Southwest Missouri, allow me to introduce Mr. Josh Huckabee.
You now know, southwest Missouri, what the Thayer Bobcats and their fans already know -- Mr. Huckabee is the real deal.
Running behind the outstanding blocking of the Bobcats' offensive line, Thayer's junior tailback had one heck of a coming out party, toting the football 20 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns in Thayer's 27-6 season-opening win over the Central Bulldogs Aug. 29 at Harrison Stadium in Springfield.
It's not often that you find a Class 1 school (Thayer) that's willing to tangle with a Class 4 school (Central), especially on their home turf.
But the Cats (1-0) thought nothing of the near 300-mile round trip, or for that matter, the speedy Bulldogs (0-1) themselves.
Nope, Thayer was not afraid of any of that.
And as was the case a year ago when Thayer marched all the way to the Show-Me Bowl, the line of scrimmage was key for the Bobcats in their 21-point win over Central.
Thayer rushed for 326 yards, while the Cats held the Bulldogs to just one first down and 81 yards of total offense in the second half of play.
In addition to Huckabee's big night, Thayer's senior quarterback Jacob Eckman turned in a gritty performance, rushing 21 times for 94 yards and a pair of TDs in the contest.
Sophomore running back Cameron Carey added 68 yards on the ground for the Bobcats.
The Bulldogs had the first real shot at scoring in the game, marching to the Thayer 24-yard line in eight plays to start the first quarter. Central attempted a field goal on fourth-and-8, but Thayer's defensive line got enough of a push to block the kick.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Cats took care of business in the second frame.
Starting at their own 12-yard line, the Bobcats put together an eight-play drive featuring plenty of Huckabee left, Huckabee right, and Huckabee up the middle.
And fittingly, Huckabee crossed the goal line from 18 yards out with 7:51 left in the second for Thayer's first TD of the 2008 season. The PAT was wide of the mark, leaving the Bobcats with a 6-0 lead.
Central tried to keep pace on its next possession by going for a first down on fourth-and-13 from the Bulldogs' 44, but Carey snuffed out Central's fake punt and dropped Central quarterback Scott Hutchinson for a loss, giving Thayer the football.
Nine plays later, Eckman squirted in from two yards out on first-and-goal for the Cats' second TD of the second quarter. Eckman then hit wideout Lance Schneider on the 2-point conversion to give Thayer a 14-0 lead with 1:05 left until intermission.
It looked like Central would use that minute to its advantage, as Hutchinson hit Tony Fewell with a 37-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines with 50 ticks left on the clock. But the play was called back because of illegal motion on Central, allowing the Bobcat defense to close the first half in style.
On third-and-14, Huckabee and Carey slammed a scrambling Hutchinson to the turf, ending the half with the Cats in charge 14-zip.
The Bobcats made it a three-touchdown lead in the third quarter.
Central was on Thayer's side of the field, at the 38 with a third-and-3, when Schneider and Ryan Veatch crushed Bulldog running back David Snell, forcing Central to punt.
With the ball in their hands again, the Bobcats wasted no time hitting paydirt, moving 72 yards in 12 plays to break the game open.
Eckman plunged across the goal line on first-and-goal from the 3 with 41 ticks left in the third, for his second TD of the night, giving Thayer a 20-0 cushion.
Central did get on the board in the fourth quarter, as Hutchinson hit Fewell with a 48-yard TD pass with 10:38 left in the game. The ball bounced off a Bobcat defender and safely into the waiting arms of Fewell. Luke Martin got his hands on the PAT attempt, leaving Thayer on top 20-6.
But Martin wasn't done.
On the Bulldogs' next possession, he picked off a Hutchinson pass attempt to set up Thayer's final score of the game.
With 6:33 left in the game, Huckabee finished what he started by ripping off a 53-yard touchdown run down the left sidelines to ice the victory for Thayer. Ethan Leisenring kicked the PAT to set the final score at 27-6, Thayer.
To give the Bulldogs one last dose of Bobcat medicine, Garrett Brewer and Christian Hunt each logged a quarterback sack on Central's last possession of the night.
Thayer opens its home-season Sept. 5 by playing host to the Class 3 Mountain Grove Panthers.