SPRINGFIELD — Southwest Missouri, once again, flexed its football muscle Friday night in the 17th edition of the Grin Iron Classic at Parkview’s JFK Stadium.
The West featured six different players scoring touchdowns and the young men up front dominated both sides of the ball during a 42-3 victory over the East.
Dominant could not be overused in describing the West’s performance Friday night. It could be, yes, but it would be very difficult.
The West earned a 15-2 edge in the series history.
That’s a history not lost on Mount Vernon head coach Tom Cox, who led the West this year.
“It’s been a game that I’ve watched for all 17 years,” Cox said. “My son (Kellen) played in this game and it’s meant a lot to me. I was an assistant coach last year and when they asked me to be the head coach, it’s a great honor. I tell you, there’s a lot of pressure. The West side has a tradition in this game and it was a little nerve-wracking, but once we got into practice and we saw what we had for a team, I mean you saw it out here. Those guys are fantastic. Our defense is incredible and our offense played very, very well. It was a lot of fun.”
Tradition-rich powerhouse football programs like Webb City, Lamar, Carthage, and Seneca, for example, make up portions of the West roster. Just last season alone, Webb City (Class 4) and Lamar (Class 2) won state titles and Mount Vernon (Class 3) played for another.
“All our guys, they play excellent football,” Cox said. “They (the East) do over there, but I just feel that our conferences that we have over here are really tough and we beat each other up all year. It was just neat to be able to play with these guys, that you go against. T.W. Ayers is just solid, he could have been the MVP also. I felt like we had a lot of guys that could have fit that bill (MVP). I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one who picked that.
“It’s a great experience. I hate it for those guys (the East) to end their career on a game like this, but sometimes it’s just about matchups and guys who are available. We had a lot of guys who were available and once they made the commitment, they got after it.”
Former Carl Junction stalwart Zeke Wall earned defensive MVP honors for the West, while former Carthage speedster Arkell Smith proved nearly impossible for the East to defend all night en route to the West’s offensive MVP.
“He’s an incredible player,” Cox said of Wall. “He’s always been a guy that I’ve respected. Plus, when he was a freshman and a sophomore, our second game was against those guys (Carl Junction), so we saw him early and often. He’s been a trendsetter, a great kid, a great leader during practice all week, and that (early loss for the East caused by Wall) did set the tone. The guys feed off that stuff, especially this level of player.
“We felt like we could throw the ball whenever we wanted. When you have Arkell and you have Jarvis Funk and you have the Clayton Dunnings and the Logan Sparkmans, the guys that we had, we felt like we had a good matchup out there. By getting it out there to him (Smith), he made a couple great plays and I thought our quarterbacks threw the ball well. When you have guys on the outside like that, it sure makes it easy for guys on the inside.”
Former Lamar standout Ayers, like Cox said, would have undoubtedly earned defensive MVP honors on any other night and Funk (Neosho), Gavin Dunnam (Seneca), Israel DeSantiago (McDonald County), Dillon Lancaster (Carthage), and Sammy Robinson (Mount Vernon) each found the end zone, with Lancaster’s 65-yard punt return closing out the scoring. West quarterbacks Riley Watkins (Republic), Cash Link (Webb City), and Braeden Hinton (Nevada) all had their moments.
The West built a 28-0 halftime lead thanks to 14 points in each quarter — Robinson and DeSantiago 3-yard runs in the first and a Smith 15-yard reception and a Dunnam 5-yard reception in the second.
Funk opened the scoring in the second half with a 11-yard reception in the third.
Meanwhile, the East’s only points came on a Patrick Lane 25-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Chris Johnston was slated to be the West defensive coordinator, but he had back surgery 10 days earlier and his doctors would not release him. Zac Nelson, Garrison Earnest, and Craig Welty all pitched in to become a defensive coordinator by committee, according to Cox.
In the waning seconds and then immediately after the game, the West players all would have made Ice Cube and Mack 10 proud with their cries of “Westside.”