A post-win huddle. A breakdown. “It’s Brawl week, baby!” someone shouts.
Ozark players cheer, head for the bus, get a weekend’s worth of rest and get right back out on the field on Monday. The week everyone has been waiting for is here.
Nixa and Ozark in the Backyard Brawl.
But first, here are a few things to know:
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COVERAGE
1. The rivalry is tied at 6-6 in the last 12 contests
Ozark won last year’s contest 20-14, but Nixa won 42-14 in 2018.
Going back to 2008, no school has won more than three consecutive Backyard Brawls, a feat Nixa achieved from 2013-15.
2. Both schools have signature wins over Joplin
Coming off a loss in the state title game, Joplin was a team everyone in southwest Missouri expected to do well. The Joplin Eagles are currently 2-3 with the third loss coming from Willard last Friday — a game in which they were without their star tailback.
Nixa announced its presence as a powerhouse team in Week 2 by upsetting Joplin 35-34. It was new head coach John Perry’s first win at home, and it gave Nixa momentum that has continued through now. The Eagles sit at 5-0 coming into Friday night’s contest.
Ozark started the season with a loss to reigning state champ Carthage and it didn’t want to lose after that. Nixa’s Week 2 win set the bar to see if Ozark was up to the challenge when it took on Joplin in Week 3.
While Joplin scored more in its game against Ozark than it did against Nixa, the Ozark Tigers pulled off an impressive 51-43 win.
3. The players know how big the game is
The rivalry and implications of the game have not been lost on the players. It’s the game both teams look forward to every season and the rivalry goes back to when they were playing pee-wee football.
“It’s going to mean everything,” Nixa linebacker Steven Ward said. “We’re going to show them what Nixa’s about. We’re going to show them that just because they beat Joplin too don’t mean nothing. We’re going to show them that we the best.”
The build-up through the week is the best part for Ozark’s Ethan Pritchard.
“If you don’t want to play your best game and you’re not trying your hardest all week, there’s something wrong with ya,” Pritchard said. “Everybody wants that trophy. Everybody.”
4. A culture change has helped Nixa become a state contender
The state has taken notice of Nixa’s success in the first half of the season. In the latest media rankings, Nixa was placed at No. 2 in Class 6.
If you ask the players, the success has come from the changes brought in by Perry.
“It’s all attitude,” junior defensive lineman John Gholson said after beating Republic 35-7 in Week 4. “Last year it was ‘aw man, now we have to go play this team,’ and now it’s ‘we get to play this team and show them who we are.’”
Perry said it is all about belief for his team.
“They believe they have a chance,” Perry said after the Republic game. “If you believe — you’re 90% of the way there, and these jokers believe.”
5. Team chemistry has made the difference for Ozark this season
Ozark has struggled in the last two seasons, collecting a 5-16 record. This year, they’ve tied the wins for 2019 and things have only looked up for the Tigers. Pritchard and fellow senior Cannon Cox give their class most of the credit for the shift in outcomes.
“I don’t like to brag or anything … but our group’s pretty tight,” Pritchard said. “It makes things a lot easier, especially the criticism and stuff.”
The Tigers are aware that some might look at the 5-0 record and Nixa and automatically assume Nixa’s the better team. But the single loss Ozark has was one that showed what was missing on both sides of the ball, and head coach Chad Depee said those changes are being made to make this team the best it can be.
“These kids and coaches just keep plugging along — they’re believing in what we’re doing,” Depee said.
6. The stage is set for a trophy-worthy game
Regardless of who you want to cheer for, the above information is just as important as the following: Ozark High School Football Stadium. Eagles and Tigers. Nixa and Ozark. 7 p.m.
“It’s the Backyard Brawl, baby.”
Week 6 high school football schedule
- Nixa @ Ozark
- Kickapoo @ Rolla
- Parkview @ Glendale
- Camdenton @ Hillcrest
- Lighthouse @ Central
- Fair Grove @ Strafford
- Republic @ Joplin
- Carthage @ Willard
- Logan-Rogersville @ Girard (Kansas) – Saturday
- Lebanon @ West Plains
- Skyline @ Clever
- Pierce City @ Marionville
- Pleasant Hope @ Greenfield
- Waynesville @ Bolivar
- Cassville @ Monett
- Lamar @ Mount Vernon
- Marshfield @ Reeds Spring
- Webb City @ Branson
- Carl Junction @ Neosho
- Butler @ Buffalo
- Salem @ Willow Springs
- Nevada @ Seneca
- Lockwood @ Ash Grove
- Sarcoxie @ Miller
- Cabool @ Thayer
- Hollister @ Aurora
- Mountain Grove @ Mountain View-Liberty
- Houston @ Ava
- Diamond @ St. Michael the Archangel
- Harrisonville @ McDonald County
- Forsyth @ Stockton
- Lexington @ El Dorado Springs