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Say Hello 2 Heaven (Duerrisms for the Week of October 20th)

After a big week against United Township, Aaron Shoot's receiving skills give QND's Defense one more thing to consider heading into Friday's Crosstown Showdown.{ }

Greetings my friends. This is Duerrisms for the Week of October 20, 2017. And as always, I am grateful for your patronage of this column and your interest in this little endeavor here.

We are presented this week, as always, by the wonderful people at SLEEP TIGHT. If you are looking for an elegant solution to a better night’s rest, go see our friends in their Macomb, Jacksonville, or Quincy locations. And if you do, please be sure to thank them for their enthusiastic support of our local kids and schools.

It’s been famously said that Sports is the Sandbox of Journalism. There’s a certain delicious escapism to my job that makes it so incredibly enjoyable, devoid of politics/religion/flashpoint human issues that sometimes just seem to serve to smother the spirit. In this job, my “bad days” are generally better than the good ones for people with “real jobs” with adult responsibilities, concerns. And those bad days are few and far between. I get paid to watch sports for a living and I am grateful for that imaginary bubble of fun in which I get to operate. This week, however, the real world intruded in a way that was unwelcome and ponderous and has left me very grey. On premise alone, I care very deeply about the culture of Tri-State Sports. And among my colleagues-in-arms in Local Sports Journalism, I know I am not alone in this. We may, in fact, work for different "teams" but we all in truth work for the same boss: serving the young people of this community and feeding the positive culture of that environment as best and enthusiastically as we can. We aren’t doctors or lawyers. Our job exists because of your indulgence. No one ever cured cancer or solved a vital world issue ad-libbing a home run or touchdown run. But it does feel vitally important in the souls of all of who do it because we feel like in some way we are putting the spotlight on kids and positively reinforcing the template to good personhood in society. So to lose a colleague, especially one as gifted as Josh Houchins, in the prime of his career is to lose an ally in a fight we all must win. It hurts all of us by attrition alone. You don’t find a talent like that (forget everything else for a moment) hammering away in a market this small. It doesn’t happen. That alone for me was enough to be depressing. But when you consider that Josh was the best and brightest among us; the young guy with the irrepressible smile and spirit, taken at 36; given all the hardships visited upon Josh himself and his family, I find myself a bit in existensial crisis this week. And that’s not even wrestling with the fact that for all else Josh was, he was a friend. And as terrible as it sounds, I am not really one of those guys who “do the friend thing” much. Too busy. Too engaged. Too little time. And today, too much personal lament over all of that. I am too old and introverted and set in my way to be having friends ripped away from me; especially when they are 36 years old and brilliant. I’ll get into that more personally below, but I wanted to warn you all in advance. This isn’t your typical Duerrisms or your typical me this week. And you are welcome with my blessing to disengage. Some of this column was written before Josh’s passing and (thank god) retains some of my usual zeal for doing this every week. But a lot of what you'll find here is me going through the motions in all intellectual honesty. I know there is a lot of fun stuff out there for us this week and I am hoping against all hope that a state softball championship, or an intense Tuesday, or three big football games Friday might/will eventually rekindle things. That this job, which has been godsend to me before, gets me back to where I want to be. But right now, it's not there. Sometimes in this world you trot out to the mound knowing your stuff is garbage. It's the trotting out there anyway that is the victory, pyrrhic as it is. Consider this my apology in advance.

One hot second ago, it seemed like a I was happily celebrating putting the Football Magazine to bed. And now here with the Missouri District Playoffs and the IHSA Selection Show upon us. I’m not complaining, mind you. The best working weekends of my year are now upon us. But it is always a little bittersweet knowing that High School Football will soon be off the books. No more week-long planning of Friday Night “Battle Plans.” Not very many more of these columns left to write. Heck, we will be exclusively indoors for sports before you know it; which is a still a joy in my world, but an admittedly lesser one. These three months are my favorite and while I can’t wait to see how the final storylines get written for the power teams in Tri-State Football, Volleyball, Soccer, Softball, and Cross Country; the Fall Season is the conclusion I also dread the most. Kind of like the final season episodes of Game of Thrones. You excitedly seek closure and answers but you sure do miss the ride in the spaces between storylines starting and stopping again.

These are extraordinarily busy times in the world of Sports Guy. Lots of travel (made my annual pilgrimage to Bloomington/Normal for State Golf and found it enhanced by the opening of Portillo’s there. Whoo Hoo) as always but also the added fun of trying to replace a weekend Sports Guy on the fly. We started interviewing perspective candidates this week (and I have been combing through a handful of resume reels even before that) looking for the “next Nico” so to speak. (Yeah, we know, he is one of a kind but the show marches on) In that spirit, I’ve had to impose on my friends in the coaching business for favors and indulgences with the schedule. And as always, those folks have been far more accommodating than I deserving; meeting with me in the middle of their days, during school prep periods and office hours, on short notice to help me keep all that I am juggling in the air. This is just a note to publicly thank them all for their doing so. I promise things will get back to normal soon. But without their help, this grand illusion of job juggling I try to pull off on a weekly basis with limited resources would not happen. So bless you, one and all. And rest assured, we will find you a really good new guy to entertain and inform in the stead of the legendary Mr. Haeflinger very soon. The show always must go on.

Golf and Missouri Tennis are in the books. Softball ends this week with State Finals appearances by Bowling Green and Canton (how cool is that for NEMO to get two really great teams to Springfield?) and hopefully a title or two as punctuation. And then, total “playoff avalanche” conditions for us from now until Thanksgiving Weekend. It’s more than a little crazy in our world, but what truly elating, enjoyable experience isn’t? So buckle up and join us in the joy that is this E-Ticket Ride to the finish line.

YOURS IN SPORTS,

Chris Duerr

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KHQA STUDENT ATHLETE OF THE WEEK PRESENTED BY HANNIBAL REGIONAL HOSPITAL, CELL TECH, REFRESHMENT SERVICES PEPSI AND SUBWAY

On Wednesdays at KHQA, we scrap the traditional format and devote our entire three minute six o'clock newscast to honoring the outstanding student athletes in Tri-State Sports. Minimum requirement to be considered for this award is a 3.5 GPA with participation in at least one sport. And you must be a High School Senior. At year's end, our independent nominating committee will choose and reward the top Male and Female from the 36 candidates appearing in our Wednesday Night honor roll with a college scholarship. If you know of a deserving candidate, you can obtain a nomination form from your High School's Athletic Director or Principal, who must sign off on the nomination for it to be considered. Or print one from the KHQA Website, but be sure to have your AD and Principal sign off on it. We don't want to miss out on introducing the Tri-States to single deserving candidate so help us put the spotlight on these amazing Young Men and Women in our communities. Plus there is a dinner banquet to honor all of our nominees in June. Please help us add to the list below. Our second (and second to last) nomination vote is set for January 8th, 2018, your next deadline to send us quality kids to honor.

