Plains. The Chiefs currently don’t have a Friday opponent with Rolla struggling with COVID-19 right now.
High school football in the are is a lot more fun when there’s a good team in Springfield and Kickapoo has been that team this season.
After going just 4-6 a season ago, the Comets are off to a 5-0 start and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the area.
Marionville is averaging 53.6 points per game — more than 22 points up from a season ago — while allowing an average of just 15.
Wil Carlton has been the standout for the Comets at quarterback. The sophomore has passed for nine touchdowns while completing 75.8% of his passes and he’s run in six scores of his own. He has a pair of games with more than 100 rushing yards.
Marionville should be a solid program for the next few years and it has a matchup with Pierce City on Friday with a chance to solidify itself as one of the elite teams in the region.
After an 0-10 campaign a season ago, the Tigers have really turned things around.
Nevada is 3-2 in a very difficult schedule with wins over Logan-Rogersville, Hollister and Monett. The Tigers’ lone losses came to Cassville and Lamar — the elite of the elite.
The turnaround comes courtesy of an offensive improvement of an additional three touchdowns per game after averaging just eight points per contest last season. The defense has shaved 15 points off its average while holding Hollister and Monett to single-digits.
The change in fortune for Nevada has been a great story this season.
There were signs of good things coming for the Wildcats and they have arrived under head coach Mark Talbert.
Rogersville is 3-2 and is coming off a great win over Mount Vernon on Friday night. They are scheduled to travel to Girard, Kansas, on Saturday after their originally scheduled game against Springfield Catholic was canceled due to COVID-19 quarantines.
J.J. O’Neal has been one of the area’s best athletes while leading the way for the Wildcats as a quarterback and a great kick returner.
With the win over the Mountaineers, the Wildcats matched their season win total from a year ago. They’re averaging about an additional touchdown per game while allowing five fewer points.
Rogersville is taking some great steps just a few years removed from a winless season.
The Mustangs have already doubled their win total from a year ago and they pulled off one of the year’s biggest upsets while doing it.
McDonald County is 4-1 entering a matchup with East Newton on Friday. The Mustangs pulled off a comeback to defeat Lamar 42-41 in the third week of the season.
The Mustangs have gone from averaging 17.5 points a year ago to 33 this season. The closest they’ve been to a winning record since 2010 was a 5-5 year in 2017 — a year after they went 0-10 in 2016.
The rise of McDonald County this year has been a feel-good story in southwest Missouri.
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or join the conversation on Twitter where his handle is @WyattWheeler_NL. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.