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story.lead_photo.caption Blair Oaks wide receiver Jake Closser tries to elude a tackle from a Helias defender during last month's Jamboree at the Falcon Athletic Complex in Wardsville. Photo by Tara Goins

WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons weren't the only team last Friday to pick up a win against a Class 2 state-ranked opponent.

The Oak Grove Panthers are carrying extra momentum into Blair Oaks' home opener at the Falcon Athletic Complex. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Oak Grove (1-0) hosted then-No. 9 Lawson last week, starting the season with a 28-10 victory. Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said the energy created by the Panthers' 21 unanswered points to end the first half became contagious.

"When they really got rolling the other night, it seemed everybody in their stadium — their fans, their players, their coaches — there was a lot of excitement," LePage said. "Any time you see that, that's a team that's going to be ready to come play a football game."

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Blair Oaks (1-0) had a big win itself, starting the season with a 23-14 victory against then-No. 3 Maryville.

"For us to hold them to 42 yards rushing on 43 attempts, that's unheard of," LePage said of shutting down the Spoofhounds' run game in their wing-T offense. "I've had some coaches call me from around the state and say, 'My goodness, what are you all doing?' Our front was really just dominant."

The win, combined with Trinity Catholic's 25-6 loss to Lutheran North, gave the Falcons the No. 1 ranking in Class 3 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings.

"You work your whole life to try and be No. 1," LePage said. "If we're No. 1, let's prove we're No. 1 by our effort every day. And that includes going 1-0 every day."

Blair Oaks blanked Oak Grove 48-0 on the road last season, but this will be a much-improved Panthers team.

Oak Grove returns 10 starters on offense, including sophomore quarterback Hunter Jones, who threw for 161 yards and a touchdown against Lawson.

LePage said the Panthers will have three backs in their backfield, with a lot of shifting and a lot of motion.

"They're trying to do a lot of things to get your attention off what they do," he said.

LePage mentioned Oak Grove can also run the power-I formation at defenses.

"Then they try to get the ball on the edge," he said. "They try to wear you out in the middle and then they try to slip some guys outside. They try to spread you out, get some of their athletes in space and wear you out on the edge."

Senior running back Clay Griffin had 10 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Lawson. Sophomore Jamison Kirk also had seven carries for 50 yards.

Oak Grove averaged 6.8 yards per carry, but Jones was also effective through the air, averaging 20.1 yards per completion.

"The guy really put the ball on the money," LePage said.

The Panthers return four starters on the offensive line.

"They've got a thick offensive line," LePage said. "Probably not the fastest-of-foot guys, but real thick."

LePage said Oak Grove uses a 4-3, cover-2 defense, which he referred to as "America's defense."

"They run to the ball well, they make good tackles," LePage said. "They don't allow you to try to run the football. Last week, they had a lot of success shutting down Lawson after their first drive."

Lawson scored on its first possession against Oak Grove, but LePage said a sack on the second offensive series stunted the Cardinals' momentum.

"After they got the sack and put Lawson behind the chains, it seemed like they started playing more aggressively on defense," LePage said.

Senior defensive tackle Devin Alewine (5-foot-11, 280 pounds) holds down the front line for the Panthers, while senior Clay Griffin had a team-high 13 total tackles against Lawson at linebacker, including two for loss.

Senior safety Brenden Marsh added 12 tackles and an interception for the Panthers.

LePage noted his offense has to improve its ability to run between the tackles, an area it struggled in during last week's game against Maryville.

"With this team, they're going to allow you the illusion to run inside, but they're going to keep seven guys pretty close to the box," LePage said. "They're going to try to force you to beat them over the top.

"That's the great chess match: Do you take shots, or do you just sit there and try to run into it and use your will against theirs? Anybody who knows me knows I like to out-will the other team. We want to impose our will, so we're going to come out and try to run the football."

Blair Oaks scored on its first four possessions against Maryville, but couldn't add against to the scoreboard in the final 34 minutes of the game.

LePage said that was addressed this past week in practice.

"We were off just a little bit, and if we get our timing down, we feel like we've got a chance to be a really special offense," LePage said.

III

Notes: Blair Oaks received eight of the nine first-place votes in Class 3 in the Missouri Media Rankings, while Trinity Catholic received the ninth. Maryville dropped two spots to No. 5 in Class 2, and Lawson dropped out of the top 10. Tonight's meeting will be the last of a four-year series between Blair Oaks and Oak Grove. Blair Oaks athletic director Corey Felten said the Falcons will play Knob Noster in Week 2 for the next two seasons, hosting in 2020 and going on the road in 2021. Blair Oaks has won three in a row against Oak Grove. In addition to last year's victory, the Falcons won 46-7 at home in 2017 and 28-20 on the road in 2016. ... LePage said his team is "as healthy as we could be" going into tonight's game. "We had a few bumps and bruises, but most everything has healed up by this point in time," he said.

Related Media: Blair Oaks Football Podcast [Oak Grove preview, Sept. 6, 2019]

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