2018 KHQA SAW Honorees

Week One-SIERRA ERKE, Quincy High Volleyball

Week Two-ELI TEN EYCK, Pittsfield Cross Country/Track and Field

Week Three-MICHAELA DAVIS, Keokuk Basketball/Track and Field/Volleyball

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PAST SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS

2017-KOLBY MCCLELLAND, Southeastern, Murray State

2017-CORY MILLER, Unity, John Wood Community College

2016-MARIAH BRODIE, Illini West, Illinois State

2016-DYLAN POWELL, Hannibal, Stanford

2015-MIKAELA FOECKE, Holy Trinity, Nebraska

2015-CAMERON DURST, Canton, Columbia College

2014-TYLER NIEMANN, Canton, Morehead State

2014-KATEE HINKLE, Palmyra, Bowling Green

2013-KASSIDY GENGENBACHER, QND, Lindenwood

2013-DALTON POWELL, Hannibal, Truman State

2012-ALEX WALTER, Central, Augustana

2012-TORI KUHN, QND, Quincy University

2011-JACOB CONLEY, Central, US Millitary Academy at West Point

2011-DAKOTA FLESNER, Payson, Iowa Wesleyan

2010-MICHAEL LAFFERTY, Illini West, Monmouth

2010-TAYLOR BAXTER, Palmyra, Illinois State

2009-CHLOE BARNES, QND (Ball State)

2009-MATT PATTERSON, South Shelby (Truman State)

2008-LUKE GUTHRIE, Quincy High (Illinois)

2007-KATELYN BASTERT, Illini West (Duke)

2006-MIKAL BENECOMO, Clopton (SEMO)

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SEVEN THOUGHTS FOR A NEW WEEK

1)First Sarah Harness. Now Jacob Bryan. Clearly, the SIU-Carbondale Softball and Track and Field Coaching Staffs know their stuff. For the second time in less than two months, the Salukis have landed a potential program difference maker from out of the Tri-State Recruiting Pool. While SIU-C Softball will have to wait until 2019 to get Miss Harness on campus to pitch, Saluki Director of Track Kathleen Raske will welcome Illini West’s finest to campus next year and immediately watch her program profit by Bryan’s unrivaled work ethic and obsession with winning an NCAA 800 Meter National Championship. Jacob’s pledge last Wednesday represents an absolute steal for Southern Illinois. Bryan had been entertaining a lot of Big Ten Attention, most notably from Iowa but Iowa State and Nebraska among others as well. Jacob’s visit to Carbondale this past weekend and the uber-competitive (superior) scholarship offer SIU could make (not to mention the quality of Carbondale’s Track Facilities, which rival most small D-1’s in the nation) made this a no brainer. SIU Assistant Track Coach Kevin Cataldo tweeted out on Wednesday after Bryan’s pledge (SIU can’t officially acknowledge the pledge until Signing Day) that “a STUD has committed” to the Saluki Family. We can’t agree more. Kudos to all involved. A fit that make senses and could lead a young man to chase true greatness.

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2)As if Bryan’s pledge wasn’t news enough this past week, some twenty-two hours later the highest profile name in the Girls Basketball Recruiting Pool announces her college plans to boot. Your reigning 2017 KHQA Girls Player of the Year Blair Borrowman texted me on Tuesday to tell me she has given her verbal pledge to continue her career at Lindenwood. The Western All State Wing, who had also being contemplating some Division One opportunities, told me she thought Lindenwood as the best all-around fit for her both athletically and academically. Not that my opinion matters much, but I can’t help but agree with Blair for a wide range of reasons. Having been a Lindenwood Dad, I developed a pretty good feel over Tayler Duerr’s four years in St Charles for kids who fit that campus profile (a least based on the evidence of the company my daughter kept on campus) and Blair is that model to a tee. She’s an ideal academic/social fit on that campus, before she ever dribbles a basketball. She’s also an ideal Tony Francis set-piece when it comes to the court. I heard some chatter this off-season about “did Blair have a natural position” at the D-1 level/was she a “tweener” so to speak at Guard. Within the Lindenwood system, however, that’s a far lesser issue because Coach Francis isn’t looking for specific positional pegs. He likes “combo” players and isn’t caught up on what size they are relative to where they play on the floor. And honestly, Blair is about as combo as it gets. She may not be an “off-the assembly-line” natural point guard (where she would have had to play in Division One) but if she ends up as Swiss Army Knife-type Wing with a good handle who can provide both traditional and non-traditional positional metrics (mark my words, Blair’s college assist rate will be a plus for the position playing with more skilled athletes in very short order) the Lindenwood staff is going to be thrilled. She will sign officially with Lindenwood on November 8th and we will be able to hear from Coach Francis then as to just how Blair Borrowman fits his scheme. In advance of that though, I did have a chance to canvas a few folks I know with great insight into the Lindenwood Basketball program and they told me that Blair’s incredible work ethic and the fact that the current roster kids (her future teammates) absolutely adore her, on-the-court and off were the two biggest pluses in the equation. Sure, it’s eye-popping that Blair Borrowman averaged 21 points per game on 52% shooting from the field as junior. But you’ll notice that those “stats” didn’t factor at all into Tony Francis’ decision here to offer her. He and his staff pursued the Western All Stater because she’s the kind of unselfish, relentless worker other kids want to play with. Lots of kids can score the basketball. Maybe not as well as Blair, but there are no lack of kids who can put a ball in the basket. But scorers who make their teammates better/are fun to play with: that is a rare find. Add to it a stellar grade point average to the resume, and well, you are talking recruiting godsends here. If you want to play college athletics someday, there’s a great object lesson in there in the life skills and the way to present yourself in this world. And it doesn’t just apply to athletes, my friends.

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3)There is no more thankless job in sports than being a placekicker in Football. And Noah Mencer lived the full scope of that torment in Friday’s Mayor’s Cup Showdown at Monroe City. Mencer missed a potential 41 yard game winner as time expired Friday that would have capped a miracle Palmyra comeback in rallying the troops from nine down with two minutes left to play. And as sure as God made little green apples, I am sure some misguided fool out there in the stands dejectedly thought to themselves something along the lines of “stupid kicker” or “goat” or “come on man…I can’t kick a 41 yard field goal and I’m 50.” Well, no sir you can’t. You wouldn’t have. And in point of fact, there might have been no one on the field for Palmyra Friday Night LESS responsible for that loss to Monroe City than Mencer. All Noah did was kick two prior field goals to give Palmyra points in the red zone when drives stalled. He delivered a pair of beautiful punts when they were needed..and played elegant decoy for a fake punch in the 3rd Quarter that changed the entire polarity of the game and gave P-Town a 7 point lead out of the halftime break. And Noah delivered a pitch-perfect on-side kick against the Monroe City Hands Team when every one on the field was lying in wait for it…to set up Palmyra’s chances of winning the game via a Field Goal at the end. Without Noah Mencer, Palmyra isn’t remotely in this game. He was the biggest tipping point in favor of Kevin Miles crew for most of that night. And yet there are people who will judge his “clutchness” I suppose on one “miss” that more than a few folks around the Lankford Field region thought might have actually hooked good if played on a longer set of uprights. The point being, Kickers are way too often maligned unfairly. I am sure some of that goes with the job as the price you pay for what you do (much like Sportscasters have to deal with unhappy parents who make ridiculous value judgments based on what highlights they show or don’t in a 10 minute editing window on deadline…sorry, was that out loud?) and how you do it. Still, it seems grossly unfair that Noah’s best efforts didn’t yield a more storybook ending. Because that kid’s efforts on the night certainly deserved one.

