You don’t have to tell Boonville Pirates football coach Devin Brown that Friday’s game against the Moberly Spartans is a big rival game.
Since joining the North Central Missouri Conference back in 2008, the Pirates have thrived against the Spartans by winning all four games.
Of course Moberly coach Jason Ambroson also knows the importance of the game. He has been the coach for the Spartans in all four losses against Boonville.
“The fact that we haven’t beaten Boonville the last four years is a big deal for us,” Ambroson said, “and you better believe I have told the kids that. However, I think every game is a big incentive for us. There are a lot of great coaches and a lot of great kids in the conference and with the district standings set up the way they are I think it’s a big deal to. I like the fact that every game matters because it keeps the kids focused in and lets them understand that every week they are jockeying for position and it matters.”
Ambroson said it’s also a big game because you have two teams in Moberly and Boonville who have an opportunity to host a game in Week 10.
Of course the Spartans took a major hit last week on the road against the Hannibal Pirates. Although Moberly was competitive against Hannibal, they also gave up 34 second-half points in a 34-22 setback.
Ambroson said the Spartans led 9-0 at the half and had other opportunities but missed a PAT and a field goal.
“We easily could have been ahead by a little bit more at half,” Ambroson said. “The first half was probably as good a half of football that we have played in a long time against a very quality opponent. But in the second half Hannibal turned it up a notch and we kind of stumbled a little bit. I don’t think we played poorly, I just think Hannibal took it up to a different level. But I also feel we made some mistakes and part of that is Hannibal and part of that is us. We answered but you can’t give a good team second opportunities.”
In the game against Hannibal, junior quarterback Justin Connaway completed 20 of 31 passes for 202 yards. Meanwhile, on the ground, the Spartans finished the game with close to 200 yards, with sophomore running back Gregg Bain leading the way with 75 yards and one touchdown. Senior Joe Galaske finished the game with 60 yards on the ground while Connaway added 41 yards and one score.
Junior Blake Joiner also had a big game on the receiving end with 139 yards.
The Spartans weren’t bad on defense, either. Bain, junior defensive end Colton Tremain and junior defensive tackle Jeff Kinder each had 10 total tackles in the game.
Not bad considering that Moberly had to replace eight starters on defense and seven on offense from last year’s team.
“We are not a very gifted, athletic football team,” Ambroson said. “Boonville probably has eight kids that are faster than my fastest kid as well as everybody else in the conference. We are a very methodical group. Our margin for error isn’t very good and if we make mistakes we don’t have that big play capability to get ourselves back in the ballgame. We don’t even have a kid who can even run with Damario Walker. We have good, hard-nosed kids who have done a great job in the weight room. We are not fast so we know we have to be very efficient at what we do so balance is part of our efficiency. We have to be able to run it and we have to be able to throw it efficiently.”
So far so good for the Spartans. Except for a small hiccup in the season opener against Blair Oaks, which resulted in a 24-14 loss, Moberly has been more than efficient at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the NCMC.
As for the Pirates, they are also on a roll since the three straight losses to start the season. Although all three opponents are still unbeaten and are a combined 21-0 overall, Boonville has recently found its offense while finishing with 350 yards or better in total offense during its four-game winning steak.
Brown said the four-game win streak is the kids just believing in what they are doing.
“We have gotten sound both offensively and defensively and have gotten better each week,” Brown said. “We have thrown in a couple of wrinkles here and there offensively. Defensively we have given up a play here or there but other than that we have played pretty sound, especially in the second half. We just have to put four quarters together.”
The Pirates will have to play four quarters Friday night on the road against the Spartans, who have done the opposite by starting strong. Except for the loss against Blair Oaks, Moberly has led in every other game at the half.
As for Boonville, they have started slow the last-two weeks. In Week 6 against Kirksville, the Pirates led by a single point at the half 21-20. Meanwhile, in the game last week against Fulton, the Pirates led 21-13 against the 0-6 Hornets at half.                         
