WARDSVILLE — It started off as a normal week of practice for the Blair Oaks Falcons. By Wednesday night, it was anything but normal.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Blair Oaks athletic director Corey Felten announced the Versailles Tigers would not be able to play the Falcons tonight due to COVID-19 concerns. This marks the third straight week the Tigers have had to cancel a football game due to coronavirus.
While the announcement came roughly 48 hours before kickoff, Felten said this was a decision Blair Oaks had anticipated.
"Versailles had missed their previous two Friday night games due to players being quarantined, and knowing those players weren't coming back until Tuesday (of this week), that would be tough for them to prepare for any team in three days," Felten said. "We actually went looking, even before that, just trying to come up with some possibilities (for backup opponents)."
Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said he learned of the news shortly after the end of Wednesday's practice, when the players had already left for the night. He wasn't able to break the news to his team until the following morning before school began.
"This situation is nobody's fault," LePage said. "You just have to do what you do in football: you adjust.
"You have to learn how to adjust, just like you learn how to adjust in life. We're going to have to make something good out of a bad situation."
But finding an opponent with an open date isn't an easy task, especially for Blair Oaks (4-0), which was announced as the No. 1 team in Class 3 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings following last Friday's 51-7 win against Boonville.
"It's tough to go out there and say, 'We might be open, would you reserve it for us?'" Felten said. "But every team has to look out for themselves. That's where we're at right now."
Because the game against Versailles is a Tri-County Conference game, the goal was to keep tonight's scheduled game on tap until the last moment possible.
"We have to take care of the conference first," Felten said.
While the search for a new opponent began as early as Tuesday, if teams immediately were interested in playing Blair Oaks, the Falcons could not make a commitment to those teams until Versailles notified Blair Oaks it would not be able to play.
Felten said the open dates page on the Missouri State High School Activities Association website was the first place he went to search for a new Week 5 opponent.
"Even starting the search on Tuesday, it's hard to find a team to play," Felten said.
Felten said one example was Lutheran: St. Charles had a possible open date for Week 5 posted on the MSHSAA website. However, roster numbers have stabilized for Father Tolton, so Lutheran: St. Charles was able to keep the Trailblazers on the schedule for tonight's game.
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Through Wednesday night, Felten said he had contacted as many as 10 schools to be a possible opponent for the Falcons. He said he even reached out to a couple schools in Kansas, but both had already reserved opponents for this week.
Felten said this morning would be the absolute latest for Blair Oaks to pick up an opponent, but that would be pushing the limits. But there's always a chance more openings could have come up Thursday due to COVID-19 concerns.
"More than anything right now, our kids want to play," Felten said. "Our coaches want to coach, and I think they would do whatever they need to do. I don't think our kids would have an issue going into a game blind, of not knowing exactly what they're going to do and being able to adjust."
But Blair Oaks is also bracing for the possibility of not finding an opponent and not having a football game this weekend.
"On Thursday, we would do our normal Thursday routine," LePage said, if Blair Oaks cannot find an opponent. "Players need to stay in a routine. We would probably come back Friday and have a little scrimmage (after school) and get a little lather going, keep them in the conditioning of playing a game.
"I've experienced off weeks before, I've experienced bye weeks before. I know at Blair Oaks that has not been a common theme, but we'll just make the best of it."
If the Falcons were to find an opponent for this weekend, there would be very little time to prepare for that team, in regard to reviewing game film. Luckily, LePage said, Blair Oaks has already seen a variety of offenses and defenses through the first four weeks of the season.
"Our players are very well-adjusted and tuned in to what we do," he said. " It might be exciting if that did happen, because now we would just go into a game with the expectation that we're going to have some adversity come our way."
Notes: Blair Oaks received seven of the 10 first-place votes in the Class 3 poll, and was picked at No. 2 on the remaining three ballots for 97 points. "It is nice to have that recognition," LePage said. "It is nice to put that situation on our players, that people are thinking something of you." Odessa, last year's Class 3 state champion, was No. 2 with two first-place votes, followed by Mount Vernon at No. 3. Valle Catholic, which was a Class 1 program last season, is ranked fourth with the remaining first-place vote. On Monday, Blair Oaks learned it was assigned to Class 3 District 4 for the 2020 season. Through Week 4, Blair Oaks is the No. 1 seed with 50.5 points, followed by Centralia (3-0, 48.44 points), Southern Boone (3-1, 42.75), California (3-1, 41.05), Boonville (2-2, 30.75) and Macon (0-2, 20.17). The top two seeds in the six-team district will receive a first-round bye during Week 10. "They put us in a very competitive district," LePage said. "Those are some really good teams that are in there."