McDonald County's six-game winning streak started with a 31-14 homecoming victory over Monett on Sept. 17.
The Mustangs and Cubs meet again Friday, this time in the first round of the District 6 playoffs. The stakes are much higher in the rematch, and that's not all that's changed.
"From what I can tell, both teams are different than they were the first time we played," McDonald County coach Kellen Hoover said. "Obviously, a lot of personnel is the same. There are a lot of different things both teams have in -- offensively and defensively -- that they may not have had at the time we played the first time."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Mustang Stadium.
Second-seeded McDonald County, 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big 8 West, rolls in with momentum. Aside from penalties popping up here and there, the Mustangs are clicking on all cylinders. They moved from 10th to eighth in the Missouri Media Class 4 state rankings.
Seventh-seeded Monett (2-7, 1-5) has dropped five of six, including last week's 26-21 loss to Seneca. Despite those woes, it's worth remembering that the Cubs were the last team to lead McDonald County at halftime. The Mustangs scored 21 unanswered points after the break to pull away for the win.
"They're a really tricky seventh seed," Hoover said. "That's why the records really don't matter once you get to this point in the year because anybody can beat anybody. It just takes one team playing well versus one team not executing like they should. The team that doesn't execute is going home, no matter what your seed is."
Since the first meeting, the Mustangs' passing attack has soared. Receivers Levi Malone, Colton Ruddick, Cross Dowd, Jack Parnell and Logan Harriman give quarterback Cole Martin plenty of dependable targets.
The running game, with Martin, Jakobe Montes, Destyn Dowd and Jared Mora sharing the workload, has been a force from the opening snap of the season. McDonald County is averaging 33.5 points during the streak.
The defense is coming off a shutout of Cassville and has allowed 12.3 points per game over the past six outings.
But all it takes is one bad quarter or a couple of turnovers to trigger an early postseason exit.
"We've got to approach this with some urgency because we're at the point now where, especially for our large group of seniors, if they lose, many of their careers are over," Hoover said.
The Mustangs won the first playoff game in school history in 2020, and that could pay dividends this time around.
"I think the good thing is we did get the Week 10 win last year," Hoover said. "So I don't think there's as much pressure on getting to Week 11, getting that playoff win, because a lot of these guys have done that before. A lot of guys will be able to lean on that past experience."
They can also lean on their homefield advantage. McDonald County is 5-0 in front of its herd of supporters at Mustang Stadium.
"Our fans are so great," Hoover said. "They are always so supportive. Our guys feed off of them. So it'll be great to be in front of our people, our community, our student body."
The McDonald County-Monett victor advances to face the winner between third-seeded Carl Junction (3-6) and sixth-seeded Hillcrest (3-6).
Monett at No. 8 McDonald County
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Mustang Stadium.
Records: Monett is 2-7; McDonald County is 8-1.