CENTER, Mo. – How the Mark Twain football team ended its season a year ago was vastly different from how it started.
The Tigers lost six straight games after winning the season opener, and all of those losses were by at least three touchdowns.
"It was rough for everyone because we didn’t find a groove," senior running back Jace Barton said. "Then something just clicked. We found our groove and we were firing on all cylinders."
Despite that rough start, Mark Twain won its final two games of the regular season the opening round of Class 1 district play before falling to Westran in the semifinals to finish the year 4-7.
It wasn’t just a case of the light bulb coming on that allowed Mark Twain to win three of its final four games. The Tigers’ practices were sharper and crisper. The players devoted themselves to improving.
"When we got to 1-6, we knew we had to start working together or it was going to end pretty badly," Barton said. "That’s what happened. We really came together."
The Tigers hope that momentum they built at the end of the season last year carries over to the start of this season.
Having a core of players that guided that turnaround will help.
The two biggest returning starters for Mark Twain are Barton along with fellow running back Logan Perrigo. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last fall and combined for 18 touchdowns. They’ll be the focal point of the Tigers’ offense this season.
"Hopefully we can add another dimension by throwing the ball so they are facing an eight- or nine-man box," Mark Twain coach Karl Asbury said. "But they give us a good outlook, especially with our experienced line we have coming back."
While the Tigers do lose starting quarterback Nathan Davenport to graduation, Brayden McLeod and Ryan Spoonhower will likely split snaps under center this fall. Avery Epperson will also be a suitable goal line option for the Tigers, as he scored nine touchdowns last year.
Epperson’s impact, however, will be most needed on defense. He led the Tigers last season with 136 tackles, including five for loss.
Ben Rule returns in the secondary, and Spoonhower and McLeod also return on defense, too.
Those returning starters on both sides make the Tigers confident.
"We ended strong, and we basically have the same kids back," Epperson said. "We still have that same bond."
The goal is to replicate one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history. The seniors on this fall’s team watched Mark Twain win its first 11 games before falling in the district championship game to Class 1 juggernaut Ste. Genevieve Valle.
"Those were our role models," Epperson said. "They had such good talent, and we wanted to be like them. Now that we’re at that level, we want to try and be like them."
They also hope to go one step farther and win a district championship.
"Hopefully we can continue to keep getting better," Asbury said. "Hopefully we still have that drive that we had in the middle of last season."
Mark Twain schedule
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 at Louisiana 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 Milan 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 Bowling Green 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at South Callaway 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Montgomery County 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 Van-Far 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Clopton 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 North Callaway 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Wright City 7 p.m.