You've got to play 'em all.
But the Rolla High School football team has been thrown into the thick of the Ozark Conference race from the get-go this year.
The Bulldogs play their second straight OC heavyweight tonight, hosting Springfield Kickapoo in their home opener. Kickoff on Lions Memorial Field's new synthetic turf is set for 7 p.m.
Last week RHS opened on the road and fell to defending conference co-champion Lebanon 27-7. Lebanon is ranked No. 10 in this week's Missouri Class 5 state poll.
Now the Bulldogs get a Kickapoo Chiefs squad which outscored Springfield Parkview 39-25 in their opener. Kickapoo is not ranked in the Class 5 top-10, but did get votes this week.
"Kickapoo is probably the pick to win the city (Springfield) part of the conference," said RHS head coach Willie Howard. "But that's just part of it; you've got to play everybody to win...we just happen to start off with two of the top contenders."
"That's the way our conference is going to be this year," said Kickapoo head coach Joel Wells. "You've got a chance to have a competitive game every Friday night."
In years past Kickapoo was an option offense, similar to what Rolla runs. However, under Wells the Chiefs have transformed into a spread attack this fall.
"They are completely spread now," Howard said of Kickapoo. "They run a lot of the same spread option type offense – with short passing routes and hit you when they can."
Leading the charge for Kickapoo's offense is senior two-way threat quarterback Anthony Cooper, who rushed for 168 yards on 13 carries and threw for 228 yards against Parkview last week. In all Kickapoo had 498 yards of total offense.
Actually Parkview took a 10-0 first-quarter lead over the Chiefs. However, Kickapoo erupted for 19 points in the second period and 14 more in the third to take a 33-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
Five different players scored Kickapoo's first five TDs.
Cooper had a 68-yard scoring run and a 73-yard scoring pass while senior running back Kelton Reeves broke off a 57-yard punt return and senior running back John Fuchs added a 30-yard scoring run.
"They are very explosive," Howard said of Kickapoo. "They are very athletic at receiver and their quarterback is a very good player – probably one of the best quarterbacks in the conference this year. He's a kid they used in the option last year; now they're spreading him out."
Wells said the Chiefs have much to improve on.
"We turned the ball over four times, and that was not very positive," Wells said. "Offensively we have some weapons; we have some good backs. Defensively we're pleased with our run defense. We only gave up 40 yards rushing (last week)."
Page 2 of 2 - The Bulldogs certainly hope they can have more success on the ground this week.
"They are an above-average defense again," Howard said of Kickapoo. "They're not overly big but do move around a lot and make plays."
RHS hopes for more balance. Against Lebanon all 141 RHS offensive yards came on the ground, as the Bulldogs completed just one pass for minus-2 yards. Junior running back Andy Satulla accounted for 120 of those rushing yards and the team's lone TD, on a three-yard run.
"On film they look to be improved," Wells said of Rolla. "They have a couple of threats at running back. Quite honestly if (Satulla) doesn't get hurt in our game last year it could have been a different outcome."
In a driving rain at Springfield last year Kickapoo defeated Rolla 14-7. In that game Satulla suffered an ankle injury that cost him most of the season.
Howard said the lone injury from last week was a foot injury to senior defensive lineman/tight end Jacob Banholzer. Banholzer is expected to play tonight.