WARRENSBURG -- In the first game after the Hair era, the Blair Oaks offense showed everything is going to be all right.
Tyler Bax, the Falcons’ sophomore quarterback, totaled four touchdowns -- three passing, one rushing -- in his first varsity start, leading Blair Oaks to a 41-14 victory against the Maryville Spoofhounds in the Kickoff Classic at the University of Central Missouri’s Walton Stadium.
“A lot of people didn’t really know what to expect from us this year, with Dylan Hair, Wyatt Bonnett and a bunch of seniors leaving,” Blair Oaks wide receiver Joey Wilde said. “But we knew we could go out there and score points and the defense could go out there and stop them. We were very confident we were going to win this game.”
Bax finished the game with 23 carries for 153 yards, exactly matching his rushing total from the 2022 season as the backup to Hair. He started the scoring with a 7-yard rushing touchdown and surpassed 100 yards rushing before halftime.
Bax threw back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter, but he finished the game by completing five of his final six pass attempts. Bax completed 6-of-13 passes for 88 yards.
By comparison, Hair had 58 yards rushing and 154 yards passing with three total touchdowns in his first career start in the Falcons’ 2019 season opener against Maryville, a 23-14 win.
“When you look at it, every week is going to get a little bit more familiar for Tyler,” Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. “We know he has the arm strength, the talent.
“It was the first game, you could tell he had some jitters there, and that’s A-OK.”
Bax connected with Bax for his first touchdown pass of the season, finding him on a slant pass cutting across the middle from the left side to scored an 18-yard touchdown.
“Coach LePage asked me how far off were the cornerbacks playing, and I said he was played way off me,” Wilde said. “We had a couple plays we could try there … and Tyler was like, ‘I’m going to throw you the ball.’ I caught it, turned it inside and went for a touchdown.”
Wilde made big plays in all three facets of the game.
In addition to his touchdown grab, Wilde returned a kickoff for an 85-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Hayden Lackman received the kickoff, then ran to the middle of the field and handed off the ball to Wilde, who reversed toward the left sideline and ran past everyone.
“We implemented that about two weeks ago,” Wilde said. “We actually switched it out with a different kickoff return. We didn’t know how it was going to work, but obviously, it looked pretty good in practice.”
Wilde also had a long kickoff return to start the second half, but this time he was brought down at the 15-yard line after a 71-yards gain.
“I had a little bit of a cramp running down the sideline,” Wilde said.
On defense, Wilde snagged one of two interceptions thrown by Maryville quarterback Derek Quinlin in the first half.
“That first pick was huge for momentum,” Wilde said.
Still, despite all of the big plays that broke Blair Oaks’ way in the first half, the Falcons were clinging to a 20-14 lead in the second quarter, and they were facing fourth-and-20 with a little more than seven minutes to go before halftime.
Then one play shifted the momentum in the Falcons’ favor for good.
Bax dumped a screen pass to Eli Luckett, who still had 24 yards to get to the end zone after he caught the ball. Luckett followed the blocking of linemen Cole Peters and Justin Atnip, then took advantage of another block from wide receiver Warren Davis near the goal line before reaching the front right pylon for a 21-yard touchdown.
“In the huddle (during the timeout), we talked about some down-the-field passes,” LePage said. “Justin Atnip said, ‘Throw the screen. They’re bringing everybody. Screen.’”
On Maryville’s next possession, Brady Kerperin intercepted a pass from Quinlin and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a 33-14 lead going into halftime.
A three-possession lead was nice, but as Blair Oaks has learned, no lead is safe against Maryville.
“All I could think about was 2018,” LePage said. “Then all of a sudden, we were down by two.”
Outside of the Spoofhounds scoring a pair of touchdowns on fourth-down plays, the Blair Oaks defense picked up where it left off from the end of last season.
“The defense, we put them in bad positions sometimes,” LePage said. “They came up with stops.”
The Falcons recorded six sacks and forced a total of three fumbles. They held the Spoofhounds scoreless in the second half, allowing just five first downs after halftime.
“Our front seven did a phenomenal job,” LePage said. “We really took their run game away.”
LePage said the Falcons went with a nickel defense, which limited Quinlin to 166 yards passing, roughly half his total in last season’s game against Blair Oaks.
“Last year, we gave up 502 yards of offense to this team,” LePage said. “And 42 points. And they returned their starting quarterback.
“We just held them to 14 (points). I think we’ve improved.”
Hayden Lackman added a 20-yard catch late in the third quarter for the Falcons’ final touchdown.
That catch was only one of three passing plays in the second half for Blair Oaks, which constantly kept the ball on the ground and took time off the clock.
“When we’re up three scores, we’re going to try to put that ball in our pocket and we’re going to try to grind it out,” LePage said.
Blair Oaks finished the game with 277 yards of total offense, compared to 162 for Maryville.
“We had three turnovers,” Wilde said. “If we get rid of those, we’re putting up 60 points a game again, and that’s a great team we just played.”
Friday’s win was the Falcons’ seventh straight against the Spoofhounds after losing 49-20 in their first meeting in 2017.
“I think that’s a team that can turn around and be in the state finals real easily,” LePage said. “For us to come out in Week 1 and do that, I’m real proud of our team.”
Blair Oaks (1-0) hosts Lutheran North for its home opener Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
The Crusaders (1-0) blanked Hazelwood Central 54-0 in Saturday night’s season opener.
Maryville (0-1) plays Friday at Harrisonville (0-1), which lost 15-10 on Saturday to MICDS.