'A whole different season': Carl Junction Bulldogs open district play against Lincoln Prep

Oct. 26—After running the gauntlet of Class 5 and 6 schools that make up the Central Ozark Conference, the Carl Junction Bulldogs open Class 4, District 7 play against the sixth-seeded Lincoln College Prep Blue Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday at Bulldog Stadium.

The matchup is a tough draw for the third-seeded Bulldogs, (1-8). Lincoln Prep's regular season record (3-6) is misleading. Earlier this month, the Blue Tigers were forced to vacate five wins because of the use of an ineligible player. Without those forfeits, Lincoln Prep would be 8-1. The Blue Tigers' only loss this season came at the hands of the Cameron Dragons in Week 1. Grandview (3-6), the No. 4 seed in District 7, also vacated wins (4) this season for use of an ineligible player.

Carl Junction head coach Todd Hafner said the Blue Tigers are a talented squad that will offer plenty of challenges for the Bulldogs.

"The first thing that sticks out about them on film is how athletic and how skilled they are," Hafner said. "They do such a good job of utilizing the guys that are talented. Their quarterback (Aaron Rimson VI) is a very good player. Their running back (Aaron Smith) makes people miss. What would have been short gains turn into big gains or touchdowns."

Hafner also said the Blue Tigers passing attack and defense are effective.

"The receivers they have on the outside are big-play guys," Hafner said. "They are very athletic. Their linebacker (junior Ashaun Moore) is probably one of the best in the state as far as tackles are concerned. He's always around the football."

Hafner said the Blue Tigers are an opportunistic team that mixes the passing and running games effectively.

"They are going to take what the defense gives them," Hafner said. "If you pack the box to stop the run, they are going to throw it to the outside. If you're light in the box and trying to take away the pass, they are going to run it. So we have to do a good job of disguising our looks."

He also said getting to their quarterback is key.

"If we can get pressure with our front four, that gives us a big advantage on the back end," Hafner said.

Hafner also said for the Bulldogs to be successful Friday night, they have to avoid giving up the big play.

"We have to make them drive the football," Hafner said. "We can't get beat over the top or give up the big run. Offensively, we need to control the football. We need to make sure we are giving them limited opportunities with the ball in their hands."

Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback Dexter Merrell and running backs Johnny Starks, a senior, and junior Tony Stewart.

When asked if their tough COC schedule has helped to prepare the Bulldogs for the Class 4 postseason, Hafner said it was an "unquestionable advantage" for his team.

"The conference schedule that we just went through in terms of the last nine games was probably — and it's not just me saying this — one of the toughest in the state of Missouri, top to bottom," Hafner said. "With us being the smallest school, there were plenty of challenges for us."

Hafner said it will be nice to play a school similar in size that will have to play players on both sides of the ball with limited rest, as the Bulldogs have had to do all season.

"It sure levels the playing field," Hafner said of facing a Class 4 team. "We hope that the strength of our schedule gives us an advantage. At this point it is yet to be seen, but playing the schedule that we play I think is definitely is a big advantage for us."

Hafner said he is looking forward to Friday's district opener.

"I think it's a good opportunity for our kids," Hafner said. "A whole different season starts Friday night and our kids are looking forward to the challenge ahead of us."