WARDSVILLE — Once again, the Blair Oaks Falcons find themselves playing for a district championship.
Since the high school football playoff format switched to eight-team districts in 2012, the Falcons have played for a district title each season, winning six of those seven games.
Blair Oaks, the No. 1 seed in Class 3 District 5, will try to win its fifth straight district championship tonight when it hosts the second-seeded Buffalo Bison. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
"You want to appreciate the past, but the big thing our team's focused on right now is playing today," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "We've got to live off tradition, but live up to tradition, and living up to tradition is being prepared today."
Blair Oaks (11-0), ranked No. 1 in Class 3, is coming off a 48-0 district semifinal win last Friday against fourth-seeded Salem. The Falcons rushed for 284 yards on just 21 carries.
"We were able to move the point of attack on the line of scrimmage," LePage said. "Changing the line of scrimmage is huge. I think our offensive line is really taking a lot of pride this year, and they're growing as a group."
Buffalo (9-2) won 49-28 last Friday at home against sixth-seeded Logan-Rogersville. The Bison finished with 398 yards of offense and scored six touchdowns total in the second and fourth quarters.
"What you see out of them is their opportunities that they take on getting three-and-outs," LePage said. "They'll get a stop, turn around and get their offense a score."Buffalo's offense is led by junior quarterback Jamen Smith (6-foot, 185 pounds), who had five total touchdowns — three rushing, one passing and one on a kickoff return — against Logan-Rogersville.
"He is extremely, extremely patient," LePage said. "You don't see that a lot out of high school running backs, quarterbacks, receivers, skill guys."
Smith reminds LePage of another quarterback the Falcons have faced this season.
"The Smith kid is a dynamic player. He is very similar to Coby Williams from Versailles," LePage said. "You just better account for him."
Smith is 82-of-158 passing for 1,450 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has 115 carries for 1,182 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He has surpassed 100 yards passing eight times this season and has rushed for 100 or more yards seven times. On four occasions, he has thrown for 100 yards and rushed for 100 yards in the same game.
LePage said the Blair Oaks defense has to know where Smith is at all times.
"He's so quick on his first step to get to full speed that he runs past people," he said. "You have to run at your landmark, keep your contact point where you need your contact point to be and don't let up."
The Bison operate out of multiple formations.
"Their biggest strength is they're able to go from an unbalanced power set into spread without changing personnel," LePage said. " We need to have an AFC, what we call an automatic formation call. We've got to be ready to make that call because they're going to jump into it and try to snap the ball fast."
Senior Coltin Henderson (6-3, 210) and sophomore Jaren Smith, Jamen Smith's younger brother, will also carry the ball for Buffalo.
"We told our guys to play your gaps, play your responsibilities, don't get caught up in looking too much," LePage said.
At wide receiver, sophomore Cameron Portis (5-10, 150) leads the Bison with 565 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Bode Abraham (5-11, 160) has 496 yards and six scores.
"They're trying to hit them with the small to intermediate stuff — the quarterback is very accurate — but just when you think they're just going to go small to intermediate, they go deep and he's able to put it over the top," LePage said.
Buffalo starts five seniors on the offensive line, anchored by tackles Cody Smith (6-2, 285) and Levi Kenady (5-11, 250).
"They let those two dudes hunker down and blow people off the ball," LePage said.
Buffalo averages 41.8 points per game and allows an average of 17.2. Blair Oaks is scoring 46 points per game and holding opponents to 7.6.
The Bison operate in a 4-3 defense, led by senior middle linebacker Pete Herrera (6-2, 180), who has a team-high 102 tackles.
"They take their big guys that are offensive linemen and turn around and play them on defense," LePage said. "They try to cover up every offensive lineman and let (Herrera) run side to side."
Buffalo has recorded 21 takeaways this season: 11 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Portis has six interceptions at free safety and Abraham has the other five picks at cornerback.
"They do a really good job of tracking the ball," LePage said. "You've got to be very careful when you throw the ball."
The Bison had 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks against Logan-Rogersville. Senior defensive tackle Hunter Crandall (6-0, 225) had four of those tackles for loss and three sacks.
"They're going to try to fill every gap, and they're going to try to force you into making an extraordinary play," LePage said. "Within that, what we've got to do is be real simple and easy and say we're going to take 4 yards."
Buffalo is playing in a district championship for the second straight season. However, the Bison have not won a district title since 2000.
Blair Oaks is aiming for its 16th district title since 2000.
"Players are talking about a district championship," LePage said. "It's close, and they know it's close."
Notes: Buffalo is a member of the Ozark Highlands Conference, which is only in its second season of existence. The Bison finished 5-0 in conference play in 2019. Buffalo coach Ed Phillips has a 23-20 record in four seasons with the Bison. Buffalo had a 5-55 record in the six seasons prior to Phillips taking over. Tonight's game between Blair Oaks and Buffalo is one of 29 district championship games in Missouri — including all six classes and 8-man — featuring the No. 1 vs. No. 2 seeds. With a win tonight, Blair Oaks would play the District 6 champion next weekend in the Class 3 quarterfinals. If Cassville (9-2) wins, the Falcons would host the quarterfinal game. If Seneca (8-3) wins, Blair Oaks would go on the road next weekend. Blair Oaks defensive lineman Rylee Niekamp will miss the rest of the season after suffering a right knee injury in the district opener against St. James. Kamron Morriss will take Niekamp's place on the line, while Ian Nolph will start in Morriss' place at linebacker. "Last week, he was in for eight snaps, and he forced five negative plays," LePage said of Morriss. "We feel like Kamo's going to bring a great energy and a great motor in there, just as Rylee did." Lathe Willson will miss his second straight game at right tackle with a broken hand. Adam Jurgensmeyer will continue to play in Willson's place.
Related Media: Blair Oaks Football Podcast [Buffalo preview, Nov. 15, 2019]