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story.lead_photo.caption Coby Williams and the Versailles Tigers are looking to beat the Buffalo Bison for the second consecutive season. Photo by News Tribune

VERSAILLES, Mo. — It's way too early in the season for must wins.

However, after an unexpected struggle in its season-opener and with a pair of matchups against state-ranked Tri-County Conference heavyweights looming the next two weeks, that's kind of what tonight's non-conference home game against rugged Buffalo is shaping up to be for the Versailles Tigers.

Versailles will host Buffalo tonight with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

With a veteran group returning from last season's seven-win campaign, Versailles went into last week's home opener against Knob Noster riding high.

But the Tigers were sent packing, being whipped by Knob Noster 50-20.

"Playing conditions weren't terrible," said Versailles head coach Broc Silvers. "It just seemed like anything that could go wrong for us did. I think our kids pressed and Knob Noster is a physical group. But we made it easier for them. I still think we could have won. It should have been much closer. And they gave us a different defensive look than we thought we would see."

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The Tigers didn't help matters by committing five turnovers.

"They ran for 238 yards on us," Silvers said. "And we gave them some short fields."

Following this week Versailles jumps into the deep end of the Tri-County Conference pool by meeting Southern Boone on Sept. 13 in Ashland and then hosting defending Class 2 state champion Blair Oaks on Sept. 20.

Blair Oaks, which has not lost since 2017, is ranked No. 1 and Southern Boone No. 6 in the current Missouri Media Class 3 state poll.

Versailles, tied for 10th in the Class 2 preseason poll, fell out of the state rankings this week, while Knob Noster received votes in this week's state poll for its performance against the Tigers.

So unless the Tigers step it up starting tonight, they could find themselves going from state-ranked to 0-4 real quick.

"That's the question," Silvers said when asked how his players' mind-set was following the Knob Noster disappointment. "We've got Buffalo this week and we've got Southern Boone and Blair Oaks coming up. That's four really good opponents in a row. We certainly want to get a positive. But we've got to do a better job cleaning up some mistakes."

Buffalo also comes in with a 0-1 record. But the Bison aren't a typical 0-1.

Buffalo dropped a season-opening heart-breaker last week, falling 38-36 in overtime on the road to Ava, the state's No. 7-ranked Class 2 school.

Buffalo erupted for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 30 and take Ava into overtime.

In the extra period each school scored a touchdown. However, Buffalo failed on the conversion attempt while Ava scored a 2-point conversion for what proved to be the game-winner.

Buffalo was trying to shock Ava for a second straight season. In 2018, Buffalo handed Ava a 20-16 season-opening setback on its way to a 9-3 record.

It was the lone regular-season loss for Ava, which went on to win 11 games and advance to the Class 2 quarterfinals for the second straight season.

Silvers is hoping history repeats itself. Last season after the Tigers were bombed by Knob Noster 68-30 and Buffalo knocked off Ava in the opening week, Versailles went to Buffalo and handed the Bison a 35-21 setback.

"We had kind of the same start to the season last year and then bounced back to beat Buffalo," he said. "We need to do that again."

But it will take a strong, mistake-free effort.

"We're playing up a class against Buffalo and we've played them six times since I've been here," Silvers said. "And this is probably the best team we've seen from them."

Like Versailles' senior Coby Williams, Buffalo junior quarterback Jamen Smith is the key to the Bison offensive attack.

A true dual-threat, Smith rushed for 1,548 yards and passed for 1,032 yards for 36 total touchdowns in 2018. He has also been a dynamic return man for the team.

"Smith has got to be one of the fastest quarterbacks in the state," Silvers said. "Last year he was kind of a run-first guy. But he's throwing much better now. He seems to just take the open receiver, he doesn't really seem to have a No. 1 target right now.

"They are a true spread team with a bunch of formations, and they include a version of a power run game. They're almost identical to us in that regard."

Silvers said the Tigers unexpectedly got a sneak peek of Buffalo's defensive formation last week against Knob Noster.

"They're a 4-3 front," he said. "It's kind of the same look as last week. Hopefully that will give us a do-over. All their defensive linemen, like their offensive linemen, are back, as well as their defensive backs. They're a little inexperienced at linebacker."

Last week, Williams, a returning all-stater, was slowed by the Knob Noster defense. He finished with 87 rushing yards on 19 attempts and one touchdown while completing 13-of-27 passes for 142 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Senior wideout Dallas Waller caught five passes for 30 yards and senior wideout Brayden Morrison had four catches for 21 yards.

Versailles finished with 268 yards of total offense, rushing for 126 yards on 29 carries. The Tigers lost two fumbles.

Senior linebacker Quinn Randall paced the Tiger defense with nine tackles while junior safety Michael Bell and senior end Ryan Chamberlain each had five tackles.

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