COLUMBIA — For the first time ever, Battle High School football is coming off consecutive losses — bad losses in which the Spartans have managed just 13 points in their last six quarters — and Class 6 Troy Buchanan High School (2-6) looms on the horizon.
"We get an opportunity to play a Class 6 school in (our) first year," coach Justin Conyers said. "It's one of those deals where no one expects you to win anyways. So why not come out here and ... show really where we're gonna go and take this program?"
Battle High School (5-3) at Troy (Mo.) Buchanan High School (2-6).
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Troy Buchanan High School
Offensively, Battle is reeling. The Spartans have had to go to the air more than Conyers would like and have failed to manufacture drives and score points.
While the offense's morale has been shaken the last two games, the Spartans are spicing up this week's practice in an attempt to have fun. Battle still plans to lean on its run game Friday, but Conyers said he intends to give freshman quarterback Brevinn Tyler more freedom to improvise.
"(Morale's) definitely, noticeably down — you can tell ... on the sideline (and) ... in the film room," Conyers said. "It's one of those things where we're just not having the success we were having at the beginning of the season running the football."
To counter the team's decreased morale, Conyers said he and his coaching staff have some fun activities planned for this week's practices. Specifically, Conyers said his "big boys" — offensive and defensive linemen — will get to play at the skill positions such as receiver and corner back. He said the linemen don't get to do many drills like this, adding that they like opportunities to "show their athleticism."
While the "big boys" are lining up at the skill positions, he said some of the smaller guys would get to play on the line and that there will be plenty of opportunity for one-on-one drills for everyone.
The Spartans may do some unorthodox things at practice this week, but they'll continue to base their offense off their power run game. In particular, Conyers said he wanted Nash Sutherlin to handle the ball as much as possible — he did not want Tyler to have to "throw the ball 30 times" like he had to last week.
If the run game doesn't click, Tyler will have to do some passing. The coaches have been working with him, so he can use his instincts to read coverages and otherwise improvise in the passing game, Conyers said. Tyler won't be calling or adjusting plays at the line, but he will have more latitude to feel the flow of the defense and react accordingly.
Whatever happens Friday, Conyers is looking forward to taking his team into the offseason. Because Battle is a new school this year, the Spartan football team was not able to take advantage of a full slate of camps, practices and conditioning — which will change next year.
And while being "a young team" has been consistently touted as a variable affecting the team's performance, Conyers said the Spartans' youth offered a silver lining.
"I get to have all my players back next year," Conyers said, explaining what a rarity this is in high school football and how returning a full squad is a source of optimism.
And though he was optimistic, Conyers did not mince any words about the challenge awaiting next year's team. He was quick to point out that Class 6 schools like Troy would be the norm on next year's schedule — Battle is scheduled to play a slew of Class 5 and 6 opponents next year, according to the Missouri State High School Activities Association's website.
For a Spartans team that did not play a team above Class 4 through its first six games, the Troy game is indeed an opportunity to learn, look ahead and think about next season.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.