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4) SLEEP TIGHT SLEEPER OF THE WEEK: Getting dealt a road trip to top ranked Monroe City in the first round of District Football is the surest thing there is to an automatic ouster from the playoffs. And likely a strong bet that five Louisiana Senior Football Players: DALTON OBERHAUS, ZACH ELLSWORTH, ZACH HARRISON, CJ BURTON AND DANNY ROCHA will end their high school football careers with an unceremonious 0-40 lifetime record. That’s certainly not the distinction they want or deserve, but I would also say that there is a certain esteem that said quintet of gentlemen deserves to held. These kids never quit on a seemingly doomed enterprise, no matter how rough or ugly things got. And they never once stopped fighting, even holding a lead Friday at Highland that early on seemed to portend the end streak with the Dogs leading 7-0 into the final quarter. In a fairer world, this team probably should be 2-7 rather than 0-9 but sometimes in this life, we don’t get those breaks. Too often in modern society, we’ve tried to legislate the adversity out of our kids lives, like we are doing them some big favor. Adversity is a necessary toughness builder. And I’d argue there isn’t a mentally tougher group of kids in our area than these five Louisiana seniors who toiled selflessly without even the hint of the most basic reward for their long hours of practice and dedication; given what they have endured. And while they may not have W to show for it, these are the kind of “never quit” people you want on your side in the real battles that matter in the real world. So this week, our Sleeper Honors are reserved for these gents. Better days are coming for Louisiana Football. A fairer schedule against like-sized competition. But that road to better is paved by Oberhaus, Ellsworth, Harrison, Burton and Rocha and I hope no one ever forgets that.

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5) THIS ARE MY VERY FAVORITE THINGS IN THE WORLD…AT LEAST FOR THIS WEEK: The Unity/Payson vs Pleasant Hill/Western “Grit Off” on Friday Night. A Quincy High/QND showdown in which neither squad is playing its last game of the year in Week Nine. Jade Meier Interviews. The Canton Tiger Postseason Powerbash. Two-for-the-price-of-one trips to Springfield for NEMO State Softball. That Connell Familia Picture on the front of Thursday’s Quincy Herald Whig. Jaelon Acklin Jet Sweeps. The inspired varsity debut of Alex Kline in the City of Jefferson on Saturday. Hannibal Pirate Soccer Regular Season cumulative stat sheets. Senior Nights for teams that have only one Senior. Tommy Kuhl approach shots. Mizzou vs KU in anything. “Baby Driver” on PPV. “Masseduction” as album of the year. Having a Portillo’s now in Bloomington/Normal. And of course, the merciful start of the NBA Season and 82 games worth of ulcer-inducing fun in the Duerr Household.

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6) There is an old adage that dictates you should never meet your heroes.

Speaking from previous experience, there is probably some real truth to this axiom. Thirteen year old Sports Fan “me” had a holy grail baseball experience at Candlestick Park back in 1984. I had a baby sitter when I was seven years old named Julie Fischer who was a baseball “Superfan.” One of those obsessive people who used to keep the scorebook of MLB Games while she was listening to games. Julie may have also inadvertently invented “advanced metrics” for a certain terrible group of Seven Year Old Little Leaguers in Rancho Cordova, California (including an all-glove, no-hit Centerfielder who grew strangely obsessed with his own fielding percentages) In short, Miss Fischer was sort of my early-years touch tone to Pro Sports. And while I quickly learned to share her hatred for all things Los Angeles, I just couldn’t get into her beloved Giants. The Cincinnati Reds, however, instantly became my thing. And considering that I first became plugged into the game in 1977, George Foster became “the dude” for me. The mutton chops. The 52 home runs. The vicious swing. The constant calling of time outs in the batter’s box (which I would instantly copy and pattern in my own games…thus making me the first kid I knew to get routinely plunked at age eight) Foster as The Man. I memorized his birthday and every stat on his baseball card. The first pro sports jersey I ever bought was a Cincinnati Reds #15 beauty with “Duerr” embolden across the back. Checking George’s box score became my daily summer obsession. I modeled his stance in the back yard, bat held at impossibly high angle. And when Foster signed with the Mets in 1981, I threw that Reds junk disdainfully into a drawer and changed allegiances forever. (One wonder’s how young Chris Duerr never heard George’s squeaky, almost girlish southern drawl and had the illusion of hero shattered forever…but I digress) Julie, the best babysitter of all time, I should mention often would take both my team and my little brother’s teams in later years to San Francisco to watch games. Like a half-dozen times a season. And so it was that obtaining a George Foster autograph became THE one and only obsession of my formative years. George was famously tough to get. But I would not let that deter me. I’d put on my Duerr 15 Jersey and try to get in his line of sight. Foster went out of his way to avoid getting anywhere near the usual autograph gathering areas and I can’t tell you how many times my dumb butt got kicked out of the “rich people” box seats trying to chase down to where he was on the field warming up. And I am telling you this: I was a skilled stalker, not some rogue autograph hunting amateur. (To this day, my work in getting Mario Soto’s signature in the Reds Bullpen is the stuff of legend in my neighborhood) But that cagey Foster was a different level quarry. Finally in 1984, however, I had pulled off my greatest triumph. I snuck into a spot near the dugout with my Mets Media Guide and hid just inside the high dollar seating area. Seal Team Six level stealth, my friends. And George Foster came walking back from left field, blissfully at peace, seemingly with nary a soul around him. And at that perfect moment, I pounced from my perch like one of those Salt Water Crocodiles in Australia that swallow people whole. Heart pounding, I yelled in one staccato sentence: “GEORGE FOSTER. YOU ARE MY HERO. PLEASE SIR CAN YOU SIGN MY MEDIA GUIDE.” Foster knew he had been had, outfoxed by a master tactician. Security was three sections away. I was golden, or so I thought. The world melted away and it was just me and George, him drawing closer. Me suddenly realizing that my squeaky pre-puberty voice was cracking wildly and that perhaps I had suddenly bitten off more than I could chew. I got nervous, sweaty, dare I say terrified. But our hero, and you all would have been proud, instantly pulled it together. No, dude. This is once in a lifetime. Sack up and do this. And so I stood my ground and dug in with a resolve I didn’t know a 112 pound towheaded whisp of pre-teen could have. “GEORGE, PLEASSSEEEE!!!!” And then it happened. Foster looked me dead in the eye, with that menacing glare. Disappeared into the dugout…(sad trombone) and I thought I might cry. BUT THEN…in a second he was back. YES. THIS WAS FINALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. VICTORY WAS MINE!!!! And in one incredibly elegant motion, Foster re-emerged from the dugout, half-looked over his shoulder at me, and flipped me a George Foster Comic Book (yes, this was actually a thing) before slowly trotting out to left field as if I never even existed. More insulting still, the Comic Book was stamped with a “fake autograph.” This is the reward my years of adulation bought me. I should have turned my back on the man and the sport right there. But I would remain faithful and dutiful to cause for years to come. So much so, I quit being a Mets Fan and Baseball fan forever in 1986 when the Mets cut Foster in favor of Lee Mazzilli just before going on their miracle run. I never forgave them, remained loyal to Foster even to the end of his days (that short, vexing White Sox era was just torment) even though I would never again spend a second in George’s presence or come near to gaining the autograph that so defined my young life.

I mention all of this to you only because I am set to try the “meet your hero” thing again this Sunday. While in college, I discovered a band that has been the musical go-to of my adult life. Who that band/lead singer, is largely unimportant to this story. The guy, suffice it to say, is my musical Sherpa. Has been for twenty years. There are maybe seven people in the Tri-States who have likely heard of the band in question, perhaps three beyond that have even heard one of their songs. Doesn’t make them any less my “Pearl Jam” or “Dave Matthews Band” or whatever you particular musical obsession of note happens to be. No judgment. Doesn't make 'tis group any less the greatest band in the universe. In my admitted musical snobbery in fact, this band’s lack of profile only seems to make my unique fandom more not less valid. They are playing a concert in Kansas City, small venue. When I went to order tickets, I noticed there was a special “meet and greet” sound check even for an extra 100 bucks. So I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to shake the hand of an artist whose work has meant so much to mean, thank him, and scratch one huge off the bucket list. After Prince died last year, I kept lamenting the fact that I never saw the guy play live in concert and I am not getting any younger. So when the concert/opportunity arose, it dawned on me that this was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime moment. And I was going to do it on my terms. No autograph. (I stopped at George Foster and haven’t sought one since being shutout) No illusions that me and this guy are going to be life-long pals (whereas 12 year old me thought George Foster might teach me, Daniel Laruso-style, the secret to hitting dingers in our most excellent moments together) A pure me moment. And look I am 47 years old. I have interviewed far more famous people in this world for a living (Dude, my first professional interview in this business was in fact, no less than Arnold Palmer) Heck, I interview people nearly every single day of my life. Why the heck would I be nervous?

