Heavy mist and frigid temperatures preluded an uphill battle for the visiting Waynesville Tigers on Monday night, but the game's turning point came minutes before kickoff.
CAMDENTON – Heavy mist and frigid temperatures preluded an uphill battle for the visiting Waynesville Tigers on Monday night, but the game's turning point came minutes before kickoff.
Because the Tigers arrived to the game field less than three minutes before game time, referees assessed Waynesville a 10-yard penalty before the game.
Waynesville won the subsequent coin toss and elected to receive, but then the Camdenton Lakers booted the opening kickoff into the end zone and forced the Tigers to start at their own 20-yard line.
Waynesville coach Rick Vernon recognized field position as a major issue all season, and when his team gained just four yards – and failed to gain a first down – on its opening possession, a punt to the Camdenton 40-yard line gave the Lakers a short field.
Camdenton, out of a full-house formation, began pounding the football into the right side of the Tiger defense with running backs Matt Endsley (Sr.), Jimmy Sanders (Sr.) and Josh Martin (Jr.), rushing all the way to the Waynesville 5-yard line.
But the Tigers held Camdenton scoreless after Laker quarterback Bo Dean (Sr.) was stopped at the 1-yard line and short of the first down marker on fourth-and-5.
Despite preventing a scoring play on defense, the Tiger offense was again forced to operate from deep in its own territory, and again failed to produce a first down.
This time poor field position proved costly.
Waynesville punted to its own 44-yard line and, like clockwork, the Lakers took advantage. Camdenton converted a fourth-and-2 at the Waynesville 36, and later capitalized when Dean tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to receiver Elijah Ollison (Jr.) to go ahead 8-0 after a two-point conversion.
On the ensuing possession, the Tigers failed to convert a first down on offense, and allowed Camdenton to chew up some clock en route to a second scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Endsley. The score made it 14-0 after a failed two-point try with 2:10 remaining in the second quarter.
After halftime, Camdenton's Martin capped the team's opening drive with a 12-yard touchdown run and extended the lead to 20-0 after another failed conversion attempt.
Waynesville's defense continued battling throughout the contest, but the team's offensive woes kept the defense on the field far too long. Camdenton continued capitalizing on excellent field position and eventually won 35-0, effectively ending the Tigers' season in blowout fashion.
Throughout the season Vernon commended Waynesville student-athletes for continually working to improve in all facets of the game.
As Tiger quarterback Varon Martinez (Jr.) grew into his starting role in Week 4, the offense continually improved and won five of eight games dating back to a Sept. 27 victory over Rolla.
Out of the option, Martinez combined with running backs Ronnie McLean (Sr.), Willie Parker (Jr.) and Jalen Thomas (Jr.) for more than 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns – nearly 73 percent of the team's total offensive production.
It was no secret what the Tigers wanted to do week in and out, but the Waynesville offense played to its strength and forged a four-game win streak from Oct. 18 to Nov. 6, which ended in Monday's Class 5 State Tournament sectional round.
Despite finishing the season with a 5-7 overall record, Waynesville's defense kept the Tigers hopes alive in several games this season, including both contests against Lebanon – a heartbreaking 21-14 loss by interception return for a touchdown on Sept. 6, and a 32-24 win in the Class 5 State Tournament a week ago.
Seniors Joey Bradford (LB), DeSean Migo (DB), Jacob Semple (DT), and Kevonn Shoulders (LB) led the defense in tackles, each with more than 50 total stops, and limited opposing rushing offenses.
Undoubtedly the team will need to improve in the secondary as long passing plays proved costly for the Tigers all season. But that can't take away from the pride Waynesville displayed in punishing opposing running backs.
All season Vernon preached focusing on "little things" like field position and turnovers, and once the Tigers began controlling field position and limiting mistakes, wins started rolling in. Despite a losing record, the 2013 season was the best for Waynesville since 2010 when the Tigers also lost to Camdenton, 28-25, in the Class 5 State Tournament sectional round.
Unfortunately, losing the field position cost the Tigers their season on Monday.
Waynesville will lose 21 seniors to graduation in spring 2014, but will return a handful of starters next season.
Vernon and the Tigers had an adverse ride this fall, and though Camdenton had Waynesville's number again on Monday, the community can certainly respect what resiliency the Tiger student-athletes showed by fighting their way into a meaningful game after losing six regular season contests.
The current Missouri playoff structure emphasizes now, more than ever, the importance of weekly improvement. Because of what Vernon and the Tigers' coaching staff preached all season—continual improvement—those graduating in the spring will always remember the 2013 season as a success, both on and off the field.
And, to those who will return next year: the foundation has been presented. No matter what change brings in 2014, returners now understand the importance of correcting minor details before emphasizing the big picture of a game plan.
It is the perfect combination of coaching, preparation, determination and will that can create a winning atmosphere.
Mix in a little luck and future possibilities for a successful Waynesville football program are endless.