With this week marking the beginning of postseason play in Missouri, I thought what better choice for my second Football Retrospective than one of the best playoff games I’ve ever covered.
Today, I take you back to the 2018 Missouri Class 2 Semifinals between the Lathrop Mules and Lamar Tigers, or as my colleague Brett Adkison and I dubbed it, Destiny vs Dynasty.
The date November 24, 2018, is a Saturday both the Lathrop Mules and Lamar Tigers will remember forever.
For Lamar, it is a date that will live in infamy, as it marked the end of their dynasty at the top of Missouri Class 2 high school football.
You see, from 2011 through 2017, the Lamar Tigers were Missouri Class 2 state champions. They entered the 2018 season as the seven-time reigning, defending champs, with their sights set on state championship number eight.
Lamar dominated their way through the regular season, with each of their wins coming by 20 points or more.
The Tigers’ only blemish of that season, a 24-21 thriller to Cassville that came down to a last second field goal and ended their 57-game winning streak, served as an omen as to what was to come when the Tigers’ traveled to Lathrop that fateful Saturday in November.
On the flip side of this story’s coin was the Lathrop Mules. A team that, in all the years of Mule football, had never reached the promise land of a State Championship game.
Destiny is the best word to describe the Mules of 2018.
They were destined to win the KCI Conference outright for the first time since 1998, which they did in dominant fashion outscoring their conference foes 386-33.
An even more impressive stat about the 2018 Lathrop Mules, is that not one KCI Conference team scored over ten points against them.
They were destined to win a Missouri Class 2 District 8 Championship over rival Lawson, and they were destined to be the team to end Lamar’s long run at the top.
Entering this contest as the underdogs, was something the Mules’ embraced.
Having dominated their way through the regular season and postseason, being looked at as underdogs formed a massive chip on their shoulders.
For this team there was no one singular player that stood out as the star. This was the definition of a - do the work by committee- type of team.
But, even with that mindset, they had some top-notch football players on their squad.
Guys like quarterback Blake Gordon and running back Seth McKnight set the tone for the offense.
Others like Justin Wright, Tyler Paul and Tristain Blair were significant offensive producers while linemen like Joey Velasquez, Thomas Macomber and Quinten Wolfe took to battle on the frontlines.
Wright, the Mules emotional leader, along with McKnight spearheaded a stingy Lathrop defense while players like Tanner Dalinghaus and Drew O’Connor were defensive playmakers.
Across the field in Lamar, was the look of stereotypical football champion.
Along the offensive line they had three players that stood at least 6’2” and weighed over 300 pounds in Caleb Gouge, Connor O’Neal and Ryan Wooldridge.
Quarterback Duncan Gepner provided them with a threat in the running and passing game and his biggest offensive weapons, running back Dylan Hill and wide receiver Landon Hardman gave the Tigers’ a threat to score at every level.
There was a crisp wind all throughout Lathrop’s brand-new stadium that Saturday afternoon.
The sun was shining bright and the stands were full of Mule fans, Tiger fans and people from around the northwest Missouri area, ready to see a colossal collision.
Lamar took the field first, poised for yet another semifinal confrontation.
Lathrop followed, bursting with energy, the Mules’ were ready to shock the world.
On the game’s opening possession, Lamar imposed their will.
With their massive offensive line asserting themselves, the Tigers’ drive went 69 yards, lasted nearly nine minutes before they scored on a three-yard touchdown run by quarterback Duncan Gepner.
The Mules’ defense had opportunities to end the drive but failed on all five third down attempts.
Not long after, Lathrop threw their first haymaker of the day, when Seth McKnight scored on an electric 51-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
Locked at 7-7, neither team got much going in the second quarter, both defensive units really settled in by this point.
It wasn’t until there was just over four minutes left in the half that either team scored. This is when the game biggest play, in my opinion and once again it comes from the special teams, happened.
Pinned in their own red zone, Lamar lined up to punt. Seth McKnight and Joey Velasquez weren’t going to allow that to happen as the two blocked the punt together. In the right place at the right time, Drew O’Connor scooped up the ball and ran it in to give Lathrop the 14-7 lead.
After holding Lamar to a three and out, Lathrop struck again. This time in the form of Justin Wright barreling over the goal line for a four-yard touchdown run, giving the Mules’ a 21-7 lead at the break.
For the majority of the third quarter both defenses held true, but Lamar struck when Gepner scored his second rushing touchdown of the game.
The Mules’ final score of the contest came late in the fourth quarter when Blake Gordon scored on a three-yard touchdown run. Through his celebration with his teammates, you could sense the Mules could taste the impending victory.
But Lamar wouldn’t go down without a fight, as Gepner scored his third rushing touchdown of the game, pulling the Tigers’ within seven.
Now with the game on the line and less than a minute left to play, both teams lined up for Lamar’s onside kick attempt.
My colleague Brett Adkison eloquently described the action in his column about the game “Seven years of high school football dominance rolled harmlessly along the turf and fizzled out in the arms of Blake Gordon.”
With the recovery the Mules’ had secured their very first trip to the State Championship.
The victory bell at the south end of the field rang its loudest that day as it felt like the entire town of Lathrop joined their beloved football team on the field in celebration.
Unfortunately, the destiny of the 2018 Lathrop Mules peaked with their dynasty killing victory over Lamar. In the State Championship, they ran into a powder keg of a Blair Oaks team, a team that could have easily won the state title in Class 3 and maybe even Class 4.
But that State Championship loss cannot dampen the significance of what they accomplished that season and impact their victory over Lamar had.
That in itself is why I chose this contest for my second High School Football Retrospective.