Oct. 22—A tight race at the top of the Central Ozark Conference football standings will fittingly be decided in the final week of the regular season.
For Carthage, at least a share of the conference championship has already been clinched. But the Tigers (8-0) will be seeking their first outright COC title since 2016 when they take on the Nixa Eagles (7-1) on Friday in Nixa.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
"(Winning an outright conference title) would go a long way just to show that all of the hard work and time these kids put in was worth it," Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said. "I think this is a pretty special group, and to win it outright would be very special to these kids."
A win by Nixa would result in at least a two-way tie with Carthage for the conference crown. A three-way tie between Carthage, Nixa and Joplin will occur if Nixa defeats Carthage and Joplin tops Neosho in the regular-season finale.
The Tigers, ranked second in the Class 5 standings, ride a 20-game regular-season win streak heading into their clash against Class 6 No. 6 Nixa. Guidie said he expects Eagle Stadium to have an atmosphere similar to that of a playoff game.
"It's going to be a big, electric atmosphere, but we've played in big atmospheres before," he said. "Even this year with Webb City at our place and then going to Joplin with a lot on the line too. These kids have been there, done that. Hopefully they can stay focused and ready to go."
Carthage has already clinched the No. 1 seed in its district with a near 10-point advantage over second-place Webb City (5-3) in the standings. Republic (4-4) sits in third in the district and is followed by Neosho (1-7), Willard (0-8) and Parkview (0-8).
The Tigers are averaging 42.9 points per game while limiting their opponents to 12.4 ppg.
Junior Luke Gall, a standout at both running back and linebacker for Carthage, leads the team in rushing with 1,464 yards and 23 touchdowns while averaging 12 yards per carry. Senior quarterback Caden Kabance has amassed 939 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and he's also completed 57.4% of his passes for 572 yards and three touchdowns.
Outside of a 34-22 win over Joplin in Week 7, the Carthage defense hasn't allowed more than 14 points in a game. Gall leads the defensive unit with 69 tackles, five sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Defensive lineman Micah Lindsey has tallied 63 tackles as well as a team-high eight sacks and 22 tackles for loss.
"I think we have a lot of speed on defense and we've been playing very physical up front, and that may help us offensively," Guidie said. "You're able to get some stops and get our offense on the field.
"We felt like offensively we had a chance to be really good up front, and those guys are coming together every single week. As long as those guys can stay healthy and continue to play a physical brand of football, it really makes Luke and Caden better."
Nixa heads into the regular-season finale riding a six-game win streak since suffering a narrow 28-25 setback at Joplin in Week 2.
"They're doing a very good job over there," Guidie said of Nixa. "They're averaging 40 points per game and they have some explosive athletes. They have some receivers that are having a really big year and their quarterback is doing an outstanding job. They're also massive up front with a couple of kids over 300 pounds. They're just big, physical kids and they're surrounded by some tremendous athletes who are doing really good things."
WEBB CITY AT WILLARD
With a road win against Willard (0-8) on Friday night, Webb City would clinch a second-place finish in the Class 5 District 6 standings and receive a first-round bye in the district playoffs.
The Cardinals bounced back from a 14-point setback to Nixa in Week 7 with a 63-48 win over Ozark last Friday at Cardinal Stadium. Webb City jumped out to a 19-0 lead and benefitted from big nights by running backs Cade Wilson and Dupree Jackson, who finished with four and three touchdowns, respectively.
Willard is coming off a 21-14 loss to Neosho in a battle between two winless teams. The Tigers are looking to avoid their first winless season of the last decade.
CARL JUNCTION AT OZARK
Carl Junction (3-5) can clinch a third-place finish in the Class 4 District 6 standings with a win over a reeling Ozark (2-6) team on Friday night.
CJ, the team with the smallest classification in the COC, has a four-point advantage over Rogersville (5-3) in the district standings and trails second place McDonald County (7-1) and first-place West Plains (7-1) by 6 1/2 and 14 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs, who fell 49-21 to Nixa last week, are attempting to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season while Ozark comes off a 15-point setback to Webb City.
Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.