WEBB CITY, Mo. — With the outcome of Friday’s intense rivalry clash hanging in the balance, Joseph Ipsen told himself to remain calm as he jogged onto the field.
In what was the most pressure-packed moment of his prep football career, the Joplin High School junior kicker came through in the clutch.
Ipsen converted a last-second field goal from 42 yards out to lift Joplin past Webb City 41-40 in the opener of the 2021 season inside a packed Cardinal Stadium.
“I had to keep my cool and not get stressed,” Ipsen said. “I had to go through the motions and just do my job. The kick felt good. As soon as I hit the ball I could tell it was going in. It’s a really great start to the season for us. I think a lot of people doubted that we could beat Webb. This one shows what can happen if we all do our jobs.”
The Week 1 Joplin-Webb City meeting was once again an entertaining one. In fact, the term “great game” applies to this year’s matchup.
“It was like two big heavyweights in a title match,” Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. “Everyone kept throwing haymakers. We were good enough to land the last one. It was a well-played game in every facet.”
The Cardinals led 24-13 before the Eagles recorded four unanswered touchdowns to take a 38-24 advantage with just over nine minutes left in the contest.
Webb City made a valiant comeback, scoring 16 straight points late in the game, taking a 40-38 lead with just 46 seconds remaining.
But the Eagles weren’t finished. Led by standout senior quarterback Always Wright, the Eagles managed to pull close enough for one last shot.
After a timeout with five seconds left, Ipsen’s kick sailed through the uprights, giving Joplin its third straight victory over the Cardinals.
“It was a great snap, a great hold and then Ipsen nailed it through, so it was awesome,” Jasper said. “I love my guys…the players, the coaching staff and the whole community. It’s the best.”
Webb City coach John Roderique was pleased with his team’s effort and resiliency.
“I’m unbelievably proud of our guys,” Roderique said. “What a great effort by our guys. I couldn’t be prouder. We were down two scores and it didn’t look very good. But our guys battled their tails off.”
Roderique noted Friday’s outcome won’t define his team’s season. A couple of years ago the Cardinals dropped the opener to the Eagles and went on to win a state championship. After last year’s loss by the same score, the Cardinals recorded 11-straight wins and advanced to the semifinals.
“For a first game, we played pretty good,” Roderique said. “We played really good at times. We’re always a team that gets a lot better throughout the course of the year. It’s one game. I’d say the same thing if we won tonight.”
Webb City went 66 yards on eight plays on the opening drive of the night, as Cade Wilson’s 8-yard run and Dupree Jackson’s 2-point conversion gave the hosts an 8-0 lead with 9:05 left in the first quarter.
After an interception by Joplin’s Robert Kelly, the Eagles got on the board when Wright scampered into the end zone from 3 yards out to cap an eight-play, 42-yard drive.
The 2-point conversion failed, giving the hosts an 8-6 lead at the 2:48 mark of the opening frame.
Webb City extended its lead to 16-6 when Jackson charged into the end zone on a 10-yard run, followed by his 2-point conversion.
A halfback pass from Wilson to Eric Fitch set up the score, which came with just under a minute remaining in the first period.
The Eagles pulled within three when Wright connected with Hudson Moore on a 17-yard touchdown strike with 8:53 left in the second quarter. The pass play finished off a nine-play, 65-yard drive.
Wilson’s second TD of the night, a 4-yard scamper, along with his ensuing 2-point conversion, gave Webb City a 24-13 advantage with 4:58 left in the first half. The Cardinals marched 74 yards on eight plays during the drive.
Going to the air again and again, and going 81 yards on seven plays, Joplin struck just before the half, as Wright found an open Landen Atherton on a 2-yard pass with just nine seconds remaining in the opening half.
The Eagles took a 25-24 lead at the 5:51 mark of the third period when a scrambling Wright found Bruce Wilbert open from 8 yards out. The 2-point try failed, however.
Terrance Gibson had a 34-yard receiving touchdown and Drew VanGilder scored on a 43-yard run to give the Eagles a 38-24 cushion.
For Webb City, Vaden’s 14-yard touchdown with 6:20 remaining and Wilson’s 6-yard run with 46 seconds left tied the game. A 2-point conversion run by Wilson gave the hosts a 40-38 lead.
Joplin’s Wright completed three key passes in the final minute before Ipsen’s game-winning field goal.
“The offensive line was unreal tonight,” Jasper said. “We played good defensive football. The players executed the game plan. They continued to be resilient…it was awesome. No one flinched on our side. No one hung their head at the end. We knew we could do it.”
Of the game’s final play, Roderique said, “I should have called a timeout and had a block team out there. That’s on me.”
NAMES & NUMBERS
Joplin finished with 439 yards of offense, 235 passing and 204 rushing.
Wright, who received an offer from Drake University this week, completed 24 of 31 passes with three scores and no interceptions.
“He has the poise to continue to make play after play,” Jasper said when asked about Wright’s performance. “We’ve got really good receivers who can catch the ball and a quarterback who can put it where it needs to be.”
Moore hauled in six passes for 74 yards, while Quinton Renfro had five receptions for 61 yards and Atherton had seven catches for 37 yards.
VanGilder, a junior running back, totaled 127 rushing yards on 11 carries.
For Joplin’s defense, Draven VanGilder was credited with eight tackles and Robert Kelly had seven.
Webb City had 442 yards of offense, 315 rushing and 127 passing.
Jackson ran 21 times for 167 yards, while Wilson contributed 90 yards on 16 carries with three scores.
Vaden, making his first varsity start at QB, ran 14 times for 36 yards and completed 7 of 9 passes for 102 yards.
Jackson hauled in one pass for 44 yards, while William Hayes had four catches for 38 yards.
Linebackers Cooper Crouch and Lucas Ott led the Webb City defense. Crouch was credited with 13 tackles, while Ott had nine stops.
Webb City was flagged 14 times for 115 yards, while Joplin had nine penalties for 55 yards.
Joplin became the first team to knock off Webb City in three straight seasons since Mount Vernon pulled off four straight wins in 1984, ’85, ’86 and ’87.
In Week 2, Joplin hosts Nixa and Webb City travels to Neosho.
JOPLIN 41, WEBB CITY 40
Joplin 6 13 6 16—41
Webb City 16 8 0 16—40
WC: Cade Wilson 8 run (Dupree Jackson run)
JOP: Always Wright 3 run (Pass failed)
WC: Jackson 10 run (Jackson run)
JOP: Hudson Moore 17 pass from Wright (Joseph Ipsen kick)
WC: Wilson 4 run (Wilson run)
JOP: Landen Atherton 2 pass from Wright (Kick failed)
JOP: Bruce Wilbert 8 pass from Wright (Pass failed)
JOP: Terrance Gibson 34 pass from Wright (Run failed)
JOP: Drew VanGilder 43 run (Ipsen kick)
WC: Vaden 14 run (Pass to Josh Howard)
WC: Wilson 6 run (Wilson run)
JOP: Joseph Ipsen 42 field goal.