Panthers on the prowl

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: November 27, 2014 - 4:57 PM

When the Missouri Class 3 championship game kicks off at 1 p.m. Friday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis one team will enter with title game experience while another will enter with all kinds of momentum.

For John Burroughs the run to the title game is old hat. The Bombers went every year from 2010-2012 and have been to the final game 14 times in school history. Burroughs lost to Richmond in 2010, Logan-Rogersville in 2011 and Maryville in 2012.

Oak Grove is back in the back in the game for the first time since 1990. The players from that team are old enough to be the parents of these players on this year’s squad. While the Panthers don’t have any championship game experience they are on a five-game postseason run that has seen them average 61.2 points a game.

Burroughs coach Brian Merritt’s team is rolling along as well dominating its first four postseason opponents by a combined 200-14 score before getting past Monett 24-23 in the semifinals. Merritt said while his team is playing well.

“Our defense is really the key,” Merritt said. “We got some things together about week five or six. We finally got the defense the way we wanted. We graduated all four in the secondary and two of the three on the defensive line so it took us a little while to figure out how to make it work this season and once we have we have really been on a roll.

“In any football contest if you can defend the other team your chances are a whole lot better. We like what we are doing defensively and of course we’ve got some playmakers offensively and that always makes a difference as well.”

While Oak Grove has riding a wave of momentum, the Bombers might have the edge in speed. The Bombers may put more athletes on the field and Oak Grove coach Pat Richard said his team will need to adjust to that speed to be successful.

“I see a lot of speed,” Richard said. “Any time you have the state champion in the 100 as your tailback you are going to be fast. They’ve got quite a few kids that can really run and good team speed.

“They look fast but we’ve seen some speed. I think Maryville had some speed in their backfield and California did too. We’ve seen a lot of speed and these guys are like that.”

The Panthers have been running wild in the postseason with Aaron Graham leading the way. While Graham has put up huge numbers in the last three wins Oak Grove rolled Pembroke Hill 78-7 and edged Hogan Prep 47-46 with Graham getting only one carry after suffering a concussion early against Pembroke Hill.

Richard said this team has stepped up when players have been injured and play together as a team.

“We’ve had so many running backs roll through there with (Landon) Carrier and Graham if you look at our stats there are all of these guys with two or three hundred yards rushing and all of them at some point have started for us,” Richard said. “It’s like the drummer of Spinal Tap you don’t want to be that guy because you might get hurt.

“Everybody talks about next man up and all of that. We’re not only next man up we are five behind that guy and they are stepping up. It’s been like that all year and that says a lot about our kids and their preparation and how they get ready for us.”