To say the Salem Tigers have their hands full this week is a drastic understatement. In fact, if the Tigers win on Friday they will be the talk of Missouri high school football.
Fourth-seeded Salem (7-3) has the huge task of facing top-seed and No. 1 state-ranked Blair Oaks (10-0) Friday in semifinal action of the Missouri Class 3 District 5 Tournament. Kickoff in Wardsville is set for 7 p.m.
The winner moves on to the District 5 championship game Nov. 15.
Last week the Tigers advanced by knocking off fifth-seeded Osage 30-20 in Salem, while Blair Oaks hammered eighth-seeded St. James 68-7.
The Blair Oaks Falcons are the defending Class 2 state champions, moving up to Class 3 this fall.
Blair Oaks had a 47-game regular-season winning streak entering last week’s first-round of district. The Falcons, ranked No. 1 throughout the season in the Missouri Media Class 3 state poll, have won five straight Tri-County Conference championships and hasn’t lost a game since the 2017 postseason.
The Tigers have turned their record around over the past year, going from 3-7 in 2018 to 7-3 this fall. And first-year Salem head coach Dylan Wyrick relishes the chance play in the district semifinals, even against the mighty Falcons.
“The biggest thing is that it confirms everything we’ve been preaching to the kids,” Wyrick said. “Playing with heart and never giving up. Not backing down and not letting age or inexperience intimidate us.
“Now we’re walking into the best team in Class 3. Our kids have been underdogs all year. We’ve told the kids they’ve got everything to win and nothing to lose. Our kids said they’re not done playing football yet; their intention is to go there and try to win.”
Blair Oaks is highly-impressive on both sides of the ball.
The Falcon offense is led by freshman quarterback Dylan Hair, who has stepped in nicely as the third consecutive Hair brother under center for the program.
Dylan Hair has completed 110-of-161 passes for 2,030 yards, seven interceptions and 28 touchdowns.
Hair has a stable of top-flight receivers, led by junior wideout Jake Closser with 33 receptions for 876 yards and 12 TDs. The group also includes sophomore wideout Reid Dudenhoeffer with 26 catches for 305 yards and three TDs; junior wideout Carson Prenger with 23 catches for 341 yards and four TDs; junior wideout Cobi Marble 12 catches for 317 yards and four TDs, and senior running back Riley Lentz 12 catches for 129 yards and four TDs.
Lentz paces the ground game with 714 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, while Hair has rushed for 620 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Defensively Closser, an all-state defensive back, has five interceptions while all-state lineman Rylee Niekamp has 11 sacks; senior linebacker Kyler Griep has more than 100 tackles and seven sacks, and all-state senior linebacker Sam Luebbering also has around 100 stops.
Niekamp went out with a knee injury in the first half against St. James last week and his status for this week is unclear.
“They are very fast on both sides of the ball at every position,” Wyrick said of Blair Oaks. “It’s the fastest team I’ve seen on film since I’ve been coaching high school football. They don’t make mistakes. Offensively they run some complicated stuff. Their RPO (run-pass option) with a freshman quarterback is pretty impressive. They’re extremely well-coached; that’s why they’re undefeated.
“There is no weakness. You watch film and go through different positions and there is not a weakness at any position. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Salem comes in with sophomore quarterback Garrett Connell having completed 65-of-137 passes for 1,021 yards, nine interceptions and 11 touchdowns.
Junior running back Caden Camden has run for 1,101 yards on 200 carries and seven touchdowns while junior wideout Dawson Mock leads the way in receiving with 27 catches for 560 yards and five TDs.
Senior linebacker Brenden Smith leads the Tiger defense with 85 tackles – 25 solo – while Camden, a safety, has 54 tackles and three fumble recoveries.