MHS Football — Ben Walker

Maryville football's senior quarterback Ben Walker is readying for his third year as the starter for the Spoofhounds' offense. Walker will be searching for his first win over Blair Oaks when the teams square off Aug. 28 in Warrensburg, Missouri. 

It’s been over 40 weeks since the Lathrop Mules came into the ’Hound Pound for the Class 2 District 8 championship.

That night, Nov. 15, 2019, fans saw a nine-game win streak come to an end, a 67-home-game win streak crushed and the last time Maryville took the football field.

The one-point loss left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Spoofhounds. Coaches, players and fans were ready to move on and set their sights on a new beginning.

That new beginning starts Aug. 28.

Coach Matt Webb has already wiped out the nightmare that occurred when the Mules came to Maryville, and so have his players. The team is looking strictly ahead to the 2020 season.

“This group is excited to build their own identity and start the season fresh,” Webb said. “That’s the amazing thing about all sports: everybody gets a fresh start.”

While the Spoofhounds will be given a clean slate, there are still high expectations to follow the team this season. Maryville has lost nine games in the past eight years, while winning the Midland Empire Conference seven times in that same span.

This year, Maryville will be without some big-time playmakers due to graduation. The Spoofhounds will be without offensive lineman Jackson Bram, offensive and defensive lineman Tallon Noland, wideout and defensive back Tate Oglesby and middle linebacker Tyler McGary.

However, the Spoofhounds are returning core players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The ability to return a large group of veteran players has Webb excited.

“When you follow ‘tradition never graduates’ and process football, you can’t help but feel very confident in our entire team,” Webb said. “We got a lot of experience back.”

On the offensive line, there is returning senior center Tobin Cordell and junior Blake Castell. Both Cordell and Castell received all-conference honors for their efforts during the 2019 season. The line will be anchored by these two standout players.

Three-year starter Marc Gustafson will be returning at the tight end position. His 6-foot-8-inch frame makes him a hot target in the passing game. Cordell, Castell and Gustafson will hold down the fort up front, allowing the stars in Maryville’s backfield to shine.

Three-year starter Ben Walker will find himself under center. His experience will play in the favor of the Spoofhounds. Walker can throw the ball, run when needed and knows how to get the offense in and out of run checks, Webb said.

Last season, there weren't many situations in which Walker didn't have an answer. Heading into his final season as a Spoofhound, preceded by a prolonged offseason to train, expect big things from the gunslinger.

In the backfield with Walker, senior running backs Trey Houchin and Connor Weiss look to carry the Spoofhounds back to the district championship game. Both players received the honor of being a captain for this year’s team.

Despite an impressive group of offensive players coming back, Webb understands he doesn’t have to entirely rely on these six players.

“One thing about us is that we play a lot of players,” Webb said. “It’s not just our starters and then everyone else stands on our sideline. We get our guys in games so they have that experience when they get older.”

Throughout the history of football, people have touted that defense wins championships. If that’s the case, the Spoofhounds should like their odds against opposing offenses with familiar faces returning on defense.

Junior Andrew Spire makes his return at the linebacker position, alongside junior Kyle Stewart. Playing valuable minutes last year, Spire and Stewart are trusted to be able to read offensive schemes to make tackles at the line of scrimmage.

The defensive backfield is laden with senior talent. Brady Farnan, Kade Wilmes and Caleb Kreizinger are expected to be ballhawks and intercept passes that come in their direction.

With the official schedule being released, Maryville will have to be ready to spend many Friday nights away from the comfort of the ’Hound Pound. Out of the nine regular-season games, the Spoofhounds will be on the road for six of them.

“The MEC has a wide range of schematics and players that really prepares you for playoff runs,” Webb said. “The week-in and week-out challenge that comes with playing in the MEC is something we look forward to every year.”

A foe that hasn’t seen the Spoofhounds since the Class 3 State Tournament back in 2017 has been added to the schedule in Week 7. Maryville will travel to Kansas City, MO to play the Lincoln College Prep Tigers on their signature blue turf field.

Even though Lincoln College Prep is a larger school and larger classification than Maryville, the ’Hounds will come into that game with a 3-0 all-time record against the Tigers. They’ve outscored the Tigers 183-40.

Webb and the team aren’t too worried about the Week 7 matchup right now, as their main focus is on Week 1. Webb is excited to get the season rolling against the Blair Oaks Falcons in Warrensburg, Missouri.

“The Falcons have been dominant and have an excellent football team,” Webb said. “They have a very proud football tradition.”

The last time the Spoofhounds beat Blair Oaks was in 2017 in the Class 3 State Tournament by a score of 49-20. Since then, Maryville has dropped two consecutive games by a total score of 61-49.

Since 2017, Blair Oaks has a compiled record of 27-1, including a Class 2 State Championship. The balance in the offense, defense and special teams has given Maryville a hard time as of late.

“There is no weakness in their team,” Webb said. “Combine that with really good athletes with physical talents, it shows why they’re a dominant program in the state of Missouri.”

Webb believes his team has the right component, but it comes down to the effort.

“We’ll do what we do. We’ve had really good schemes the past two years; we just haven’t been able to win the game,” Webb said. “The past two years have been very competitive. It’s just a matter of us going down and playing better.”

To avoid a third consecutive loss, the Spoofhounds will first have to settle in and play their style of game. Webb knows his players are excited to play and will face many emotions.

“They have to understand it’s Friday night and the process it takes on offense, defense and special teams,” Webb said. “We just need to play the game.”

Maryville will be looking to capitalize on special teams. In the game against Blair Oaks last year, the ’Hounds recovered two onside kicks to keep them in the game. With the Falcons’ offense putting up 20 unanswered points in the first half last year, special teams will be crucial when it comes to field position.

Although Webb and his players were forced to change their offseason schedule due to COVID-19, the Spoofhounds feel confident with the Week 1 matchup.

“I think we’re very prepared,” Webb said. “The kids will understand what’s going on. We’ve been watching a lot of film and schemes that Blair Oaks does. The kids are excited to play.”

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