Football Rebirth

Eagles kick off new year with a new coach and new stadium.


Eli Dean

Nixa Eagles center prepares to snap the football to his quarterback.

EagleAir TV

Eli Dean, Sports Editor

The John Perry era didn’t start with fireworks or resounding applause from a student section in Branson on Aug. 28, but when the Eagles left Pirate Stadium, they had made their own fireworks, cruising past Branson with a hard-hitting 42-6 blowout victory over the Pirates.
“It was great to get onto the field after such a long break and with all the craziness going on, we were happy to be out there,” said Nixa Football Head Coach John Perry. “I was proud to be able to celebrate a win with our team.”
The game not only marked the beginning of what turned into a memorable season, but also set the stage for the first game at the new Eagle Stadium.
The opening of the new stadium came sooner than expected. Construction started during the 2019-20 school year, but after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled many events across the world, the construction continued through the summer months, just barely finishing before the 2020 football season.
The stadium was a part of the April 2019 vote to not only expand the football stadium to allow more fans into the stadium, but also to increase funding for Nixa as a district. A new performing arts center is up next on the construction agenda.
“We’re so thankful to have people in this community here in Nixa who care a lot about sports and band,” said Nixa Schools Superintendent Gearl Loden. “We think the new stadium gives more people the opportunity to show how much they care. The opening went really smoothly, and I expect that to continue for years to come.”
Last year’s football squad went 5-6 and had a disappointing end to their season with a 35-0 defeat at the hands of the Carthage Tigers. However, this year, under Perry, expectations are high. Perry, formerly the coach for Pearl High School in Mississippi, led Pearl to a 107-48 win/loss record and went to the state championship in both 2016 and 2017, winning in 2017. In 12 years at Pearl, Perry proved his abilities to successfully coach Nixa football back on the map as one of the better football programs in Missouri.
“Nixa is a little larger than Pearl but there are a lot of similarities,” said Perry. “We thought as a family this was the best thing for us. I had been at Pearl 12 years and needed a change and Nixa has a great fine arts program and my son is big into theater, so that helped make the decision.”
After an exciting first week of football for Perry and the Eagles, their next task was to defend the new stadium against last year’s state runner-up Joplin.
After opening ceremonies including a ribbing cutting and player introductions, the first drive for Nixa ended in an interception that led to a Joplin touchdown. However, in the ensuing possession, Nixa tied the game with a 41-yard touchdown pass from senior Reid Potts to senior Michael Sportsman.
“The play to Sportsman is a slant and go, where he acts as if he is going to run an in-breaking slant and jumps back outside for a fade,” said Perry. “He’s gotten really good at running it.”
A drive later, Nixa had a chance to take the lead late in the first quarter, but after Potts tried to get out of the pocket and run towards the sideline, he was injured by a Joplin defender. So in came Austin McCraken, who started the week earlier against Branson and ended up being the first Nixa quarterback to have four passing touchdowns in a game in school history.
“[McCracken] has been great,” said Perry. “He is a very athletic kid who has a great attitude. It is great to see the hard work pay off. He deserves a lot of credit.”
However, Joplin led the charge in the second quarter early and took back a 14-7 lead with 8:34 to go in the half. After getting the ball back, McCracken got his fifth touchdown of the season with a 53-yard touchdown throw to senior Steven Ward II. The momentum carried over to the defensive side of the ball, and after a 3-and-out, Nixa got the ball to try to take the lead for the first time in the second quarter. The team prevailed, taking the ball down the field and scoring on another touchdown pass from McCracken. Joplin got a later score to tie the game, and that led the Eagles to halftime, tied at 21 apiece.
The Nixa Crimson Corps took the field at halftime. Last season, the band made it to finals in the Bands of America competition in Iowa for the first time ever, and band members enjoyed that immensely, including sophomore tuba player Mitchell Stehno, who found it to be the most memorable moment for him in the program.
“BOA in Northern Iowa was amazing,” said Stehno. “My favorite part would probably be the friendships I’ve built because of it. It’s amazing to see everyone’s hard work pay off.”
As a tuba player, Stehno has had his fair share of difficulties, but those challenges create more sense of appreciation when the season is done.
“During marching season, the tubas play a style of tuba better suited for marching called the sousaphone. It’s very large and very heavy, and when you wear it, it kills the feeling in your shoulder,” said Stehno. “We do really difficult stuff, but seeing it come along and start to look like something presentable gives everyone a bit of pride.”
After the halftime performance, both teams went back out there to finish up what they had started. Each team played great defense in the second half, but Nixa found a way to break through with 14 unanswered points and was up 35-21 with 7:46 left in the game. Joplin would not go away, however, and it took less than 5 minutes for them to crawl back and have a chance to tie the game after two long drives that led to touchdowns. However, Joplin prompted to go for 2 for the lead, but failed to get to the end zone from 2 yards out as Nixa’s pass rush was just too much for them to handle, keeping the score in Nixa’s favor 35-34. Joplin had one more shot but was intercepted at the goal line by senior Clayton Uber. And with that, Perry and his Eagles could celebrate a well-earned victory.
“What I enjoyed the most about the game was the excitement and joy in the faces of our players and coaches after the game,” Perry said. “It was awesome.”
To cap off the win, one more surprise was in store for the crowd, as the lights dimmed and fireworks appeared in the distance, close enough to see from the stadium. Fans, including sophomore James Harris, enjoyed the show.
“The fireworks show was great,” said Harris. “Not only was it just a really nice show but it really made the night so much more special.”
Harris goes to as many home games as he can, and he said he loves the atmosphere the games create.
“My favorite part about going to the games would have to be just hanging out with friends and enjoying something,” said Harris. “You don’t have to worry about school or what you need to do, but it’s a good time to relax and have fun with your community even if you don’t enjoy football.”
Another person who loves the Nixa community is Coach Perry.
“Nixa is a town that has grown a lot and has so much to offer people who want to move in and raise their families,” said Perry. “Hopefully, the football program will be a source of pride for this town as well.”