For the first time through six weeks in the 2023 season, the Lebanon High School football team was forced to play their starters for four quarters.
After blowout wins in the first five games, Lebanon (6-0 overall) remained undefeated after a 44-21 victory over the Glendale Falcons at Lowe Stadium on Friday night.
Head coach Will Christian, however, said getting the starters in for an entire game was good and described the win as solid, but said there were plenty of things his team could have done better.
“I thought we had a lot of outstanding individual performances,” he stated after the win. “I thought our physicality and effort were solid, but I thought our energy level and mental sense of urgency weren’t good enough (on Friday).
“I don’t want to take anything away from Glendale because I thought their team was full of athletes, and it usually always is. They made plays; however, I think we can do a better job of being more mentally focused and bringing better energy and a sense of urgency. When you have a series of games that are blowouts, we let that edge slip out a little bit, so tonight was good.
“Playing four quarters is valuable, and I think some of the sloppiness we can build upon and get better. I have no doubt that our kids will crank it back up next week where we need to be mentally.”
Despite some up-and-down moments throughout the game, Lebanon opened the game by recovering a muffed kickoff and scoring six plays later on a 27-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown run from senior quarterback Gavin Smith.
After a three-and-out from the Glendale offense, Lebanon used nearly five minutes of clock and scored again on Smith’s second of five touchdown runs.
Glendale found broken coverage and scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter, but Smith broke free on a couple of tackles and found pay dirt from 46 yards away with 10:50 remaining in the first half.
Smith would score again from one yard away late in the half for the Yellowjackets to be up 28-7 at halftime.
He would score his final touchdown of the night to extend the lead to 34-7 on a two-yard score, but the Falcons responded with a touchdown pass to cut the lead to 34-14.
Sophomore Rhett Rhoades made a 30-plus-yard field goal for the second consecutive week to give Lebanon a 23-point lead.
Junior Jax Glendenning added to his state-leading touchdown total late in the fourth quarter from 14 yards away to cap the scoring and keep the Yellowjackets atop the Ozark Conference race.
Christian came away from the game proud of the way the offensive line performed after dealing with two injuries up front. Sophomores Colin Alford and Eli Jackson have contributed with starts now and filled in nicely alongside seniors Dathan Durbin, Thomas Howe, and Danen Conrad.
“I thought Colin has done a great job since being inserted into the lineup, but he did get dinged up with an injury,” he explained. “Eli Jackson did a superb job of replacing Caden Crabtree on Wednesday, and I thought he was excellent. We get a lot of reps for these if/when scenarios, and we will continue to do that.”
Lebanon finished the game with 420 total yards of offense (406 rushing, 14 passing) while running 67 plays compared to the Falcons’ 43 plays.
Glendenning had 37 carries for 187 yards, while Smith piled his way forward for 177 rushing yards on 25 carries and his second five-touchdown performance of his career.
The ‘Jackets will return home next Friday night to play their Homecoming game against the West Plains Zizzers. Homecoming candidates include Addie Shoemaker, Sadie Douglas, Chloe Gottman, Sadie Rinck, McKinley Rodden, Drew Bowling, Paul DuBose, Hoyt Honey, Cole Dustin, and Griffin Jones.
“West Plains is a prideful team that has had a lot of success in our league for a long time,” said Christian. “They will come to town with bad intentions on their mind, and we have to match that effort with a sense of urgency, and I have no doubt in my mind that we will.”