Except that I am.

I am weirdly rethinking the whole thing. Why do I need to tell this Dude, one full grown man to another that his work matters to me? I woke up last Thursday thinking, man, maybe this meet and greet thing was mistake. What am I going to say to the guy in six seconds together that is going to matter? What if he’s a jerk in real life. How disillusioning and disappointing would that be. I told my wife, weirdly last week, if it goes bad, I think I can take Greg Dulli in a fight. Hero one minute. Mortal enemy the next. Us fighting to the death like Kirk/Spock in a weird juxtaposition of everything I thought I knew about the world order and goodness and balance.

Or worse yet: what if it is, in fact. ME WHO IS THE IDIOT and I just was never cool enough all along to be hanging out with people of a different talent-level/importance. Some dumb interloping mortal nobody trying to hang out with a rock god and having to part with a C-Note to do so?

Then it dawned on me:

34 years later, Chris Duerr is still deeply, deeply scarred by the George Foster Fiasco.

Curse you, #15. Curse you indeed.

And curse me for weird obsession with Cincinnati icons, musical and athletic.

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7) The infuriating, deflating irony of the above story is that the one guy in the Tri-States who can truly appreciate what Sunday’s meeting means won’t be around to share in it.

In my mind, the exchange would have gone exactly like this:

Late Sunday, I would have sent Josh Houchins a text of my selfie with The Afghan Whigs without any comment.

He would have shot back the next morning how cool that was that I finally got to meet Dulli and told me exactly what it is he would have said to Eddie Vedder if he had found himself in the same rare spot I was. Then silence for ten days. And out of nowhere, a text from Josh on how vexed he was by the minute count on Joel Embiid and how Dario Saric might actually be the safest building block in the Sixer’s arsenal.

That was in a nutshell, the extent of our friendship.

I know because after Josh passed on Sunday, I spent two hours parsing back through every inane text message we ever exchanged over the wide range of shared, essentially meaningless interests over which we both obsessed: The NBA (and in particular the NBA Draft Lottery given the ineptitude of our teams of choice) Music, Game of The Thrones and cinema.

In the coming days, you will read incredible tributes to Josh from far better friends of his than I. People who have known him longer, spent greater time in his company, knew him better than I did. And I can assure you every word they type, every memory they share will be from the heart and a fitting gesture to a great man taken from us all far too soon.

This isn’t that elegant; not more than one guy cathartically (selfishly) talking out loud after waking up this morning to realize that something in my life that seemed ancillary, a throw-away part of my weekly routine is gone. And I am just now coming to grips with how much more those inane exchanges on a Sunday Night (could it be more inane in the scheme or real world events than arguing the relative hotness of Jessica Chastain?) with Josh did mean. And how much I now realize I will miss them dearly for the rest of my life.

By my own admission, I am really not great “friend” material. Maybe it’s a character flaw but I am work addicted obsessive who spends roughly 85 hours a week doing what I love for a living. Whatever time that is left in the week after that, I want to spend with no one other than my lovely wife or my kids. Everything else in this world requires energy or effort and I feel on a typical week I am too tapped to engage beyond that.

How it is then that I struck up this texting thing with Houchins, I am not sure I even remember. It seems completely out of character. In fact, his are really the only non-work texts on my phone for the last five years. Weirder still, It looks like I was often the one texting first: be it a Thrones plot twist, a new record I downloaded, or trying to use him as an advanced scout for the Oscar Buzz films I wanted to see. I think it started with a shared love of Seattle Music and opposing world views on his beloved Pearl Jam. Josh was the only dude I knew who not only had a clue who Andrew Wood was, but could go deep catalogue trading lines of Mother Love Bone lyrical genius.

My god, I thought, who is this guy?

The unspoken (and to this day begrudging) admission in all of this is is that Josh Houchins had better taste than I did. I’d text him something and his insight building on that idea (or tearing it down) would be spot on. And I’d marvel at just how smart his takes were. If he suggested a movie, TV show, or band it was invariably gold. People that damn interesting and smart left in a world where we all seemed to be reduced to angrily name calling our neighbors because of their political beliefs, religions, orientations, world views…what have you. Against that backdrop, Josh’s brilliance was a godsend.

Very rarely, did we ever talk about actual work here in the Tri-States. I am, however, glad today I made it clear to him over the years how talented I thought he was (the Steph Curry of Radio Talk Show Hosts) in directing the flow of talk on WGEM Sportscenter in the morning. He was as natural a talent as this media has ever produced, considering the degree of difficulty of that live show in particular. And I joked with him that I wanted to ride his coattails to SIRIUS XM NBA Radio and be his meat-headed, fan baiting cohost on a show that only talked about bad NBA teams and players. That probably would have been an epic radio fiasco, but Josh would have probably found a way to make it a hit. He was that freaking good at what he did.

More selfishly, however, he was to me that one occasional pay-off moment in a day when my cellphone dinged and instead of feeling dread that a work disasters was unraveling, I’d actually smile to see “Hooch” pop up on the screen with some waiting nugget of smiling-inducing goodness on the other end.

Today, like so many of us who take everyday life blissfully for granted, I am really wrestling with the notion that I am never going to pick up my phone again on a Sunday Night and see “Holy Naked Mother of Dragons” in my text in-box ever again. (I am both wiping away tears and chuckling my butt off as I type this, by the way)

And on deeper reflection, it’s just bizarre how much Houchins-influence seeped in. From something as essential as buckling the seatbelt every single time you get in a car to something as almost silly as making sure those nose hairs are clipped (a Josh pet peeve given his “vantage point” on the world) there are now all these just reflexive things that happen that are kind of born of knowing this one guy. Small things, really, but stuff that makes you think about just what a neat guy he was. And its seemingly everywhere today, from the release of the new St Vincent album Josh was jonesing for to every 76er article on the web. I shudder to think how all the things I generally enjoy most in the world are now empty because I can’t fire off a missive to Josh saying that Bogdan Bogdanovich was a great as I thought he would be or that Wonder Woman was the most overrated movie I have seen this year.

I’ve lost my sounding board. Moreover the reminders are everywhere that I have.

And maybe that’s the point from on high…at least I hope as man of some faith, though one struggling today with how an elegantly designed Universe can pass off this particular loss as remotely justifiable.

My good friend Jenny Dreasler tweeted out shortly after Josh’s death on Sunday that he was “the sun” and given what he meant to all of the early mornings of those of us blessed enough to start our day with his voice as backdrop, I’d say that is about as good a description as exists. The Tri-State Sports Culture is forever poorer for his departure…but infinitely richer still because Ben Marth and Leo Henning looked at Josh one day and saw “star” And we all owe them both a debt of gratitude for seeing that potential and actualizing it before anyone else.

