story by Aric Mitchell
For all practical purposes, a win over the Shiloh Christian Saints for the Ozark Hillbillies Friday night would claim the 1-4A Conference Title. After all, Ozark has Gentry in Week 10, and practically no one believes that's going to be a loss. So this was the Hillbillies last test of the regular season, and it was a good one.
There were plenty of miscues, penalties and turnovers that would plague Ozark, but their two big advantages — running back Asher Ree and a miserly defense — were enough to get the job done as the Hillbillies clawed their way to a 28-20 victory.
Ree carried 36 times for 334 yards in a master performance that netted four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Ozark defense allowed only 68 yards rushing and 185 passing with only 70 overall yards allowed in the first half.
Fans looking for an offensive show were in for disappointment in the first half as Ozark and Shiloh Christian took turns with three-and-outs or the occasional multi-series drive that ended in a punt. Defenses were so stingy that the Saints even had a chance to score with a fresh series of downs from the Hillbillies 10-yard line in the first quarter and ended up getting pushed back so far through a combination of penalties and stops they had to settle for missing a 43-yard field goal attempt from the boot of kicker Seung Jae Lee.
However, Shiloh would strike first thanks to defense when Benjamin Burke stole a pass attempt directly from the hands of Ozark quarterback Jonathon McKenzie and ran it in for the six from 37 yards out. Lee added the extra point, giving Shiloh a 7-0 lead with 1:41 remaining in the first quarter. The Saints were grateful for the steal since their offense only produced 56 yards rushing and 14 passing in the first 24 minutes.
Ozark fared better behind center. In fact, it was the Hillbillies unit that scored the only offensive touchdown of the half with a 32-yard run from Asher Ree with 9:39 remaining in the second quarter. Oscar Gallegos added the point after to tie the game at seven, and that's where it would stay until the break.
Rushing yards were the dominant statistics for the Hillbillies in the first half and throughout the game. The purple-and-gold rushed 22 times for 153 yards. Passing accounted for only 18, bringing Ozark's total yardage to 171, more than 100 yards compared to the overall Shiloh Christian output.
The third quarter started promising for the Hillbillies, thanks to a big return from Ree to the Shiloh 47-yard line and 32 yards of rushing on 2 carries, but a fumbled snap would be recovered by the Saints' Jacob Rhoades. Shiloh struggled for yardage, but kept things alive long enough for quarterback Andrew Tyler to hit David Tyler for a 63-yard touchdown pass with 6:42 remaining. A botched snap kept the lead at 13-7.
Unlike years past, however, the Saints' advantage would not intimidate Ozark as four plays later, the Hillbillies would be sitting on their first lead of the night. McKenzie, whose passing game had been anemic to that point, finally found Toby Richard for 13 yards to set up at the Shiloh 31-yard line. From there, Ree would break one across the field for six. Gallegos added the extra point with 4:54 to go in the third for a 14-13 lead.
A Saints' quarterback change to Casey Paraday late in the third would start well with a 28-yard completion to Connor Clark, but on the series to follow, the Hillbillies line would get a hand on Paraday's pass allowing defender Dillon Ellison to come down with the pick, securing Ozark's lead through three.
Ozark's offense failed to produce any more points at the start of the fourth quarter, allowing Paraday another chance to work, but the Hillbillies defense forced three incomplete passes and a punt, which pinned McKenzie back at the Ozark 5-yard line. Once again, Ree took over, helping the Hillbillies to launch a 13-play, 95-yard drive that culminated when Ree punched it in from 15 yards out. Gallegos' extra point gave Ozark the 21-13 advantage with 4:51 left in the game.
Shiloh's next hope rested on the shoulders of Paraday, who on fourth-and-4 was flushed from the pocket and coaxed into another incompletion for the turnover on downs. The Hillbillies were not content with the 8-point lead and quickly put Ree back into service when, on a third-and-1, Ree broke another big run from 30 yards out. Following Gallegos' kick, Ozark led 28-13 with 2:13 left in the game.
For most teams that would be the end. Not for the Saints. Paraday, a sophomore, showed the poise of a senior with two consecutive completions from 32 and 26 yards out, the latter a TD toss to Joshua Dellinger. With a successful PAT, Shiloh Christian pulled to within eight, 28-20. But the ensuing onside kick was not to be as junior Brandon Brokeshoulder recovered, sealing the deal for Ozark.
Magazine 35, Mountainburg 7
Danville 43, Poyen 6
Hackett 42, JC Westside 14
Western Yell County 58, Hartford 0
Union Christian 46, Decatur 0
Mansfield 21, Lavaca 14
Paris 57, Perryville 7
Charleston 37, Cedarville 6
Ozark 28, Shiloh Christian 20
Booneville 14, Dardanelle 6
Dover 28, Waldron 21
Pottsville 40, Clarksville 18
Mena 62, Subiaco Academy 7
Greenwood 59, Greenbrier 35
Alma 27, Siloam Springs 14
FS Southside 42, Rogers Heritage 21
Cabot 56, Van Buren 25
FS Northside 31, Rogers 24
PREDICTION RECORD THIS WEEK: 15-3
RECORD OVERALL: 113-21