For second straight year Bulldogs travel to Waynesville for district opener.
Willie Howard is hoping the Deja vu continues for his Rolla High School football squad just one more week.
Last year the Bulldogs were winless until beating West Plains in Week 9. That gave RHS momentum for the Missouri Class 5 District 4 opener, when it went to Waynesville and defeated the host Tigers.
Last week the Bulldogs were winless until beating West Plains in Week 9. Now, they are hoping that gives them the momentum needed for the Missouri Class 5 District 4 opener...when they play at Waynesville tonight.
Kickoff at the new Waynesville High synthetic turf field – located behind the high school building – is set for 7 p.m. tonight.
The winner of tonight's Rolla-Waynesville matchup moves on to the District 4 semifinals at Lebanon next week.
And if the Bulldogs win tonight...the Deja vu can officially end as far as they are concerned, since RHS lost to Lebanon in Week 11 last year.
Heading into last week's action it appeared Rolla would be playing its district opener at Sedalia Smith-Cotton. However, the Bulldogs' first win of the season - a 24-21 decision over West Plains at home – coupled with Waynesville's 30-26 upset of state-ranked Springfield Hillcrest changed those plans.
Now it's a rematch between old rivals RHS and Waynesville. When the two teams met Sept. 27 in Rolla, Waynesville posted its first win of the season, 32-17.
"Our kids are excited," Howard said. "A lot of it has to do with a second chance to play against Waynesville. We realize we didn't play our best in Week 5."
In the past playing the same team twice in a season was a big deal. Now, with the change in the playoff format, it's not so much.
"In the playoff system we've got now – the way the districts are set up – just about everybody is playing each other (a second time)," said Waynesville head coach Rick Vernon. "That's the way football is now."
There is no question that the Tigers turned their season around starting with the first Rolla matchup. Since then Waynesville has won three of five games.
On the surface there are two main reasons for the Tiger turnaround – they have cut the turnovers way down from Week 5 on and junior Varon Martinez has settled in at quarterback.
The first four weeks Waynesville went with senior Trent Simpson at QB and Martinez at wideout. Vernon switched the two against Rolla and the results have been impressive.
Martinez has become the two-way threat at quarterback the squad had envisioned for him when he was back in middle school. And Simpson is now a dangerous possession receiver.
"We just made some changes and our kids improved each week," Vernon said. "And we cut down on turnovers.
"(Martinez at QB) creates some other things. It's made the passing game better and the receiving better. Varon does some good things at quarterback in an option-type game. He was hurt all summer long, and had a bad shoulder even during the early part of preseason camp. It has taken some time; he was a good thrower before (the injury)."
Martinez leads the Tigers in rushing, with 800 yards on 96 carries and nine touchdowns. He has also completed 56-of-90 passes for 600 yards, six interceptions and two TDs.
Tiger senior wideout Michael Thompson leads the team in receptions, catching 15 passes for 470 yards.
Martinez gives the Tiger ground game much balance. As far as running backs, senior Ronnie McLean has 658 rushing yards on 129 carries and seven TDs while junior Willie Parker has 456 yards on 50 carries and four TDs and junior Jalen Thomas 259 yards on 45 carries and five TDs.
Waynesville is averaging 21.0 points per game while allowing an average of 25.9. Rolla is averaging 19.4 points while allowing 30.1.
"Martinez has done a nice job improving as the season has gone along," Howard said. "He's becoming a more accurate passer. We have to stay on him a lot like (Hillcrest explosive quarterback Matt) Rush in that respect. He has the ability to go the distance any time on a breakdown."
The Bulldogs want to build on a strong showing in a loss at Hillcrest two weeks ago and last week's win.
"We hope we can string together another game offensively and defensively as well as we have the last couple of weeks and give ourselves a chance to play another week," Howard said. "We've competed a lot better. Our defense has worked out a lot better the last two weeks."
"They're just a very fundamentally sound football team," Vernon said of Rolla. "They have three good defensive linemen up front and they run the ball well."
Junior running back Andy Satulla paces the RHS offensive attack with 1,294 rushing yards on 216 attempts and 10 touchdowns while catching 16 passes for 242 yards and another TD.
RHS sophomore quarterback Kyle Morris has hit on 66-of-157 passes for 702 yards, five interceptions and four TDs while rushing for 185 yards and a TD.
Senior wideout Jared McBride has 12 catches for 137 yards while junior wideout Bradley Lohr has 11 catches for 107 yards, junior running back Collin Nash 11 catches for 82 yards and senior wideout Joe Drallmeier 10 catches for 130 yards.
Junior linebacker Billy Brookshire has 46 solos and 61 total tackles to lead the Bulldogs while Drallmeier, a defensive back, has 56 tackles and two interceptions; senior lineman Kaan Kutman 54 tackles and senior linemen JorJon Ellison and Jacob Banholzer each have 47 tackles.
Banholzer has three QB sacks and nine tackles for losses while Kutman has two sacks and five tackles for losses.