If Boonville Pirates football coach Barry Blank had it his way, the Pirates would play somebody else other than the Eldon Mustangs in the season opener Friday night at Gene Reagan field.
While the Pirates were beaten by the Mustangs in the season opener last year 41-13, Blank felt his team played well for probably two quarters. The game was called in the fourth quarter last year due to bad weather.
Nonetheless, the Pirates will once again have their hands full as the Mustangs return 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball and nine back on defense.
Eldon also felt like they have something to prove after closing out the 2016 season at 7-5, which was the squad’s fifth winning season out of the last six.
Eldon coach Shannon Jolley said last year was a season that he felt like his team suffered a few key injuries. “Yet those injuries allowed us to gain experience for some young kids that were thrown into starting roles,” Jolley said.
While entering his 10th year at the helm at Eldon, the Mustangs look to be in the thick of things once again in the Tri-County Conference along with Blair Oaks and Southern Boone, who were both recently ranked in the top 10 in the Missouri Media Football Rankings. Eldon also received votes in Class 3.
Blank said offensively the Mustangs will run a Wing T on offense.
“They will probably run the football 80 percent of the time,” Blank said. “They like to run the buck sweep and a lot of fullback dives, and then when they lull you into that they will run pass option. We’re going to have to be very disciplined in our run reads and very disciplined in our gap control. We also have to be great game tacklers. We will have to hit them with 3-4 guys because they will hit you hard.”
Senior running back Isaiah Merida returns for the Mustangs after rushing for 750 yards and six touchdowns last season. Merida also caught three passes for 81 yards and had 472 yards in kickoff and punt returns in 2016. Junior Isaiah Parsons is also back after finishing with 624 yards and eight touchdowns.
As for the quarterback position, junior Dawson Brandt looks to be the frontrunner to start under center on Friday.
Of course the Mustangs will also return plenty of experience up front with six players who started at some point during the season. Senior Tate Warny will anchor the offensive line after earning all-conference last year at the center position. Others returning across the line are Riley Pope, Tanner Myers, Jakob Krantz and Jonathan Schoenfield. Cole Walker, meanwhile, will hold down the spot at the tight end position.
The Mustangs will also return with plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball. Blank said Eldon will line up in the old Bears 46 defense while switching from the traditional 3-4 last year.
“They will play cover zero everywhere,” Blank said. “I thought just watching them on the field that they were very physical at the point of attack and very, very fast. I still feel like we have to establish the run, though. The thing about their defense is that they are going to make big plays so we have to be patient and take advantage of their mistakes. The other thing is that we have to take advantage of the one on one matchups with our wide receivers.”
On defense, Pope and Trenton Bishop will return to anchor the end spots for the Mustangs. However the linebackers and secondary will be the team’s biggest strengths on the defensive side of the ball.
Brandt returns on defense after leading the team with a whopping 144 tackles year as a safety. Of course Parson was not far behind with 114. Dillon, meanwhile, was the team’s primary pass rusher while recording 74 tackles with 16.5 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 11 quarterback sacks.
As for the secondary, Merida and Austin Pipes will start at cornerback, where they each had two interceptions last year. Myers, meanwhile, will return at outside linebacker after finishing with 53 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season.
Blank said it doesn’t matter who you play, anytime you go into Week 1 the big thing is limiting your turnovers. “The team that limits their turnovers and creates turnovers will have a chance to win,” Blank said. “The second key will be special teams just because it’s the first time where you have done it live against another opponent. We feel good on where we are with our special teams but what worries me is that Eldon has some explosive returners.”
So what does Blank want to see for the first game of the season other than a win? He said he wants to see great effort for four quarters out of the kids. He said anytime you open up the season you are going to have mental mistakes but the one thing you can control as a player is effort, finishing blocks and running to the football.
“I like it’s exciting,” Blank said of starting the season on Friday, “because the kids are excited and it’s a start of a new season. Playing quality opponent like Eldon allows you to evaluate your program and see what you do well and what you need to improve on.”
Blank said he also sees this game as a big challenge.
“They are all big challenges,” Blank said. “It’s just happens that we are playing Eldon on Friday and that’s where our focus is for the first game. When you have a district finalists come in you have a big challenge but I know our kids are up to it.”
Pirates Starting Lineups
LT-Samuel Wiser, Sr.
LG-Ben Horst, Sr.
C-Gabe Rumbaoa, Sr.
RG-Daniel Meyers, Sr.
RT-Christian Kosnopfal, Sr.
TE-Brandon Johnson, Jr.
WR-Adam Edler, Sr.
WR-Jaylen Butner, Sr.
QB-Malik Brazil, Jr.
TB-Avian Thomas, So.
FB-Kole Ficken, Sr.
DE-Samuel Wiser, Sr.
DE-Gabe Rumbaoa, Sr.
N-Ben Horst, Sr.
OLB-Landon Weaver, Jr.
OLB-Josh Polk, So.
ILB-Ben Eichelberger, Sr.
ILB-Brandon Johnson, Jr.
CB-Carson Campbell, Jr.
CB-Adam Edler, Sr.
SS-Dylan Watson, Jr.
FS-Avian Thomas, So.