The Marquette Mustangs hit the road to play in the Class 6 District 3 championship football game.
Marquette (10-1) will play in Joplin against the undefeated Eagles (11-0). The kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Junge Field.
The Mustangs, who set a school record for most wins in a season this fall, have never won a district championship in the program’s history.
It will be first meet between the two teams.
“Joplin is a state-ranked opponent that plays a tough schedule,” Marquette coach Michael Stewart said. ”All of the Elite Eight teams are talented, and the Joplin Eagles rank very high on that list.”
Top-seeded Joplin rallied to outscore the Kirkwood Pioneers by 28 points down the stretch to pull away for a 69-48 win in the District 3 football semifinals last week.
Second-seeded Marquette opened postseason play with a 42-7 win over Springfield Kickapoo.
“We did some good things in this game,” Stewart said. ”Got some early defensive stops, and the offense go into a groove as the game went on. The kids stepped up and played at a high level to start district play.”
In the semfinals of district action, the Mustangs faced conference foe Lindbergh. Marquette won 37-14 in the regular season meeting.
“Any time we play Lindbergh, we know it’s going to be a tough battle for four quarters,” Stewart said. “We have very similar styles and kids. We really respect that program, and we know they were going to play a good game following their win in the first-round against Lafayette.”
Marquette scored a 31-21 victory over the Flyers to advance to play Joplin.
“We started out a little slower than we had wanted to,” Stewart said. ”They did a good job of controlling the clock early against our defense, and forcing an early turnover. Once we settled down and made a few adjustments, the kids played with a lot more confidence.”
Now comes the matchup against the Eagles.
Joplin scored 68 points against Jeff City and 69 points against Kirkwood in the last two weeks. In fact, the Eagles haven’t scored less than 45 points since the third week of the regular season.
“The Eagles have a lot of talent at their skill positions,” Stewart said. “They have a very balanced approach when calling plays. Anytime you have a 1,000-plus yard receiver and a 2,000-plus yard rusher, you’re gonna be very successful.”
Running back Isaiah Davis, a South Dakota State commit, rushed 309 yards and scored six touchdowns to lead the Eagles on the ground against Kirkwood. Receiver Zach Westmoreland, a Southern Illinois University commit, caught seven passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns against the Pioneers. Quarterback Blake Tash threw for 244 yards and he completed 10 of 15 passes for four touchdowns in the win over Kirkwood.
“They have a balancedsSpread approach that likes to use RPO scheme to keep you off balance,” Stewart said. “They have a lot of depth at both receiver and running back. We have played a lot of speed this year already, and this group could be one of the faster ones.”
Joplin is also talented defensively.
“(It’s a) tough and balanced group. They know how to expose an offense’s weaknesses, and capitalize on them,” Stewart said. “We know that we cannot make stupid mistakes if we want to come out on top.”
The district final atmosphere should be off the charts in Joplin.
“Any time you play in a district final, you expect a great atmosphere. We know that they love and support that program in Joplin,” Stewart said. “We have always traveled well, and hopefully that continues regardless of the distance.”
Marquette will have support too, Stewart said.
“This group has a lot of support from the surrounding community,” Stewart said. “We have several pep busses traveling, and a parent caravan making the trip. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone involved.”
His Mustangs are excited with the opportunity to play for the districtc title.
“Absolutely. They have set goals early in the summer, and have the opportunity to check a few off the list,” Stewart said. “They have worked hard to get to this point, and want to keep things rolling.”