Lamar downs Seneca to reach state finals for third straight season

Nov. 26—LAMAR, Mo. — With about one minute to play in the fourth quarter, the confetti was popped and began flying in the student section.

Lamar's football team was in victory formation.

Aided by a lightning quick start offensively, the Tigers have earned a third straight trip to the Class 2 Show-Me Bowl.

Lamar, reaching the state finals for the 11th time in 13 years, jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead and never looked back in a 56-14 triumph over Big 8 West rival Seneca in the Class 2 state semifinals on Saturday at home.

The Tigers, improving to 12-1, will face unbeaten Blair Oaks at 3 p.m. next Friday night for the state championship at the University of Missouri's Faurot Field in Columbia.

Lamar aims to capture its ninth state title in school history.

"It's a great feeling," Lamar coach Jared Beshore said. "I'm proud of these kids. They've earned it with all the work they've put in since June. It's paid off. It's their moment to play in the last week of the football season. It will be a cool experience in practice this week to be able to make the trip up to Columbia and play at Mizzou's stadium."

The victory avenged a 36-33 setback against Seneca in Week 4 of the regular season. Lamar certainly played like a championship-caliber team in the first half, scoring on its first three possessions of the ballgame.

Senior quarterback Joel Beshore started things with a dynamic 48-yard touchdown run with 9:38 to play in the first quarter.

After forcing Seneca to stall out offensively at midfield on the ensuing drive, the Tigers showed their big-play ability instantly. Ty Willhite scored on a 69-yard sprint to the house on the first play from scrimmage, upping Lamar's lead to 14-0 by the 6:44 mark.

And the Tigers weren't done there. Lamar's defense put the clamps down, forcing the Indians to go three-and-out on the following drive.

On the ensuing possession, Beshore connected with 6-foot-3 tight end Cameron Sturgell over the middle for a 15-yard TD strike, making it a three-score game for the hosts with four minutes to play in the opening quarter.

Then Austin Wilkerson happened.

A talented defensive back, Wilkerson showed why he's the reigning Class 2 Defensive Player of the Year by picking off Seneca QB Gavyn Hoover and returning a 28-yard pick-6, expanding the Tigers' lead out to 28-0 by the 3:11 mark.

The dynamic duo of Beshore and Wilkerson put an exclamation point on the first half. Beshore fired a 62-yard TD pass to Wilkerson, stretching the Tigers' lead to 35-0 with 9:22 to play in the second quarter.

"We came out and threw the first punch, which is what we always preach to our kids," Beshore said. "We executed. Our kids played physical on both sides of the football. I can't ask for a better start. The kids were ready to play."

Lamar outscored Seneca 21-14 in the second half — Wilkerson 30-yard pass from Beshore, backup QB Cooper Haun 23-yard run and Logan Kish 15-yard run — to account for its final scoring.

The Indians didn't get on the board until Hoover found Blake Hurn wide open in the end zone for a 35-yard TD strike with 25 seconds to play in the third quarter, trimming the deficit to 42-6.

Hoover found paydirt from two yards out with 1:23 left in the game to account for Seneca's scoring.

The Tigers totaled 476 yards of offense — 326 pass and 150 rush. Beshore completed 5 of 6 passes for two TDs and added 76 yards on the ground with one score in eight carries.

Wilkerson had two catches for 92 yards, while running the ball four times for 33 yards. He also had two INTs on the defensive side of the ball.

Willhite netted 72 yards rushing on three carries, while Kish piled up 79 yards on the ground in three attempts and caught one pass for 29 yards.

Coach Beshore was quick to praise the work of his team's offensive line.

"Our O-line play was outstanding," Beshore said. "I can't say enough about our guys up front. They came to play today."

Now in his third year at Lamar, Beshore acknowledged getting redemption against Seneca was sweet. But that wasn't the ultimate goal.

"There is a little satisfaction being able to bounce back from a team that beat us early in the year," he noted. "But I think I'm more proud of how our kids played. It wasn't about the opponent this week. It was more about knowing what we could do and challenging ourselves, playing to our full potential. I think our kids did an outstanding job of that."

Seneca amassed 244 total yards of offense — 139 run and 105 passing. Jackson Marrs proved to be a workhorse at running back, leading the way with 117 yards on 22 carries.

Hoover was limited to 14 yards on the ground in 10 attempts. He completed 8 of 22 passes, including three to wide receiver Conner Ackerson for 30 yards.

"Credit to Lamar. They are a really good football team," Indians coach Cody Hilburn said. "They did some good stuff today. I love our kids. They never quit fighting. It just didn't go our way today."

The Indians, reaching their first semifinal game since 2013, finished 11-2 on the season.

"The process is still growing," Hilburn said. "Credit last year's group and our seniors now for getting us to the quarterfinal game (in 2021). This year they took it a step further. Now we need next year's group to take it one step more."