Jace Barton turned some heads while rushing for nearly 1,000 yards during the regular season for the Mark Twain football team.

Jace Barton turned some heads while rushing for nearly 1,000 yards during the regular season for the Mark Twain football team. 

The list of people the sophomore running back surprised includes an unlikely individual. 

Himself. 

“I've definitely surprised myself a couple times,” Barton admitted. “I didn't think I would be right here where I am right now.”

Barton is the lead man for a Mark Twain offense that has come to life the past two weeks en route to the Tigers first consecutive wins this fall. Mark Twain (3-6) throttled Clopton/Elsberry 59-14 last Friday on the strength of Barton's 178 yards rushing and four touchdowns — all in the first half.

Coming up next for Mark Twain is a home matchup against Knox County at 7 p.m. on Friday in the first round of the Class 1 District 5 Tournament.

Barton once again will be a key to Mark Twain's success.

“Jace has done an excellent job stepping up into the role he was given,” quarterback Lincoln Talbott said. “The line blocks the holes for him, and he does a good job hitting them and busting out big yards for us.”

In his first year as the Tigers featured back, Barton has rushed for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns while eclipsing 100 yards on the ground on five separate occasions.

The sophomore has averaged 171 yards in each of Mark Twain's three wins this season and has gained more than 80 in all but two regular-season contests. 

In the meantime, Barton is learning lessons that only come with facing a live defense, something that bodes well for the emerging star entering the postseason and the next two years.

“This summer, I was 100 percent go, go, go, but I've learned to slow down a little bit, perfect some stuff and follow my linemen and they're treating me well so far,” Barton said.

Barton continues to gain confidence each week, and it shows, according to Tigers coach Karl Asbury. 

“It's not just in the wins, he's doing it against a lot of teams,” the coach lauded. “If he and our offensive line were healthier this season, he maybe could be pushing 1,500 yards than just 1,000.”

Barton's season was slowed by a quad injury that shelved him in Week 6, a 49-13 loss at South Callaway. 

His absence took a hit on the Tigers. 

But as Barton regained health, so did his offensive line, with stalwarts Aidan Epperson and Tucker Bruenger returning from injuries to pave the way up front. Also contributing in the trenches are Mathias Bridges, Kameron Asquith, Nathan Davenport and Evan Johnson. 

“Especially with the linemen we've got, it's pretty fun to get the ball and get 10 or 12 yards every play,” Barton said. “You find Aidan, you follow him right through the hole and he'll get you right where you want to go most of the time.”

Joining Barton as a force out of the backfield has been Talbott, who ran for 311 yards and five scores over the past two games.

“Rushing for 190 yards at Van-Far, I certainly didn't expect that,” Talbott said of Week 8. “I figured little keeps to keep the chains moving, but we've really been using every option that we have.”

Continuing the tradition of Mark Twain's strong run game, Barton and Talbott have followed in the footsteps of three graduated standouts who combined for 4,000 yards rushing a season ago.

“Last year we had the three-headed monster — Terry (Monroe), Caleb (Hirner), Brandon (Hamilton) — and what we're looking at this year is either of us can be playmakers when needed,” Talbott said. “We're hoping that carries into this week.”

Barton mentioned he looked up to the talented trio as a freshman and relished the chance to learn their tricks of the trade.

“Looking up to the three of them definitely taught me a lot of things I didn't know previously,” the sophomore said. “For example, Caleb Hirner waited for the holes, and that little jump-step he's got, I've implemented that.”