Many would consider Friday's district football matchup between Rolla and Waynesville a chance for redemption for both teams.
WAYNESVILLE – Many would consider Friday's district football matchup between Rolla and Waynesville a chance for redemption for both teams.
The Rolla Bulldogs enter the district playoffs with just one win – a victory earned last week over 3-6 West Plains. The Tigers, however, will seek revenge for a devastating 34-6 loss to Rolla in the 2012 district tournament, which came just six weeks after Waynesville clipped Rolla, 30-28, in overtime.
Tigers coach Rick Vernon said last year's contest is on the team's mind, but "all that goes out the door" after Friday's opening kickoff.
"Then it's what's happening on the field," he said. "We haven't talked much about it. We just have to be ready to play football – and our kids will be ready to play football."
This year's district game holds eerie similarities to the 2012 postseason. The Bulldogs were winless before earning a win over West Plains in the final week of the 2012 season, the same situation as this season's first-round opponent.
Last season's final Tiger home game was against Rolla in districts, and the visitor ousted Waynesville, ending the Tigers' hopes of capturing a Class 5, District 4 championship.
Waynesville student athletes—led by senior leaders—have rallied around each other all season, and Vernon said he expects a different outcome against Rolla this year because of it.
"They've just worked very hard every game," Vernon said of his student-athletes. "They continue to get better every practice, every game. … We've got a great group of seniors and they've led our younger guys and [they're] seeing good things because of that."
One of Waynesville's three season wins came against Rolla on Sept. 27 (32-17 final). That game sparked a late-season rally for the Tigers, who have gone 3-2 since, and are coming off an impressive win over Hillcrest (6-3) just last week.
In the win, Waynesville was able to control Hillcrest QB Matt Rush (Sr.), who has accounted for 2,104 yards and 21 touchdowns, limiting him to minimal gains on most occasions.
Vernon said his coaching staff pieced together a quality game plan, and then the Tigers followed through by making Hillcrest's offense run to the sidelines rather than upfield.
Defense has been a pillar for Waynesville's recent success, and Vernon expects that to continue into districts.
"They've really played well all season [though] we've put them in some very tough situations because of special teams [and] turnovers," he said of his defenders.
On the offensive side of the ball, Waynesville QB Varon Martinez (Jr.) has ignited new life into the read-option system. Martinez has become a dual-threat after several weeks as the starter, and has passed for 576 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 826 yards and nine touchdowns.
A handful of running backs have also contributed to a 245 yards-per-game rushing average: Ronnie McLean (Sr., 634 yards, 7 TDs), Willie Parker (Jr., 419 yards, 4 TDs) and Jalen Thomas (Jr., 265 yards, 5 TDs).
"We've finally put our offense [and] defense together, and our special teams were very good," Vernon said. "Like we've been talking to the players all along, we need all three [phases] to be successful."
By defeating Hillcrest, Waynesville won its first home game at new Tigers Stadium, but also earned a district home game, which is something the team has worked toward since earlier this season.
With home-field advantage, the Tigers hope to build their first ever home win streak against Rolla on Friday.
Vernon said his squad "has to play like we did against Hillcrest in all three phases of the game" to emerge victorious.
But there's no looking back.
"That win last week for them, the win for us last week, that's all forgotten," he said.
The coach said his Tigers must remain balanced offensively in order to sustain their winning ways. Defensively, it's about reading and reacting in the the box, and then keeping the ball in front of the secondary.
And of course being at home will help.
Friday's kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Special MSHSAA rules apply for admission to Friday's contest. All adults and children older than 5 years are required to purchase tickets for $4 to enter. WHS athletic passes and employee identification will not be accepted. In addition, no reserved seating will be offered.
Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. Friday.