Spent a lot of time this weekend thinking of our friends at WGEM, who wear this loss far more resonantly. They were lucky enough to get to spend every day with that dude. And Josh I would argue, was just as lucky in return. There are some amazing people in that shop and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them. I saw Ben last week and his eyes kind of betrayed just how hurt he was when things started unraveling. You all need to give that man a big hug the next time you see him because I can’t imagine how living with the knowledge of Josh’s health ride all of last week hurt his soul. And I am to the point where I can’t even look at Broc Hampsmire or Tyler Tomlinson’s social media pages without my heart sinking like a free fall ride. Josh’s character is clearly revealed in his choice of best friends and those two men in particular are as good as it gets in the department.

Also our thoughts and prayers to Josh’s family, especially his Mom. Heaven holds a special place for that family. And as well to the extended Highland and NEMO community that was so proud to call Josh theirs. He is a credit to you and vice versa.

Prince long ago wrote a song about losing an extraordinary Friend; one that includes an amazing lyric that seems to apply to being blessed enough to spend time in Josh Houchins orbit:

“Cars like that don’t pass u everyday”

Josh was truly one of a kind, indeed. And our mornings as Sports Fans in this neck of the woods will never be the same without him.

Rest in Peace, my Friend. We will all miss you terribly. And may your family and friends find comfort in the lives you touched. Mine very much included.

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THE MAGNIFIENT SEVEN FOR WEEK NINE

7) DAKOTA EHRHARDT, LB, Unity/Payson

23 Yard Fumble Return for Touchdown in Comeback over Calhoun

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6) JACE BARTON, FB, Mark Twain

13 Carries, 178 Yards, 4 Touchdowns vs Clopton/Elsberry

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5)CALEB LAPSLEY, RB, Clark County

137 Rushing Yards, 3 TD vs Brookfield

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4) DALTON CRANE, QB, Pleasant Hill/Western

98 Rushing Yards, 3 Touchdowns; 12 of 16 Passing, 155 Yards, Passing TD vs Brown County

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3)COLE WILLIAMS, RB, Central

8 Carries, 167 Rushing Yards, 3 Touchdowns; 84 Yard Receiving Touchdown vs Greenfield/NW

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2)BROCK WOOD, RB, South Shelby

21 Carries, 308 Rushing Yards, 5 Touchdowns vs Scotland County

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1)ALEX GULLY, RB, Fort Madison

25 Carries, 354 Rushing Yards (New Program Record) 5 Touchdowns vs Keokuk

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KHQA/SLEEP TIGHT PLAYER OF THE WEEK (AS VOTED BY YOU THE FANS ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE

COLE PENNEWELL, LB/FB, Monroe City

Rationale: This one is probably long overdue. Sure, we had guys put up better numbers (some eye-poppingly so as you can see above) but none of those dudes produced in a circumstance this important and meaningful and well, hyped for lack of a better word. Monroe City/Palmyra is its own unique animal. And as you might expect, those kind of games tend to bring out the best in the best players. It’s their moment and Cole Pennewell’s imprint was all over the victory. Again, it’s a subjective claim on my part but since I’ve seen every team in our area, I think I can say it with some gravity: Palmyra’s is the best Defense in our area right now. For Pennewell to grind out (and I do mean grind) 122 yards against that group is not as much a show of physical talent as it is a reveal of the kids physical resolve. I can tell you in no uncertain terms Cole Pennewell got hit a ton on Friday. I’d argue he also got hit a ton by the “other” best two-way football player in Northeast Missouri, if not our area in Peyton Plunkett. To me, that was the most fun reveal of being able to be on Lankford Field Friday; having a microscope view on the Pennewell/Plunkett dynamic. Look, both of those guys are kind of the same type runner when they play Fullback. They are head of steam guys without a lot of wiggle or flash. They just want to get up field and run over anyone who gets in their way. Watching them essentially tackle themselves, however was more revealing. We tend to lump all physical All State Linebackers into one catch-all bag. The nuances here were more pronounced, however, watching these two kids attack each other. Cole is the stronger kid at point of attack. Peyton may in fact deliver some splasher hits, but the Pennewell’s ability to hit someone (Fullback, Blocker) and instantly stand them up in the hole is unrivaled. To compare and contrast, though I think Peyton’s pursuit is measurably better, and that’s saying alot. Pennewell gets a lot of places on the field. He isn’t as naturally rangy sideline to sideline (amazing how many clean up other guys mistakes tackles Plunkett makes) but his hustle is impossible to miss in doing so. Plunkett’s flow to the football is so effortless and seamless. He just seems to burst into frame to make a tackle. Whereas you see Cole trucking across the screen like a runaway locomotive to get there. They seemingly hit each other exclusively all night long and it was a joy to watch. And honestly, if you were a defensive coordinator, you would be blessed to build a defense around either. I just thought seeing them head to head, it was kind of neat to note the subtle differences in their games and the way the both of built pretty darned close to “All Time Area Good” Linebacker resumes. Pennewell is a gamer. Doesn’t say much. Does everything right (from the field to the classroom) and just might be the most old school cat playing the position in the CCC right now. He’s a fun piece and I’d argue he’s the conscience of his team right now, in much the same way that Josh Underhill was the banner man for House Kirby a year ago. And given his approach and his tone setting, I’d argue the most invaluable piece on the best team in Northeast Missouri. Pretty telling stuff indeed.

Past Winners:

Week One: KEVIN CAMPBELL, RB/DB, Hannibal (vs Helias)

Week Two: DEVIN TYNAN, RB/DB, Brown County (vs West Central)

Week Three: ALEX GULLY, RB/DB, Fort Madison (vs Central Lee)

Week Four: JOE HENDRICKER, QB, Brown County (vs Beardstown)

Week Five: DALTON CRANE, QB, Pleasant Hill/Western (vs Calhoun)

Week Six: JIREHL BROCK, RB, Quincy High (vs Rocky)

Week Seven: DARIAN DRAKE, RB/LB, Brown County (vs Triopia)

Week Eight: GABE GOODWIN, OLB, Palmyra (vs Brookfield)

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FOOTBALL 2017

KHQA WEEK TEN POWER POLL

1)WEST HANCOCK (8-0)

Last Week: 14-13 win at Ottawa Marquette

Up Next: vs Bismark-Henning

DOOLEY NOTED: What an emotional roller coaster of a week for the Titan Football family. It started with West Hancock skipper Travis Cook losing his father. It ended with the Titan’s gritting out a victory in the waning seconds of regulation on the road at a team Jim Unruh would later tell me was the best opponent he’s seen in his Titan tenure. In fact, Jim dropped the “c-word” in comparison, likening Marquette in toughness and construction to some of the great Carthage teams he used to coach. So how did the Titans pull this one off, down 13-0 in the second half? Unruh told me at the WIU game that Peyton Dooley’s rip away was the polarity changer on the entire tenor of the game. Sure the two Riley Langford touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing with 15 seconds left to win the game) were the flashpoint moments but without Dooley’s field tilter, the Titans are looking at 7-1 right now. And look, if we are scoring this thing, this is probably the game that best exhibits just how far this once struggling program has come in stepping it up to playing a Championship Level type team. Hold a squad like the Crusaders to just 13 points and clearly you are in November form Defensively. And again, resourcefully figure out the conundrum of the Marquette defense and you are clearly possessed of a finishing instinct, which when it comes to Langford himself, was really never in doubt I also think this two-game two-step at season’s end puts West Hancock into immediate Postseason mode, lessening any shock factor or recalibration next Saturday. I like where the Titans are right now. It’s why they continue to lord at the number spot here, even with Monroe City breathing down their necks. The Titans have played better opponents than Monroe to this point. And they’ve proven they can weather adversity better to this point, relatively speaking.

