Standing in the rain that doused the final few plays of a jamboree matchup with McDonald County Friday, Aug. 23, Bolivar High School football coach Glen Johnson’s thoughts turned to the Liberators’ Friday, Aug. 30, home matchup with Eldon.
“We’re really excited about Friday night,” he said. “It can’t get here soon enough. Everyone is antsy, and everyone is fired up for it.”
Johnson watched last Friday as his team went toe-to-toe with three solid football programs at the Mount Vernon Jamboree.
Jamboree rules match up each of the four teams in attendance with drives starting on the defensive 40 yard line and consisting of 12 downs. Bolivar faced teams from Neosho, Mount Vernon and McDonald County.
The Liberators struck a hard contrast to their performance at last year’s jamboree, Johnson said. Bolivar managed a single score last year, according to previous BH-FP coverage.
This year, Liberator quarterback Hayden Burks tossed a perfect pass on the Liberators’ first offensive snap against Mount Vernon, hitting Dylan Hall in the end zone. Bolivar would drop two scores on the Mountaineers.
On defense, Bolivar’s Dreven Sharp helped prevent Mount Vernon from scoring, breaking up a pass in the end zone.
The Liberators also put on a defensive showcase against McDonald County.
After the Liberators were intercepted on a toss to Kaden Degraffenreid near the goalline, Burks lined up on defense and stole the ball out of the air on a Mustang pass. The Liberators picked up a second interception against McDonald County to end the Mustangs’ offensive drive.
Bolivar would end the matchup tied 1-1 with two interceptions. Earlier in the day, the Liberators also tied Neosho 1-1, Johnson said.
Despite his team’s visible improvements, Johnson said the Liberators need to put their successes in perspective.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “It’s good to get the jitters out. You can come and have a great jamboree, but if you don’t prepare all week, it’s not going to matter.”
Johnson said one of the team’s first steps to prepare for Eldon would be to sit down and watch footage from a jamboree Eldon also competed in Friday. The two teams will exchange film, he said.
The Mustangs beat Bolivar 42-26 last year, though Johnson said Eldon graduated a core group of seniors.
“We haven’t seen them since last year,” he said. “We know what they graduated. We don’t know what they’ve reloaded with.”
This year, Bolivar has the experienced hand while Eldon faces the Liberators in unknown waters, he said.
Bolivar also plays well at home, he added. The Liberators had just one home loss last year.
“We’re both in the same boat,” he said. “They played us and know that we have a lot back, while they graduated a lot. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to be bad or that it won’t be a great game, because I think it will be. Traditionally, they’re good football. They’re coached well.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Johnson said his team will have to continue to learn how to navigate an independent schedule.
The year sees the Liberators make several long drives for road matchups against Marshall, Kansas City Center and Cape Girardeau Central.
“This year, we’ve got to learn how to win on the road,” he said. “It’s been a transition to get used to that, because we didn’t win a road game last year. We’ve got to learn how to drive four-and-a-half hours and beat teams. We can’t make excuses. We’ve got to get off the bus ready to play.”
Overall, though, Johnson said he’s watched the team make significant strides since last year. Those bode well for the coming weeks, he said.
“It’s exciting for them,” he said. “We’ve had to grow up. Now we’re junior (and) senior heavy, and that’s a good feeling for them.”