Moberly’s wins have also been impressive this season. After a 24-14 loss in the season opener against Blair Oaks, the Spartans came back with five straight wins by beating a good Osage team who was in the quarterfinals last year by a score of 20-12. Then, after blanking Kirksville 31-0 in Week 3, Moberly came back the following week on the road against the Fulton Hornets and escaped with a 26-13 win. But since then, the Spartans have beaten St. James 52-14 and a much improved Marshall squad 41-12.
Ambroson said in the loss to Blair Oaks his team played well but not well enough to win.
“We have had some ups and downs and made some mistakes but I am very pleased with the kids,” Ambroson said. “I am pleased with their effort and discipline and the type of young men that they have become.”
As far as the Boonville Pirates football team, Ambroson said the Pirates have been playing with three pretty good quarterbacks at times this season. He said while one kid throws it pretty well the other one runs it real well. And then to top that off, Ambroson said the Walker kid runs the Wildcat pretty well.
“They are playing three guys at the quarterback position that Coach Brown is trying to get the ball and spread it around to those kids,” Ambroson said. “They are going to run the football and throw it when they need to or when they have to, and then they will try to control the clock pretty much like we do. As for the defense, they are good up front on both sides of the ball. They return 6-7 starters from a really good defense last year. They are very tough defensively and offensively very good up front. They are hard-nosed, physical and like to run the ball. It’s going to be a huge test for us.”
As for the Spartans, Brown said they like to run, throw it and mix it up.
“Their quarterback is pretty solid, so we have to be able to get our assignments and get to our spots,” Brown said, “and then we have to put a little pressure on them. Basically what we have to do against them is to be in our gaps and then we have to be where we are supposed to be and not panic.”
Of course the defense is a different story. Brown said the Spartans switched this year to a 3-4. He said they have two high safeties that are solid along with an outside linebacker that are very good. Meanwhile, in the secondary, Brown said it is sound as well.
“We have to block and be able to maintain blocks and just steadily move the ball and keep it out of their hands,” Brown said.
Either way, the Pirates will have to play their best football game of the season against Moberly. Through seven games this season, the Spartans have several players putting up big numbers starting with Connaway, who has completed 96 of 159 passes for 956 yards and eight touchdowns along with three interceptions. Meanwhile, in the rushing department, the Spartans have three players with 300 yards or more. Galaske is the leading rusher for the season with 91 carries for 480 yards and four touchdowns. Bain, meanwhile, has 76 carries for 424 yards and seven scores while Connaway has 59 carries for 339 yards and five touchdowns.
The receiving core is also by committee, with Joiner hauling in 28 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown. Elkins has 33 catches for 262 yards and five touchdowns while Jalen Troy has 11 for 139 yards and two touchdowns and Mason with 10 catches for 114 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior defensive end Colton Tremain has 65 total tackles with 37 solo stops and 28 assisted tackles while Jeff Kinder follows close behind with a total of 60 tackles with 34 solo stops and 26 assisted. Tremain also leads the team in sacks with five.
That being said, Ambroson said he thinks the game will come down to special teams, field position and turnovers.
“You have two good teams that play good defense and then you have two teams that like to run the football,” Ambroson said. “I also feel like these are two very well coached team and hard-nosed on top of that. I think that’s pretty evident by looking at the scores the last few years. Even though we lost last year 7-0 I thought we played lights out defensively to hold Boonville to less than 100 yards. I just think it’s going to be a heck of a football game.”
Brown said it’s a big game because both teams are rivals. “I think the team that wins will be the team that makes the fewer mistakes,” Brown said. “Moberly is a good football team so I am concerned about everything they do. We’re getting better but we still have room for improvement.”
For the season, junior quarterback Jacob Francis has completed 21 of 53 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Senior running back Kelsey Callaway, leads the Pirates in rushing with 117 carries for 736 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the receiving end, senior Damario Walker has 22 catches for 334 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, on defense, senior Jalen Poindexter  has 104 total tackles.