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2) MONROE CITY (9-0)

Last Week 22-20 win over Palmyra

Up Next: District Opener vs Louisiana

THE MEHRER’S CUP: Was it a perfect outing for the Panthers? Not remotely. I think David Kirby walked out of Friday night realizing that his team has some fine-tuning issues to attend, particularly with ball security in critical situations. Had Noah Mencer’s field goal connected Friday Night, Monroe City would be living with the realization that they had the ball in Palmyra territory with a nine point lead and three minutes left to play and yet found a way to essentially give that commanding advantage away. In the elation of hoisting the Mayor’s Cup, it’s easy to realize just how close this came to being a cautionary tale. By the same token, better to learn that lesson now; be exposed by a defense of Palmyra’s incredible quality (no arguments from any corner on that one) and fix the flaw while it’s still not fatal. The best part of this game is that both Monroe City and Palmyra got better at each other’s expense Friday. And that both get to play on and pursue state titles in their respective classes because of the “exchange of cultures” at Lankford Field. My initial thoughts on Monroe City taking that next step, beyond the obvious with holding on the football, centered on a couple of the early Offensive Line breakdowns. Obviously, Gabe Goodwin is a monster right now but Monroe’s Offensive Line was not good against edge pressure early in that game. And I thought the plays run early by the Panthers felt slow. Again, that might have been Palmrya’s pursuit ability (see also Braden Erwin coming clean on 4th down to turn the Panthers over on downs to keep MC off the board in the 1st Quarter) but we saw Monroe adjust and get their rhythm back with the passing game in the third quarter. The touchdown pass to Dawson Shively was the most obvious evidence of this, though I also thought the 4th down screen pass to Zac Osborn that set it up unfolded too slowly as well and was on the brink of disaster (one missed tackle) the entire time. These are little film points that I think David Kirby and his staff see against P-Town that no one else on their schedule could previously create. And I guarantee you as much as the win it self, the work Monroe derives from this victory is huge. The same argument thought also holds true for the Panthers strong points against Palmyra; underscoring that when you can do some of things positively that Monroe did against P-Town, those are clearly places you can hang your hat. That first Monroe scoring drive (and really, the one rhythm moment for the MC Offense all night long) was a joy to behold. Fantastic blocking up front. Great pace and play-calling as well. Cole Pennewell playing human battering ram. Getting that kind of traction against P-Town’s Defense displays just how high the ceiling is/can-be on this group. Truthfully, it’s almost kind of a shame that Monroe doesn’t have more “footballs to share” here because every time I watch Nehemiah Batsell and Gage Bottoms and Dawson Shively work, I think they would be first option weapons elsewhere. Here they play as decoy or support staff to Pennewell and Osborn. It is truly an embarrassment of riches. Also, the high water moments for the MC Defensive Line were eye-opening. It didn’t get much play but Hunter Lily might have delivered the best smack of the game in the fourth quarter while invading the Palmyra Offensive Backfield almost with the snap count. Brad Cheek had a big quarterback sack. Jonathon Saxbury was seemingly all over the place. There was a lot of good to be found here too. This is just a case of next-level detail addressing. If Monroe City aspires to win a state title, the standard is higher and attention to detail must match. Obviously the District sets up well for MC here, though I don’t envy anyone having to potentially play a Rob Wilt team in a meaningful November Game anywhere at any time. Still, I think we can all agree that Monroe City is rightly the District favorite at this point and set up to splash far deeper than that. Anxious to see how a week of self-diagnosis spins that goal even further forward

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3) BEARDSTOWN (6-2)

Last Week: 42-14 win at West Central

Up Next: vs Greenfield/Northwestern

WROLLING AND WRAMBLING: Make it five straight wins and an automatic playoff berth for the Tigers, who continue to chew up defenses with a physicality that rivals any running attack in our area. The Drake Wrobleski/Brady O’Hara, Chad Grimm running dynamic might be my favorite in the region right now. There isn’t much art there. Just three kids who take every hand-off with the bad intent of trying to run right over your back. Wrobleski proved to be the big numbers guy against the Cougars with 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just nine total carries. Chad Grimm also bulldozed his way to a pair of touchdowns and 65 yards rushing on just five totes. I give Robbi Howard a lot of credit here. This team has adapted to a natural identity over the last few weeks, embraced it, and affected this new persona that the collective here is greater than anyone one individual talent. They are beating folks and beating them emphatically with guys who are simply tougher than you are and I love how this has flipped the script on what was last season the WIVC North’s most weirdly underperforming defense. The Tigers have given up just 47 total points over the last five games (including two wins in which Beardstown didn’t surrender a touchdown) and gotten incredible buy-in and effort at all three levels. I know the outside criticism is that this is a 3A Team slumming in a 1A conference but given the physicality that this group brings to the table, this is not a 7-2 any 3A squad is going to want to draw in Week Ten. I keep seeing Eureka projections for the Tigers and if I am at Beardstown Fan, I think I take that gig, even if it is a roadie, and feel really good about my teams ability to punch its way out of the contest. All credit to this coaching staff and these kids. Some thing really cool is abrew here .

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4) CENTRAL (6-2)

Last Week: 40-6 win at Greenfield/NW

Up Next: vs Carrollton

THE RANKIN FILE: Brad Dixon was quick to point out last week that the Brown County win didn’t mean a whole lot if there wasn’t an appropriate (and appropriately intense) follow up in the far less sexier pairing with Greenfield. Good teams, after all, attend their business regardless of circumstance. And I think that we saw on Friday Central is all business these days. Cole Williams monster night rushing the football may have been the signature piece of the one-sided affair but don’t sleep on what the Defense did here against a brutish Jacob Foiles led rushing attack. The Panthers held their ground against a power run game, that in principal, wasn’t exactly the best physical draw for a Linebacker and DB group that exists on speed, rather than brawn. Mason Scott led the charge with 12 tackles. Williams added 11. And Chase Norfolk and Tristan Brocksieck bagged 10 each while Chayse Houston snared another interception in limiting the GNW damage to largely empty stat yards. Foiles 173 yards might be some of the emptiest production we saw this year because it netted essentially nothing in the way of tangible impact, particularly in the red zones. I will concede it did serve the purpose of keeping the ball out of Cole Williams hands because this thing very easily could have been uglier than the final scoreboard indicated. Which brings us know to maybe the best Week Nine pairing on the board. Central is home-standing against an undefeated Carrollton squad and looking to perhaps sneak a home playoff date out of the affair. These programs have plenty of history and not a ton of particular fondness for one another. And to be honest, I am not sure we really know just how good the Hawks are at this point. Triopia and Beardstown played with them early. The Hawks, despite the presence of probable All Stater Byron Holmes, have given up some points this season. And Central’s secondary might be the WIVC North’s best fit against Hunter Flowers (1308 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 Interceptions) and the terrific Hawk passing game. From a styles-make-fights vantage point, the optics on this contest are sublime. The timing is also interesting, in that a Central win Friday would certainly make them the hottest and perhaps toughest 7-2 draw in the 1A Bracket. And as we saw against BC with this team, confidence counts for a lot here. Moreover, Central is badly in need of some traction in this series, given the more recent outcomes. I know Quincy High/QND will get all the hype and Pleasant Hill/Western vs Unity/Payson is essentially “loser leave town” in nature, for my money this is far and away the best game on our board. And when finished I would surmise, the most telling both directions.

