Maryville football’s offense lined up for a fourth-and-4 in the Week 1 matchup against Blair Oaks, looking to punt the ball away to keep the Falcons from inflicting more damage.
The scoreboard at Walton Stadium in Warrensburg, Missouri, displayed Blair Oaks’ dominance with a 38-0 score. With 38 seconds ticking off before halftime, the ball was snapped.
Senior quarterback Ben Walker was the lone player in the backfield and began his usual rugby-style punt routine.
A Falcons’ blitz up the middle allowed Blair Oaks’ senior defensive lineman Rylee Niekamp to break through the Spoofhounds’ trenches and wrap up the defenseless Walker. The wrap-around tackle put Walker in an abnormal position, where his leg was bent underneath him.
Instantly, Walker grabbed his leg and his screams could be heard on the field. The hit led to a torn ACL. Walker would be sidelined the remainder of the season.
The three-year starter saw his high school football career dissipate on that play, and the Spoofhounds called upon junior back up quarterback Connor Drake.
“Seeing him go down and hearing him scream as soon as the guy got off of him, I knew it wasn’t good,” Drake said about the play that injured Walker. “It was heartbreaking seeing your team leader go down like that.”
Growing up in Maryville, Drake was surrounded by the continuous success and outpour of community support for Northwest football. He remembers either attending a game in person or watching the game on the TV with his family. Being around a storied program grew his love for the game.
Drake was also fascinated with the quarterback position and knew from an early age that was the position he wanted to excel at.
“Growing up, I always loved being the quarterback,” Drake said. “I loved seeing them make the throws and being the leader on the field.”
Although Drake caught an early interest in the game of football, he didn’t start playing competitively until seventh grade. While Drake always grew up fascinated by the sport, he decided to sit out his eighth grade season.
“I didn’t really enjoy playing football in seventh grade. It was a lot different than I thought it would be,” Drake said. “There were a lot of kids, and I didn’t get as many reps.”
Sitting out a year took a toll on Drake, he said, as he started to miss being on the field and realized he made a mistake. After sitting down with his parents, Drake made the decision to reenter the sport in high school.
As freshman year approached, Drake was persuaded to try out for wide receiver, as the freshman team already had a potential starting quarterback. For Drake, not all hope was lost, and he gained the starting job when the quarterback above him was moved to fullback.
Since then, Drake learned from Walker, who led the Spoofhounds’ offense on Friday nights. This season was no different, as Drake knew his role would be a backup quarterback.
“I knew this role came with the responsibility of running the scout team offense,” Drake said. “I knew I needed to work hard and learn from Ben as much as I could for next year.”
Drake wasn’t expecting to see the field much during the season, but he knew he could make an impact by allowing his teammates to be better athletes.
“Sitting behind Ben my sophomore year, I knew he was a really good quarterback,” Drake said. “I’ve looked up to him since I was a freshman. I knew I wasn’t going to beat him out, but I knew that if I competed as hard as I could, he would compete as hard as he could and grow as a quarterback.”
In the Blair Oaks matchup, Drake, who wasn’t expecting to receive a lot of minutes, was thrown onto the field as the leader of the offense.
Drake sat in the locker room at halftime, mostly in shock. He had trouble processing seeing his teammate and friend go down in such a disturbing way. Maryville coach Matt Webb calmly talked to his new starting quarterback.
“Just going in, I knew Webb would want me to do the best I could,” Drake said. “He told me I was QB1 now, and the team has my back no matter what.”
Drake took Webb’s message to heart and seized his opportunity. On his second possession of the season, Drake rolled out to his left and threw the ball 10 yards downfield to an open senior wideout Caleb Kreizinger. Kreizinger did a quick sidestep to avoid a Falcon defender and ran the ball 29 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a corner route to Caleb, and I threw it to him and he scored,” Drake said. “I just ran down the field and couldn’t believe it. That was my first varsity touchdown. I was just on cloud nine.”
Since grabbing the reins of the Spoofhounds’ offense, Drake hasn’t been focusing on outside noise. He’s been focusing on playing his style of football and helping his team win, one week at a time.
“I just go out there and play my game and try to do my best every snap for my teammates,” Drake said. “I know that my coaches will give me film, so I can watch it and study it to grow as a player.”
The coaches aren’t the only ones helping Drake grow as a player, as Walker has been by Drake’s side every step of the way.
“Ben has been there for me every step of the way. He’s pumped confidence into me. He’s helped me understand plays and read defenses better,” Drake said. “He’s been like another personal coach.”
Drake communicates with Walker during practices. When not at practice, Drake will message Walker via Snapchat and talk about the upcoming games and defenses they’ll face that week.
Drake got his official first start against Harrisonville in Week 2. While Drake was nervous heading into the game, he knew he had to perform well to get Maryville’s first win of the season.
The jitters seemed to leave his body early, as his first pass of the game was a completed two-point conversion.
It was a back-and-forth battle, and Drake got a feel of high school football. Coming out of halftime, Drake threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The interception brought Harrisonville within 10 points, but Webb built confidence in his new starter.
“Webb took me to the side and told me to keep my head up, that it happens,” Drake said. “He told me that our defense will get a stop and that I will have to go win us the game.”
Down by four points with 2:58 left, offensive coordinator Matt Houchin turned to his new starting quarterback to seal the game. On third down, Drake scrambled out of the pocket and found senior wideout Kade Wilmes for the 16-yard game-winning touchdown.
“Knowing that Coach Houchin had a pass play ready to end up winning the game boosted my confidence,” Drake said. “It was just the best feeling.”
Webb had nothing but high praise for Drake and the ’Hounds’ offense.
“Nothing surprises me,” Webb said. “Connor is an awesome kid. He cares for his teammates, and he knows he has to execute the offense. He’s going to do his one-eleventh.”
Every game is important in the eyes of Drake, but a moment that’s stuck out to him during his transition to starting quarterback was the Week 3 matchup against Chillicothe, which served as Senior Night for the program.
Drake tallied two touchdowns passing. More importantly, he was glad to grab the win for his senior teammate, friend and mentor.
“As a lower classman, you always want to go out there and perform and win on Senior Night for the seniors who put a lot of time and effort into it,” Drake said. “I knew since Ben could not be out there with us, I had to step up and play even better.”
Coaches, players, family and the community have rallied behind Drake as his legacy as Maryville’s quarterback has begun. Drake could not be happier to be playing for a community who cares so deeply about him.
“While I’ve been at home lately watching film, or at practice, I’ve been to a few places where people have come up to me and told me congratulations,” Drake said. “It just makes me feel good that they’re not worried that their starting QB is gone, but they’re seeing I can play and see we’re not done yet.”
From a kid who didn’t play competitively until seventh grade, sat out his eighth grade year, remained the backup quarterback on varsity and wasn’t expecting many game minutes, Drake had a journey to share
Drake has thrown six touchdowns on the season after five games and has the Spoofhounds above .500 with a record of 3-2, including a 2-1 mark in the MEC. Drake is happy he sat down with his parents and stuck with football.
“Coach always talks about family, and Maryville High School football is the best example,” Drake said. “Everyone loves through each other. We’re there for each other and we have each other's backs. We’re all just one team.”