The Mark Twain football team hopes valuable lessons learned a year ago will pay off with an improved 2018 season.

The Mark Twain football team learned some lessons the hard way in the midst of a prolonged losing streak last year.

The Tigers won their season opener before dropping six straight games and going winless in the month of September.

But then they turned the corner.

Mark Twain won its final two games of the regular season before topping Knox County in the first round of the Class 1 district playoffs. The Tigers outscored foes 130-60 in the three straight victories, more than doubling their scoring output from the entire six-game skid.

“What we did last year, I'm happy with that,” said Nathan Davenport, one of four returning seniors for the 2018 season. “The way we ended, we definitely know what we can do.” 

Mark Twain, which opens the new campaign Saturday with an Eastern Missouri Conference home game against Louisiana, returns the majority of its starting lineup from last year's 4-7 finish.

The same players who were young and inexperienced entering last fall now have more seasoning.

“Anyone that's been following Mark Twain should have optimism because we return quite a few starters on both sides of the ball,” Mark Twain coach Karl Asbury said. “You've gotta like what you see.”

Avery Epperson is back as a ringleader for the defense after pacing the Tigers with 105 tackles last season. The standout burst on the scene as a sophomore last year to average nearly 10 tackles per game.

Davenport and Jace Barton will solidify a strong linebacking corps. Barton made 59 tackles a year ago, while Davenport made 52 stops. The combo combined for 13 tackles for loss. 

Evan Johnson, Mathias Bridges and Cayden Hill anchor the defensive line, with Brayden McLeod and Ryan Spoonhower the most experienced defensive backs.

“We've got a lot of guys who I don't think are vocal guys but they show by example,” Asbury said of his defense. “Hopefully that will help us. We need to do the little things on defense to help us out. I've been pleased with what I've seen so far.”

Davenport transitions from the offensive line to quarterback and will lead the Mark Twain offense for his senior year.

The signal caller is projected as a dual threat who can pass and run.

“Nathan has what it takes to get the job done,” Epperson said.

Barton will be the featured running back after totaling 1,231 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground a year ago. Also coming out of the backfield will be Epperson and Logan Perrigo.

“It's definitely nice knowing we have Jace with his skill and ability,” Davenport said. “I think we can really move the ball this year.”

Spoonhower and McLeod will be receiving targets in addition to playing in the defensive secondary.

Epperson will serve as a jack of all trades offensively this season, expected to see time at tight end and fullback and maybe other positions as well.

“Who knows where else I'm going to be,” he said. “I don't really mind. It's wherever I can help the team best.”