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5) PALMYRA (7-2)

Last Week: 22-20 loss at Monroe City

This Week: vs Clopton/Elsberry District Opener

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: Football is a funny sport. Palmyra did all that incredible work at game’s end to rally from a seemingly impossible fourth quarter circumstance (down nine with 3 minutes to play and trying to stop a marching Monroe City squad) and somehow put itself in a scenario to win the game in the waning seconds. And the fates blow the game winning field goal just vexingly out of reach, leaving the whole darned finish to this game feeling as though it was just some kind of cosmic tease. More than than, I thought Kevin Miles and his staff called a really good team; enough so to level the playing field with a Monroe City Squad that I would argue is measurably more talented. Palmyra weathered an early fumbled punt and never ceded momentum or points in that situation, getting a turnover on downs on the strength of big statement responses from Gabe Goodwin and Braden Erwin. The Panthers simplified the offense and moved the ball in measured, productive time hoarding fashion (1st quarter played out in 17 minutes…even after starting at 7:02pm) while collecting Field Goals in the red zone; a feat Coach Miles had to know put pressure on the non-kicking MC folks to account for down the road. There were bold strokes as well: the third quarter fake punt. The late game flea-flicker attempt by Corder Lehenbauer. There’s just not a lot here I can quibble with on any front. I heard Kevin Miles at numerous junctures of this game praising different kids in different spots over his head set. I thought Peyton Plunkett’s defensive work was the best Linebacker effort I’ve seen in person since maybe Do or Die Bowl Nick Weiman. He was everywhere, negating everything. If I had a nickle for every time Peyton tackled Cole Pennewell or vice versa, I’d be the richest man in Quincy. I thought Jacob Kroeger made really good reads. In the end, the better team to my mind just “won” this game, and barely at that. Monroe City was made to look mortal for the first time this season. And Palmyra did that, still I think very much a work in progress on the Offensive Side of the Ball. This Panther Defense is legit. And the P-Town offense is growing nicely. Three weeks from now, I would want no part of these guys. And that might be a District revenge match with Macon. Or it might be a really fun slugfest with red hot Clark County, who is also incredibly scary But based on what we saw, plus and minus, Friday I fully expect Palmyra to be there and be the favorite. Clearly there is business to attend first with Clopton/Elsberry and a slumping Centralia club. And if Palmyra doesn’t lose focus, the Panthers will win both and perhaps do so emphatically. I walked out of Lankford Field Friday feeling that a loss in no way diminished this club and perhaps in ways tangible and not, enhanced it as well. Kevin Miles is really good this time of the year and he’s got a team to match.

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THE NEXT LEVEL

6) QUINCY HIGH (5-3)

Granted, the UT Game was about as lopsided as we all expected, but man did we end up with a pretty Logan Ross to Aaron Shoot touchdown strike out of the deal to add to our archives. Beyond that, the Blue Devils got no help from Alleman and have to settle for second place in the Western Big Six. Friday’s game with QND obviously holds major playoff implications for both squads. Neither wants to find itself drawing a power-point heavy 9-0 or 8-1 team with a 5-4 finishing mark; but given the relatively difficulty of the 6A bracket and all those really well-heeled 8-1 teams out there the playoff scheduling danger is exponentially worse for the Blue Devils with a slip at Flinn. (Heck, letting my imagination run wild that a QHS win Friday might yield a showdown with a 7-2 SHG squad in Round One at my favorite non-local venue in Illinois. That would be high drama. But I am couching that scenario at least until Saturday night) I would suggest that QHS is the heavy favorite going in Friday, but QND”s Defensive Front has really gotten a nice head of steam going (and some confidence) over the last three weeks. In that sense, this game will be a very interesting litmus test on a QHS Offensive Line that roared to life after a rough start. I also think that if QND can keep its passing game ramped up, the Blue Devils secondary will be on the spot as well. Throw out the Quincy aspect of it all and this is still in construction far more interesting a battle of 5-3 teams than the backstory would suggest just because of the pairing issues.

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7) BWP (6-2)

The David Roddis for Coach of the Year bandwagon continues to gather more and more steam. The Sparclones will be playoff bound for certain…and perhaps homestanding in Week Ten if they can take out a tough North Fulton on Friday. Fair to call these guys Beardstown North? A tough determined group of kids with terrific Linemen and a host of kids willing to rise up and fill in the blanks on a weekly basis. Devin Yocum had a hand in a pair of touchdowns on Friday against South Fulton but really, this is a true pick your poison squad to defense.

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8) QND (5-3)

The good news here is that regardless of what happens on Friday, the Raiders are all but playoff bound. Thirty eight playoff points and counting is a nifty little ace in the hole. (Anyone else feel another Rochester/QND showdown looming in the very near future?) Again, QND feels like a team peaking at just the right time. You can dismiss this as the product of a soft spot in the schedule if you wish, but I tend to look at the confidence this squad has amassed and the way it has handled business, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say momemtum is a powerful ally for a team that hasn’t never lacked for talent. Sure, the Raider Run Defense is going to be tested by JIrehl Brock as never before this season. But if you look back at last year’s contest, I thought some of these same existing QND Defensive pieces did as good a job as anyone in the Western Big Six last Fall at least making Jirehl’s job difficult. With the Raiders Defensive Line on a terror right now, I think QND does have some ammo to at least see how “for real” this retooled QHS Offensive Line may be. Nick Wellman’s ability to sling the ball and the presence of Reed Hyer and Jackson Connell and Brady Gilliand at least forces the Blue Devils to divert full attention to the Defensive Box as well, which could expose some chinks in the armor as well.

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9)BROWN COUNTY (6-2)

Is it a slump? A crisis of confidence? Or did Brad Dixon’s game plan two weeks ago catch a string of something far more troubling within the make up of this team and unravel things. Pleasant Hill/Western pounced on the Hornets last week in ways that leave you scratching your head. Someone suggested to me a few weeks ago that the Achilles Heel of BC was that this Hornet team, for whatever it had shown in the first six weeks of the campaign, was wildly overrated in its ability to sustain a ground attack. That some of the flash and pop provided from Joe Hendricker’s passing ability had diverted us all from the important base notion that the Hornets aren’t nearly physical enough up front and outside of Darian Drake, aren’t running the football with the kind of usual grit that we see from a Tom Little rushing attack. I kind of shrugged that off at the time but after producing just 159 total yards on their home digs last week, maybe this theory is rooted in some serious truth. Look, PH/W has a lot of really nice defensive pieces. You saw us talk all preseason about the Defensive Ends and Linebackers Ron Edwards was building his Defense around. But looking back at tape, the BC Linemen weren’t exactly energetic or all that engaged in seemingly wanting to battle those dudes either. Tape doesn’t lie. Either its two straight listless weeks of slump. Or something more troubling. All I know with certainty is that no team, and maybe no unit than the Hornet Offense is more on the hot seat Friday for an answer. And there’s no “It’s just North Greene” about it. This is the most important game BC has played all years because a failure to find some rhythm now likely is a guaranteed Week Ten out regardless of who the Hornets draw in the Playoffs.

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10)MACON (6-3)

Granted, Centralia is mired in a quagmire of a swamp right now, but give the rising Tigers some credit for acerbating the Panthers issue with their own strong play. Nash Waller might the hottest quarterback in our area right now and is coming of a 6 of 8 passing gem against a good Centralia Secondary that saw him amass 138 yards and three touchdowns; statistically a perfect QB Rating Night. More and more, I am beginning to think this District Complex might just bounce down to best QB play and Waller’s confidence level is through the roof. He has also got a receiver right now in Bradley Butner who is going to stalk District DB’s nightmares. Kevin Edwards is a fine counterbalance. He hit Centralia for a 74 yard Touchdown Run in route to 138 yards. Travis Wood led the Defensive Charge (holding Centralia under 20 is no small affair) with 13 tackles. Again, this is a team that has already beaten Palmyra once, so if you are looking for a trendy District upset pick, you might not do better than Pete Claas’ crew….

