Joplin readies for road battle with Willard

·3 min read

Sep. 1—Week 1 of the high school football season was a roaring success for the Joplin Eagles.

The Eagles used a stifling defensive effort to cruise past Central Ozark Conference foe Branson 34-3 at Junge Field and open the 2022 campaign in the win column.

"It's always good to get the first one under your belt and I thought our defense played superb," Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. "The special teams and offense did some really good things. Obviously there were some first week inconsistencies we can work on, but overall, I was pleased with the first week. I feel like it was something we can build off of going into Week 2."

Now Joplin hits the road and faces a Willard team on Friday night that's coming off a shootout against Neosho last week. Both teams poured on the points with the Wildcats outlasting the Tigers 79-72 at Bob Anderson Stadium in Neosho.

That equates to a combined 151 points, which was the fifth-most in an 11-man football game in state history.

Willard signal caller Russell Roweton completed 25 of 31 passes for 437 yards and four touchdowns. His TD passes covered more than 25 yards — each to a different receiver.

Clayton Scott proved to be dynamic for the Tigers, piling up three touchdowns (two kickoff returns and a receiving TD).

But Willard will match up against a Joplin defense that limited Branson to under 200 yards of total offense last week. The Eagles, graduating nine of 11 starters on defense, also pitched a second-half shutout in the win over the Pirates.

"Offensively, Willard has weapons," Jasper said. "It starts with their quarterback, Russell Roweton, who does a fantastic job. He makes great decisions. He gets the ball down field. They got receivers to throw to. (Clayton Scott) returned two kickoff returns for touchdowns. They had two other guys that had over 100 yards receiving. They got weapons out on the perimeter.

"Owen Bushnell is a really good running back both running the ball and receiving. Plus on the offensive line, they've got three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. They have a veteran group up front as well."

Joplin also had a few standout performers from Week 1, namely wide receiver Davin Thomas. The sophomore had a breakout game, hauling in five passes for 127 yards and two TDs.

"Davin had a good week," Jasper said. "We knew he was fast. He ran varsity track last year as a freshman. We knew he had speed. It was just a matter of getting the reps. He had a really good summer and a really good offseason. He put himself in a good position to start off the season well."

Fellow receiver and senior Terrance Gibson had three catches for 86 yards and one TD. Running backs Drew VanGilder and Quin Renfro combined for over 100 yards on the ground with one TD in 20 carries.

First-year Joplin quarterback Hobbs Gooch completed 15 of 19 passes for 292 yards with four TDs and three interceptions.

And then there's the defense.

Senior linebacker and captain Draven VanGilder posted a big game with 16 tackles. Classmate Blake Farmer made 12 stops, while junior Jonathan Williams added eight tackles.

The Eagles look to continue their success at Willard on Friday night.

"It's our first opportunity to go on the road," Jasper said. "We are looking forward to it. We are looking for another successful night that we can continue to build on."