CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Lathrop vs. Lawson - The Clinton County Leader: Blog

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2018 8:54 pm | Updated: 8:57 pm, Thu Nov 8, 2018.

The road may have changed for the Lathrop Mules football team over the years, but the roadblock hasn't.

The roadblock is nearly always the same.

Lathrop (11-0) will play KCI Conference rival Lawson (10-1) in the Missouri Class 2, District 8 championship this Friday, November 9, at Lathrop High School. The winner will move on to the Class 2 State Playoffs, where the path to the semifinals – and a possible date with national small school power Lamar – inches closer to a reality.

A possible district championship is something fourth-year Lathrop head coach Chris Holt has prioritized at the top of his list of accomplishments for his Mules since taking over the program in 2014.

“Our number one goal each year is to be the district champion, because it means you are really starting a playoff run at that point,” Holt said. “In my opinion, you are not a playoff team unless you are in the district title game.”

Lathrop and Lawson enter the match-up ranked third and fifth, respectively, in the Missouri Class 2 State Media Rankings, and though the high-profile pairing isn't convenient so early in the postseason, it's only fitting, especially for Lathrop.

This past September, Lathrop slipped past Lawson 21-7 in a game that ultimately decided the KCI Conference title – Lathrop's first outright championship since 1998.

That night was the Cardinals' first and only loss of the 2018 season so far, and even though his team came up short against their rivals, it was a performance from which Lawson head coach Todd Dunn and his team left with a degree of confidence when it comes to a possible rematch.

“We know that we can play with them,” Dunn said. “We also know we have to play our very best in order to have a chance to beat them. We will have to avoid the Lawson-beating-Lawson mistakes – penalties, turnovers, negative plays, etc.”

Prior to this season, Lathrop's last share of the KCI championship was in 2013, a title they split with Lawson; Lathrop lost to the Cardinals 28-14 that year, but knocked off Hamilton, who had won 57 of their previous 58 games, including three state championships.

Just the year before, the Mules were the 2012 district champions and pushed through to the Missouri Class 2 State Quarterfinals (a home loss to Holden). Lathrop defeated Lawson in the regular season that year, 26-21 – their first win against them since 1998 – then followed it up with a 24-0 victory over the Cardinals in the district semifinals.

Even back in 1983, Lathrop's last undefeated regular season, Lawson was the thorn, as the Mules escaped their regular season tilt with a slim 7-0 victory, then downed the Cardinals for the district championship, 22-8. (Lathrop lost to Lexington in the state quarterfinals that season, 23-21, at Arrowhead Stadium. The LHS yearbook said it was the first time Lathrop had been the undefeated conference and district champions in 30 years).

Two questions could come to dictate the match-up Friday. Last week, Lathrop came out of the gates sluggish and was down 14-10 late in the third quarter against Macon before storming back with 35 unanswered points in the last 13 minutes of the game. Can Lathrop keep that momentum going, or is another slow start in the works? For Lawson, the Cardinals have managed just two touchdowns against the Mules the past two seasons, both coming on long runs by quarterback Andrew Stephens. His run earlier this season was spectacular, but was aided by a handful of missed tackles by Lathrop's usually sure-handed. Can Lawson manage enough offense to be there at the end of the game?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state bracket, Holden (8-3) and Summit Christian Academy (9-2), will play for the title in the neighboring district. The winners of these two district are slated to face off in the Missouri Class 2 State Quarterfinals on Friday, November 16.

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