Is there any doubt now that the Big 8 Conference is the best small school conference in Missouri?
Of course, it all starts with the Lamar Tigers, who have won a record seven consecutive Missouri Class 2 state titles. The Tigers enter the 2018 season having won 49 straight games, a streak of wins that began Oct. 24, 2014 with a 56-0 win over Butler in the district playoffs. Lamar finished off that season with six wins in a row, then finished 15-0 in 2015, 14-0 in 2016, and 14-0 last season.
Now, with the Big 8 expanding to 14 schools with the addition of Hollister, Logan-Rogersville, Marshfield, Nevada, Reeds Spring, and Springfield Catholic, the rich just got richer and the nine-game regular season schedules just got tougher.
The two divisions will be the West (Cassville, East Newton, Lamar, McDonald County, Monett, Nevada, and Seneca) and the East (Aurora, Hollister, Logan-Rogersville, Marshfield, Mount Vernon, Reeds Spring, and Springfield Catholic).
These schools have won a combined 19 MSHSAA state championships in football — Lamar seven (2011-17), Monett three (1971, 1977, 2016), Seneca two (1987, 1995), Aurora two (1969, 1999), Cassville two (2008-09), Logan-Rogersville one (2011), Springfield Catholic one (1997), and Mount Vernon one (1978).
Additionally, the current Big 8 schools combined for eight runner-ups — Seneca four (1968, 1983, 1986, 2013), Mount Vernon two (1982, 2017), Springfield Catholic one (1996), and Nevada one (1975).
The conference originally formed in 1928 with 10 founding members in Aurora, Carthage, Joplin, Lamar, Monett, Mount Vernon, Neosho, Nevada, Springfield, and Webb City.
Eventually, after several permutations, the core of the Big 8 became Aurora, Carl Junction, Cassville, East Newton, Lamar, Monett, Mount Vernon, and Seneca from 1982 through 2015 when Carl Junction left for the Central Ozark Conference. McDonald County joined the Big 8 in 2013.
The Big 8’s current expansion is just the tip of the iceberg on conference realignment this year.
— Just as the Big 8 Conference got tougher, the same holds true for the Central Ozark Conference in 2018 with Class 6 Joplin now in the fray and the elimination of the Small Division, most of whom left for Big 8 expansion.
Joplin’s addition not only eliminates a non-conference game for all the prior conference membership — Branson, Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho (who played Class 3 Logan-Rogersville in recent seasons), Nixa, Ozark, Republic, Webb City, and Willard — but it will undoubtedly boost ticket sales with one more rivalry game on the schedule, especially for area rivals like Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho, and Webb City.
— Goodbye Spring River Valley Conference, hello Southwest Conference.
Diamond, Lockwood, Miller, Pierce City, and Sarcoxie left the SRVC and joined with Mid-Lakes schools Ash Grove, Marionville, and Pleasant Hope to form the new Southwest.
That name was last used in 2008 and Carthage, McDonald County, Neosho, Nevada, and Webb City formed the membership. Carthage, Neosho, and Webb City all left for the Central Ozark, and McDonald County and Nevada struggled to find another conference for several years.
The former SRVC schools are hoping for a more stable football conference.
— Back to the COC and the new multi-purpose stadium at Republic.
Last year, it was Carthage’s David Haffner Stadium that drew the headlines for being state-of-the-art: a $10 million price tag produced 3,000 seats on the home side and 800-850 on the guests, as well as field turf, a video board, new locker rooms, offices, weight lifting facilities, classrooms, and a new practice field on the east side of the stadium.
This year, it’s Republic that will dazzle with its $8 million multi-purpose stadium — all-weather turf, 4,000 seats, a video board, expanded concessions and restrooms, more parking, state-of-the-art lights, and expanded press box.
Who will be next in the COC? Only Willard and Neosho have not gone to all-turf surfaces.
Anyway, Neosho will not travel to Republic this season after playing two games last season in Republic. The Wildcats and the Tigers split their games, Republic winning 20-19 at the very end and Neosho rolling 42-21 in districts.
Former Neosho head coach Dustin Baldwin, joined by defensive coordinator Zac Nelson, enters his second season as Republic head coach.
— Speaking of new head coaches, we had a virtually stable year for the Neosho Daily News coverage area.
Neosho’s Leon Miller, East Newton’s Broc Wolfe, and McDonald County’s Kellen Hoover all return for their second seasons. Seneca’s Ryan McFarland enters his third season on the Indians sideline.
Before Wolfe and Hoover, though, both East Newton and McDonald County struggled with keeping coaches for more than just one season.
Matt McKee (2015) and Jamie LaSalle (2016) each coached one season at East Newton before departing for their respective alma maters Liberal and Miller. Wolfe marked the fourth different head coach in four seasons for the Patriots.
Corey Henry (2014-15) and John Diehl (2016) served as head coach at McDonald County.
The fifth core school in the Daily News coverage area, Diamond, will have its third head coach in as many seasons as Mac Whitehead takes over after Curtis Horton’s one season.
Horton followed on the trail of Ben Glidewell, who guided the Wildcats well for two seasons before he took a head coach position at St. Joseph Benton. (Glidewell resigned from Benton in February, after being told his teaching position would be eliminated after the year.)
— Carl Junction senior running back Rayquion Weston will likely miss the 2018 season after tearing his ACL at team camp in July.
Weston rushed for over 3,600 yards and 57 touchdowns during his first three high school seasons.
Last season, he rushed for 1,420 yards and 25 TDs on 204 carries, following up a sophomore season when he rushed for 1,643 yards and 22 TDs on 295 carries.
Weston has drawn some attention from NCAA Division I programs.
— Practice began Monday and games start August 24.
Carl Junction at Webb City
Lamar at Logan-Rogersville
Lockwood at Pierce City
Carthage at Carl Junction
Sarcoxie at Lockwood
Webb City at Joplin
Cassville at Monett
Joplin at Carthage
Lockwood at Marionville
McDonald County at East Newton
Neosho at Webb City
Pierce City at Sarcoxie
Carthage at Neosho
Ozark at Nixa
Seneca at Cassville
Lamar at Seneca
Mount Vernon at Aurora
Springfield Catholic at Reeds Spring
Joplin at Neosho
Pierce City at Marionville
Sarcoxie at Marionville
East Newton at Seneca
Carl Junction at Joplin
Marionville at Miller
Republic at Neosho
Seneca at McDonald County