Jared Lankford: Football in Big 8 is a different animal

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Moments after a 24-6 win over Eldon, Mt. Vernon Coach Tom Cox was surrounded by media and television cameras and was answering questions about his team’s win over a program that had averaged almost 51 points per game this season.

Cox was on the verge of tears as he recalled how proud he was of his players and how they executed the game plan to perfection, save for one play that allowed Eldon to score.

As the field overflowed with a green wave of Mt. Vernon faithful, the coach was asked to put in perspective what the win meant to his team and the community.

“This week, I talked to our team about five F’s — focus, fun, fundamentals, fortunate and future,” Cox said. “This run right now is important for the future of our program. People in the community and our young kids are getting excited about football, and they want to be a Mountaineer right now.”

Cox told the media to look around and they could tell how special this game, team and football was to the community.

There is no doubt that this playoff run has captured the Mt. Vernon residents’ attention. On Friday night, they hosted a rally bonfire fully garnished with s’mores and hot chocolate. On Saturday, there was a free tailgate prior to the game on the south side of the stadium. Just driving into town, it was easy to notice banners everywhere that read “Mountaineer Country.”

While it is true that none of these ideas are unique, one can look at the bigger picture to see that football means a little more in Big 8 country.

With Mt. Vernon’s victory, the conference has now advanced at least one team to the semifinal round every year since 2008. The Conference’s Class 3 teams have qualified to the semifinal in each of the last six seasons. Dating back to 2008, Big 8 teams have claimed nine state championships.

To say that the Big 8 Conference is football crazy is a massive understatement. Outside of graduation, no other sport at any of the Big 8 venues will have a larger crowd.

Even teams that have been stuck in a losing rut will still pack 400 or more into its home side stands on Friday nights. For nearly a decade, the Big 8 has played in and won on the state playoff stage.

Monett fans can easily relate to the euphoric state that Mt. Vernon is experiencing this season. A year ago, hundreds of fans flocked to the games and then arranged for impromptu parades down Broadway.

Cassville fans still have decals on their vehicles to remind them of back-to-back championships.

Big 8 coaches can take solace in the fact that they are playing in one of the most dominate conferences in the state. They can tell their players with confidence that if they can win in the Big 8, they can win in the playoffs.

There are those that say we pay too much attention to high school sports. To a certain extent, I agree.

If the highlight of your life occurred during your high school days, then you have not lived an entirely full life. However, even the non-athletically minded can recall achievement such as a playoff run or state title.

The past decade of Big 8 sports has been nothing short of remarkable.

A year ago, Cox was doing interviews about the toughness of other Big 8 teams and how the conference had shaped and molded them to make that run possible. This year, it has come full circle, and it is Cox’s Mountaineers that everyone is talking about.

During the quarterfinal victory, there were more than Mt. Vernon fans present. I saw fans wearing Cassville, Monett, Seneca, East Newton and Aurora gear cheering on the Mountaineers.

The Mountaineers, with the win, advanced to the semifinal round for the first time since 1991 and hosts Lutheran South on Saturday.

Big 8 football — it is alive and well.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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