Goal Lines: Blair Oaks expects stiff test from Lutheran North

Brady Kerperin of Blair Oaks tackles Lutheran North’s Mikel Harris during a game last season at the Falcon Athletic Complex in Wardsville. (News Tribune file photo)

WARDSVILLE -- The Blair Oaks defense has risen to the occasion the past two times it has played the Lutheran North Crusaders.

In the Class 3 state quarterfinals in 2020, the Falcons held the Crusader offense out of the end zone for the first time since Sept. 5, 2009, using a dominant second-half performance to win 44-9.

Last season, Blair Oaks handed Lutheran North a 35-0 loss, its first shutout defeat since that same 2009 game against Westminster Christian.

As dominant as the Falcon defense was in those two wins, Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage is quick to say the past is the past ahead of tonight’s kickoff against the Crusaders.

“This team is different, and our team is different,” LePage said. “We don’t look at the past. If you get hung up on the past, you’re looking behind yourself.”

Blair Oaks is coming off its sixth straight season-opening win against Maryville, a 41-14 decision in the Kickoff Classic at Warrensburg.

Lutheran North toppled Class 6 Hazelwood Central for a second consecutive season, this time in a 54-0 rout.

“They’re big, and I mean big,” LePage said of the Crusaders. “They’re fast, and I mean fast. And well-coached. They really are a complete football team, they really do a lot of things really well and they have fun playing football.”

Leading the Lutheran North offense is junior Dakarri Hollis, who returns at starting quarterback after guiding the Crusaders to a 7-5 record last season and a district championship game appearance.

Hollis finished with 180 total yards of offense -- 121 yards passing, 59 yards rushing -- against Hazelwood Central.

“We thought last year, he was probably one of the best quarterbacks we saw,” LePage said. “… He throws a really, really tight ball, it breaks the air when it goes through it. Sometimes I think his receivers have a hard time catching the ball, it’s coming so hard.”

Sophomore running back Martez Stephenson only had four rushing attempts last weekend, but he averaged 32 yards per carry, scoring on touchdown runs of 36 and 80 yards.

“He’s not real big, but when he does run, he puts his foot in the ground and goes north and south,” LePage said. “They couldn’t catch him. That was real eye-opening to us.”

Junior running back Jevon Blackman also had a 31-yard touchdown run against Hazelwood Central. Listed at 5-foot-7 and 215 pounds, he brings plenty power to the Crusader backfield.

“He’s not real tall, but he runs right through the holes,” LePage said.

Lutheran North operates a wing-T offense, the second straight week Blair Oaks will see a variation of that offense. And much like Maryville’s wing-T, the Crusaders are capable of spreading out the offense and throwing the football, too.

“It’s the wing-T concept, but the quarterback is able to pull it and throw it on any given down,” LePage said. “If there is a guy open and (Hollis) sees it, it’s a (run-pass option) wing-T.

“What makes this really unique is their athleticism to get you matched up one-on-one. If they see a weakness, he’s able to pull it and dish it.”

Senior Mikel Harris and junior Trey Bass are the Crusaders’ leading wide receivers, each scoring a touchdown last weekend.

Hazelwood Central gained 213 yards against Lutheran North with an option offense, but three lost fumbles and an interception kept the Hawks off the scoreboard.

“The first series, Hazelwood Central really drove the ball well on them,” LePage said. “But you have to give credit to Lutheran North, they stopped them.”

Leading the four-man front for Lutheran North are junior linemen Ahmir Scott (6-3, 360) and Dave Grudger (6-4, 390).

“Last week, (Grudger) came through on the very first play and tackled the running back and stripped him,” LePage said. “That was just so impressive, he burst right through the line and made a play.”

Another Crusader lineman, Demetrius Jones (6-2, 265), finished with eight tackles and a sack in last season’s game against Blair Oaks. However, Jones -- who has committed to play next fall at Lindenwood -- tore his ACL in the offseason and will miss tonight’s game.

Senior cornerback Jordan Carter had an interception and a fumble recovery in last week’s opener, returning the fumble 46 yards for a touchdown. Senior lineman Louis Jordan and sophomore defensive end Ke’mell Salone each had a fumble recovery, and Salone returned his fumble 60 yards for a touchdown.

“Everybody’s running to the football,” LePage said. “You don’t see a play where they’re not running to the football.”

Last season, Blair Oaks quarterback Dylan Hair had touchdown runs of 17, 45, 58 and 83 yards against Lutheran North, all in the third quarter. LePage noted it will be difficult to replicate runs of that distance because of the Crusaders’ ability to strip the football.

“As we have spoken to our team throughout the week, one of the calling cards is get 4 (yards) and get what you can after that,” LePage said. “We have to get four, because there’s not going to be 60- or 70-yard touchdowns in this game. These guys will track you down and catch you.”

Junior safety Xavier Chapman had a team-high 13 tackles against Hazelwood Central, followed by junior linebacker Karvon Jefferson with 12 tackles. Junior lineman Jaydin Simms also had a pair of sacks.

Kickoff for today’s home opener for the Falcons is at 7 p.m. at the Falcon Athletic Complex, where Blair Oaks holds a 108-11 record since the facility opened in 2006.

Notes: Blair Oaks begins the season ranked No. 1 in Class 3 in this week’s Missouri Media Rankings. The Falcons received all nine first-place votes. “You want to be No. 1 at the end of the year,” LePage said, “but really, you want to be No. 1 all the time. If you’re No. 1, then you’re doing the right things.” … Lutheran North is ranked No. 2 in Class 4 behind Smithville, receiving three first-place votes. Maryville begins the season ranked No. 7 in Class 3. “We want to be playing our best football at the end of the year, and the only way to do that is to challenge ourselves,” LePage said of the strength of the Falcons’ first two non-conference opponents. … Blair Oaks quarterback Tyler Bax had 88 yards passing and three touchdowns and 153 yards rushing and one touchdown in his first career start last Friday. “He ran the ball a lot better than than I think anybody ever anticipated,” LePage said. … Brady Kerperin led the Falcon defense with 15 total tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception return for a touchdown against Maryville. Jake Hagner was next with nine total tackles. … Blair Oaks lineman Kaden Schulte missed last week’s game with a knee injury and will be listed as out for tonight’s game as well. … Blair Oaks leads the all-time series 3-0 against Lutheran North. The first win was a 48-21 decision in 2018 in the Class 2 state semifinals.