Nov. 9—Lamar enters the Class 2 District 5 championship having withstood injuries and distractions throughout the season to earn a 9-1 record.
Only four teams have kept the Tigers from scoring 40 or more points in a contest.
"I know that we've been able to win the majority of our ballgames, but we have fought through a lot of adversity as a team," Lamar head coach Jared Beshore said. "Whether that's injuries or distractions off the field."
Beshore added that playing in the Big 8 adds difficulties of its own even without injuries or anything else to worry about.
Lamar's opponent, Adrian, played for a state championship last year in Class 1, but with realignment among classes, the Blackhawks were on the cusp of Class 2 and were moved up in 2023.
"MSHSAA only gives us a seven-day contract from here on out, and if you don't take care of business, you go home and it's basketball season," Beshore said.
He complimented the Adrian program when he talked about having to prepare well for a "really good" team.
Adrian comes into Friday's 7 p.m. contest with an 11-0 record.
The Tigers' only loss this season came against an undefeated Class 3 opponent in Seneca. The Indians are one of the four teams to keep Lamar under 40 points. That game ended in a 28-14 final.
Lamar tallied 34 points against Logan-Rogersville, 28 against East Newton and 14 against Nevada. Each of those games ended in a victory for the Tigers.
Beshore understands all teams deal with adversity in some form or fashion every year whether that is injuries or some other barrier. But he's happy with the way his team has dealt with it this year. In the many years he's been close to the Lamar program, this is the most adversity he's seen a Tigers team deal with.
From having to play five different quarterbacks throughout the year because of various different injuries and missing key playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, there has been a lot of shuffling.
But the coach admitted that has only made his group stronger and deeper by forcing players to step into roles they aren't used to throughout an adverse season.
"We've been able to maintain our expectation of success throughout it all, and I think that's been the most impressive thing about this season," Beshore said.
Now, another district championship hangs in the balance. There may be some pressure to perform, but that's nothing new at Lamar. And Beshore knows all about that pressure.
The 27-year-old head coach played for Lamar from 2010-13 and was a part of the Tigers' first three state championships. His father, Jeff, coached under Scott Bailey during those four seasons. His younger brother, Joel, played on the team from 2019-22 and won a state title in 2020 with Jared Beshore as his head coach.
That 2020 state championship was Beshore's first year as head coach of the Lamar program and he added two runner-up finishes the next two seasons. Now, in his fourth season as head coach, he's looking to take another team back to Columbia.
"These kids don't know any different when it comes to expectations," Beshore said. "Expectations have been high for our program since these guys were little kids, which, in my opinion, is an advantage. Because they're used to it. They expect the high expectations. I think that motivates them to want to get their place in that tradition.
"We talk about it all the time. We want to put a number on that board."
That board is displayed at Thomas M. O'Sullivan Stadium at Lamar High School with all of the program's state championships listed.
What stands out about this group that tells Beshore he has another group capable of putting a number up on that board?
"I think it starts with our seniors," Beshore said. "Our seniors have put in the work to put themselves in that position to have that ability. They have worked their tails off for four years. They're starting to take ahold of this team, leadershipwise."
Lamar ended up winning seven consecutive titles from 2011-17 and lost in the Final Four in 2018.
It got to another district championship this year by beating a Diamond team that was known for running the ball and stacking all 11 guys on offense into a tight, jumbo set.
One week after Diamond's Kendal King ran for 280 yards against Sarcoxie, Lamar was able to find a way to shut down the physical running back on the way to a 47-0 win.
"It all starts up front with our guys defensively," Beshore said. "Those guys do the dirty work. ... It's always been a staple of our program to have great defense and stop the run."
Beshore said that ability to stop the run helps the rest of the defense to make plays as it did last week with two interceptions.
That line of scrimmage battle isn't just a focus for the Tigers.
"It's the focus," Beshore said. "We tell our guys we're going to win and lose with the guys up front. And that's both sides of the ball."
Kiler Nance leads the Tigers' defense with 77 tackles so far this season and right behind him is Roarke Dillion with 76. The secondary has been held down by ball-hawking players like JR Romero and Ian Ngugi. Romero has three interceptions and Ngugi has two with one being returned for a touchdown.
Trace Wooldridge leads the team with 9.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The leader among the five different quarterbacks for Lamar has been Alex Wilkerson, who has completed 23 of 39 passes for 476 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's also ran for 398 yards and seven more touchdowns.
Logan Kish leads the rushing attack with 613 yards and 16 scores. Carson Sturgell adds 411 yards on the ground and has found pay dirt four times.
Leading receivers for Wilkerson are Chase Querry and Ian Ngugi. Querry has 13 receptions for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Ngugi has four touchdowns on 15 catches for 233 yards.