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11) CLARK COUNTY (5-4)

…Unless you put equal value on Clark County’s fine finish and 22-20 win head to head with Macon. This side of the bracket could be insane next week if both the Tigers and Indians take care of first round business. The Indians defense is roaring right now and that shutout of Brookfield last week was head turning. London Brunk has arguably been this complex’s best Quarterback from start to finish if you subscribe to that previously asserted theory of best signal caller wins. And Caleb Lapsley is coming off another three touchdown effort this week in the backfield. Given the physicality of Clark’s Lines and the risen confidence that is impossible to miss in Ethan Allen’s crew these days, I’d hate to be one of these teams that beat Clark the first time around only to have to revisit the prospect of the Indians when it matters most. Clark’s early season losses were largely born of weird plot twists. Those things aren’t happening to the Indians now. This might be the most engaging Playoff X-factor team in our area right now. And if you want to tell me you think they can beat Palmyra or Macon or a given night, I am not dismissing that. Again, I think Palmyra’s defense is the tipping point. But Clark on the right night might be the toughest draw for that Palmyra crew, given Brunk’s ability to spin broken chaos into gold. We will see.

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THE NEXT LEVEL

12) CENTRAL LEE (5-3)

13) SCOTLAND COUNTY (5-4)

14) CENTRALIA (5-4)

15) HANNIBAL (5-4)

16) TRIOPIA (4-4)

17) ILLINI WEST (5-3)

18) SOUTH SHELBY (4-5)

19) UNITY/PAYSON (4-4)

20) PLEASANT HILL/WESTERN (4-4)

21) KNOX COUNTY (5-4)

22) FORT MADISON (4-4)

23) BROOKFIELD (2-7)

24) BOWLING GREEN (3-6)

25) MARK TWAIN (3-6)

26) VAN-FAR (3-6)

27) NORTH SHELBY (3-6)

28) PARIS (2-7)

29) RUSHVILLE/INDUSTRY (1-7)

30) CLOPTON/ELSBERRY (2-7)

31) WEST CENTRAL (1-7)

32) HIGHLAND (1-8)

33) ROUTT (1-7)

34) MACOMB (1-7)

35) KEOKUK (0-8)

36) JACKSONVILLE (0-8)

37) PITTSFIELD (0-8)

38) LOUISIANA (0-9)

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FEARLESS DUERR PREDICTIONS

Last Week: 22 of 26 Correct (84.6% Accuracy)

Seeason to Date: 176 of 221 Correct (79.6% Accuracy)

Week Ten Predictions

MSHSAA Picks

WARRENSBURG 22

HANNIBAL 20

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CLOPTON ELSBERRY 14

PALMYRA 49

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VAN-FAR 12

CENTRALIA 35

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HIGHLAND 7

MACON 38

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BOWLING GREEN 14

CLARK COUNTY 42

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LOUISIANA 7

MONROE CITY 55

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KNOX COUNTY 20

MARK TWAIN 24

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PARIS 7

SOUTH SHELBY 35

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SCHUYLER COUNTY 12

SCOTLAND COUNTY 32

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PATTONSBURG 38

NORTH SHELBY 55

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IHSAA Picks

KEOKUK 8

MOUNT PLEASANT 42

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WASHINGTON 35

FORT MADISON 16

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CENTRAL LEE 12

CHARITON 10

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IHSA PICKS

QND 21

QUINCY HIGH 35

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BISMARK HENNING 20

WEST HANCOCK 42

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MAHOMET SEYMOUR 43

MACOMB 12

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BROWN COUNTY 42

NORTH GREENE 7

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TRIOPIA 28

CALHOUN 35

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UNITY/PAYSON 28

PH/W 24

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CARROLLTON 24

CENTRAL 16

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WEST CENTRAL 18

ROUTT 20

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NORTH FULTON 20

BWP 21

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ELMWOOD/BRIMFIELD 38

R/I 22

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SOUTH FULTON 12

ILLINI WEST 42

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Bonus Pick

PAYSON SEYMOUR VOLLEYBALL 25 21 28

WEST PRAIRE VOLLEYBALL 14 25 26

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RANDOM MUSINGS

IHSA High School Playoff Bubble Watch. Concord Triopia needs a win at Calhoun to reach five victories on the season and likely playoff eligibility. The Pleasant Hill/Western vs Unity/Payson showdown in Pike County will end the losers season and likely send the other to the Dance. Beyond that, everything else at play on Friday is positioning and home/away nuance.

Bowling Green's three home run sixth inning rally to beat Palmyra will be a memory for the ages for Bobcat Fans. I can't remember the last time I saw a softball team hit three homeruns in one inning, let alone do so against the hottest pitcher in the region at the time. Just don't forget that Bowling Green never gets to that point if Freshman Jade Meier doesn't bust her team team out of a five inning hitless slump with a pinch hit single out of the nine hole to jump start the rally. That's a plot twist no one saw coming. But it's the one that finally ended a run of three straight one-run loss Quarterfinal Ousters fro Dean Streed's crew.

Per Iowa Quik Stats, Holy Trinity's Emily Box is currently the state's kills leader with 558. Her kill efficiency is a sublime .426 as well.

NCMC All Conference Football picks were released Wednesday Morning. Hannibal placed Defensive Lineman Evan Allen and DB Wyatt Waelder on the First Team Defense. Running Back Billy Smashey, Lineman Nolan Whelan, and Wide Receiver Will Whitaker were Hannibal's First Team Offensive Picks. Dante Reading, Chase Kirby, Wyatt Waelder, Boogie Tate, and Braden Schlueter earned Second Team Accord at their respective positions.

Hannibal product Dalton Huffman posted a team high 12 tackles for Culver Stockton in the Wildcats 35-10 loss to William Penn on Saturday.

Brett Taylor is your Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week with sixteen tackles against Missouri State. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

MacMurray will play host to arguably its most important college football game in the Chris Douglas Era Saturday, as the 7-0 Highlanders welcome Eureka (5-1) to campus. MacMurray and St Scholastica are currently unbeaten co-leaders in the league standings. Eureka is just a game behind both. Sounds like a great week to make your way down to The Ville and see what all the fuss is about.

Megan Adams is your WCC Cross Country Medalist for 2017, upsetting Macomb star Maya Stovall in the process and leading the Lady Mustangs to a team title as well. Don't sleep on Megan Adams rise of late. She's been the hottest small school runner in our area for the last month and seems to have hit a completely different gear of late. In short, she's kind of having her Jacob Bryan moment.

Quincy Catholic's Fiker Rosen not only won an IESA State 2A Cross Country Championship in Normal on Saturday (his second) but shattered the 23 year old time mark in the process set by Jorge Torres.

Good looking rundown of potential guests lined up for THE MCDONALD'S SATURDAY MORNING TICKET at AM 930 WTAD this weekend. We will break down both the Quincy High/QND and Pleasant Hill/Western vs Unity/Payson tilts in depth plus project ahead to Selection Saturday possibilities. Hope you can join us at 8:00 via radio or the internet at WTAD.com.

Was honored to share a stage with week for a Junior Achievement Breakout Session with Matt Pugh and Dan Hurst, two very inspirational gentlemen who serve as a reminder once again of the quality of stewards our young people in this region are blessed with which to interact.

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