Lebanon's running back ran for over 314 yards against the Bulldogs last week, so he's sure to be the main priority for the Waynesville defense this week

WAYNESVILLE — This Friday the Waynesville Tigers (0-1) football team will be making the trip to Lebanon to take on the Yellowjackets (1-0).

Last week the Yellowjackets defeated the Rolla Bulldogs 48-31 behind the spectacular rushing performance of their senior running back Elza Evans.

Evans racked up 314 rushing yards on 27 carries and broke the plane four times for scores.

The 5-foot-eleven inch 205-pound running back will be the number one priority for the Waynesville defense this week.

“[Evans] is very quick, strong and big,” Waynesville coach Rick Vernon said. “We think we've got some things, hopefully, that can maybe slow him down. You're not going to stop him, you just have to slow him down and try to get the ball back to the offense.”

Vernon is right.

Last year Evans ran for over 1,400 yards, making him the leader in that category for the Ozark Conference, and had 19 touchdowns.

The scary thing is, Lebanon coach Will Christian says he's improved his football knowledge.

“As a senior, he's even better at reading blocks and has improved as the feature back,” Christian said.

Even though Evans is such a good player, Christian said he'd rather not have to rely so heavily upon him.

“Last week we were 4-11 passing,” Christian said. “That's not going to be good enough. Being one-dimensional is going to hurt us.”

Lebanon bases out of the spread, normally a formation that is run by offenses with a productive passing game, but the Yellowjackets, as Christian pointed out, had their problems.

“We're going to have to eliminate some penalties,” he continued. “Even more glaring, is that we turned the ball over twice. We were minus-one in turnover ratio. We've got to get on the plus side of that.”

Leading the way for Evans and protecting junior quarterback Luke Winfrey, is a large, upperclassmen laden offensive line that paves the way for Lebanon backs. Many of them in the mid 200s in weight, and a couple push into the three-bill range.

And the size isn't just for looks, they can throw it around.

“They get to the second level really well,” Vernon said.

Speaking of offensive lines, last week West Plains was creating havoc behind the line a little too frequent for the Waynesville coaching staff's liking.

The thing is, Vernon said the big boys up front don't deserve to take all the blame.

“When the offensive line was graded out, all of them were graded over 90 percent,” Vernon said. “They all stepped where they were supposed to and got to where they were supposed to go.”

After looking at tape, Vernon saw that part of the problem was West Plains was sending a lot of guys off the edge that couldn't be accounted for by offensive linemen.

To counter that, either the play needs to be run the other way, a back needs to pick him up or a combination of things need to happen to make sure he doesn't make a play in the backfield.

That's not to say the linemen can't help out by getting better.

“[The offensive linemen] just have to take their steps quicker and, naturally, you always want to get more physical,” Vernon said.

Christian has seen what the Tigers' line can do, and he isn't tabbing it as one of their weaknesses.

“Their offensive line creates lanes for the running game,” “First of all, West Plains is a great football team. Barring [Waynesville's] turnovers, they score 21 or even 28. That's a good night for their offensive line.”

They'll have to contend with some players on Lebanon's defensive front though.

Last week against Rolla, one of those players stood out.

Senior defensive end Caleb McGinnis tallied 10 tackles, a lot for a defensive lineman.

At 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds, he'll be a handful.

Vernon said they've talked with the players and have corrected the mistakes that hindered the offensive production last week.

He said third down was where they really lacked, as they converted on just two of 13.

“We were where we wanted to be on second down,” Vernon said. “We were at second and short many times, that third down is the one that got us into trouble.

“When we're third-and-two and third-and-three we've got some plays that we should be able to get that yardage. We ran those plays and we should've gotten that yardage, but we were putting ourselves in fourth-and-long and that really hurt us. We watched the film and hopefully we corrected that.”

It was a shame to see, because Waynesville has the athleticism to be an explosive offense.

Both coaches spoke to that fact.

“We feel like we've got about five people on the field at any given time that can get us great yardage in the passing game, run game, the option or any of our veer or read plays,” Vernon said. “We showed that last week at times.”

Christian testified to that as well, and spoke highly of Waynesville's quarterback Varon Martinez.

“Like normal, Waynesville is well coached and they have a lot of great athletes and their strong and physical,” he said. “We're obviously impressed with Martinez, he's one of the greatest quarterbacks in the area. He's a true dual-threat quarterback.”

He continued to say the Tigers' receivers are also physically gifted and they make outstanding plays.

It was something Waynesville couldn't capitalize on last week, Martinez posting an 8-20 mark, but Vernon said with one live game under his belt those numbers should improve.

“Until you get into the first game and see the speed of the game, you can't create that type of speed or intensity,” Vernon said. “After one game, as a quarterback, he'll start to see things develop a little quicker.”

The good news is Lebanon looked vulnerable last week.

Especially on the down that was Waynesville's achilles heel against West Plains.

“We gave up too many big plays and a lot of those came on third and medium or third and long,” Christian admitted.