Although four regular season games remain to be played, Moberly's 2012 Homecoming game against North Central Missouri Conference rival Marshall could have special meaning for both schools of Class 4 District 6.
And that is a home football game for the first round of MSHSAA's new playoff format comes Oct. 26.
"Right now we are the fourth-ranked team and they are the fifth-ranked one in our district. This is our biggest game of the year because a win against Marshall could very well give us home field advantage in the first round of playoffs," said Spartans football coach Jason Ambroson. "Both of us are in a position right now to be in the middle of our district in terms of seeding and the fourth-ranked team would host the fifth-ranked in the first game of the playoffs.
Although this is our Homecoming and all, which is a big thing for all our students and this Moberly community, I see this being a much bigger deal now that the playoff format has changed. We really need to come out and win this football game because we would rather play our first game of the district playoffs at home and not be on the road. It's possible the two of us would meet again that game."
After being winless a year ago and scoring only 60 points Marshall (4-1, 3-0 NCMC) is off to its best start in 10 years. The Owls are also enjoying a four-game winning streak for the first time since their last playoff campaign in 2006.
Marshall won is 2012 homecoming last week defeating NCMC rival Fulton 45-14, the same foe the Spartans defeated in Week 4 by a 26-13 margin but had to come from behind to accomplish it.
"They have a new football coach in coach Jon Stockman this year and he had done a great job turning their program around. Last year they had maybe 35 to 40 kids out for football and this year they probably have doubled their numbers. That's good for him and the program," said Ambroson. "He has been able to put his blueprint on those kids and you can tell they are listening and responding to him by the way they have been performing. Looking at them on videotape, I can tell they are a much improved football team. We'll have our hands full this Friday."
Both Marshall and Moberly (4-1, 2-0 NCMC) are averaging about 28 ppg this season. But the Spartans defense has been better, allowing just 12 ppg compared to the Owls' 17.
Senior quarterback Alex Maupin has been the Owls main offensive threat this 2012 season.
In Week 4 Maupin accounted for 457 all-purpose yards and 9 TDs in a 19-0 win against Kirksville. Last week against Fulton he followed that effort having 331 all-purpose yards and scored 5 touchdowns.
"I think it will come down to how well our two defenses play in this game. I don't think Marshall has played anybody this year having the kind of offense we operate so that will be an adjustment challenge for them," Ambroson said. "At the same time, we haven't played a power-run team like Marshall uses either so this will be an adjustment for us to contain."
The Owls have had a strong "run-first, run-often" mentality in recent years and so far this 2012 season is no exception. Marshall is averaging 237 rushing yards per game and 82 passing yards.
According to a scouting report, the offense mostly revolves around Maupin and running back Marc Plummer (105 rushes, 627 yds). Also, while the offensive and defensive lines are not real big the team has depth at those positions and Marshall executes an 8-man rotation to help keep players fresh around the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, Marshall is holding opponents to about 123 yards in both rushing and passing per game because of this.
Moberly's offensive unit has been clicking at a pace to generate about 215 rushing yards per outing and another 130 from the air.
While Ambroson is expecting a fierce, hard-hitting battle between the conference rivals here at Dr. Larry K. Noel Spartans Stadium tomorrow night, he also said he believes strongly in the work ethic and determination that has been demonstrated by his Spartans players and coaching staff these first five weeks of the season.
Because of these traits, Ambroson said Moberly is ready to rise to the occasion for Homecoming.
"I've told our players that great teams play with a purpose while there are other teams play a vision. When a team plays with a purpose, they practice and play with a specific focus using that to drive you to do the right things every day. I believe our kids really have been striving to do that every day, and that is one of the big reasons why our football team is finding success," he said.
"Our kids come in Saturday morning for review and learn things from the night before. Sunday they will study our game plan for our next opponent, and Monday they start putting things into practice according to what has been prepared and laid out for them," Ambroson said. "When a player studies and works on doing the things they are suppose to do right and they all come together following the same guidelines, then the team is a stronger and more efficient unit come game time and collectively good things happen and the team is successful."
"Our kids have really taken that concept to heart."