The third time was the charm for the McDonald County football team at West Plains.
Sam Barton rushed for 220 yards and all five of McDonald County's touchdowns as the Mustangs rolled up nearly 400 yards rushing in a 35-33 victory over the Zizzers in the Class 4, District 6 semifinals on Friday, Nov. 3, at West Plains.
"It was just a really big win for our team and our program," said Mustang coach Kellen Hoover. "We've been out there a couple of times before, and things had not gone our way. I'm really proud of the kids, from the way they practiced all week to the way they played. You could feel the energy walking down the hill to the field for the game, and you could tell that our kids were ready to go."
McDonald County's last two trips to West Plains ended in losses, including a 42-7 loss in the district championship in 2021, ending the Mustangs' 10-win season.
And the Mustangs got off to a tough start on Friday as West Plains' Briggs Hughston gave the Zizzers an early 6-0 lead on a 55-yard fumble return. The extra point was no good.
The Mustangs answered in a big way.
Barton scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to put McDonald County up 7-6, and his second touchdown run in the first quarter made it 14-7.
Hughston scored on a four-yard pass from Isaiah Jones in the first as the Zizzers closed within 14-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Barton scored on a two-yard run to go up 21-13, but West Plains answered with two straight scores to go up 27-21 at halftime.
Hughston caught touchdown passes of 26 and 37 yards in the second quarter as the Zizzers stormed back to lead at halftime.
The Mustangs came out and retook the lead 28-27 with a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Later in the second half, the Zizzers drove inside the red zone and were threatening to score when the Mustangs' defense got a pass deflection on fourth down to cause a turnover on downs.
The Mustangs' offense then took over and drove 95 yards for a touchdown, capped by a 12-yard run by Barton to go up 35-27 in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs defense got a stop, but the offense went three-and-out and had to punt the ball back to the Zizzers.
The Zizzers scored in the fourth quarter on a 54-yard pass from Jones to Rylan Kenslow to bring West Plains within 35-33. But the Mustangs were able to keep West Plains from converting the two-point conversion to keep a two-point lead.
With a couple of minutes remaining, the Zizzers kicked off to the Mustangs, and the McDonald County offense was able to pick up two first downs, including a fourth-down run by Destyn Dowd, to get into a position they could run out the clock.
"At no point did I see that our kids wavered in the belief that we were going to win the game," Hoover said. "I'm really proud of our kids for how they fought and battled all night."
Overall, the Mustangs rushed for 398 yards on 59 carries.
Barton's big night was his best game since a 200-yard, five-touchdown performance against Marshfield. Barton has been playing sparingly lately due to ankle injuries.
"So happy for him and how he's gutted through this season," Hoover said. "He's been trying to get out there each and every week. He hates not being able to practice. All last week, the message we got from him was 'I feel great.'"
Dowd had 15 carries for 123 yards.
"Our O-line did a good job," Hoover said. "Anytime you get a guy for 200 yards and another guy for 100, you know your line did really well."
Malosi Sosef had nine carries for 49 yards, while Samuel Murphy had two carries for six yards.
Dowd completed five of seven passes for 52 yards. Josh Pacheco caught three passes for 38 yards, while Barton had two catches for 14 yards.
McDonald County finished with 450 yards of offense.
The Zizzers (6-5) rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries. Jones completed 18 of 25 passes for 266 yards, with Kenslow catching 11 passes for 166 yards. Hughston had five catches for 99 yards.
Now the Mustangs (7-4) will travel to No. 1 seed Bolivar (7-3) on Friday, Nov. 10, in the Class 4, District 6 finals.
Bolivar received an opening-round bye on Oct. 27 and defeated Hillcrest 53-14 last week.
"They play extremely hard and do some things really well that are tough to stop," Hoover said. "We're going to have to play really well.
"They want to establish the run just like we do. Who's going to be able to establish the run and be physical up front? It will be two teams trying to do that. We're definitely preaching that to our kids all week."
NOTE: With the win at West Plains, Hoover recorded his 38th win at McDonald County to become the school's all-time winningest coach, passing former coach Jeff Wilkie in all-time wins, according to athletics director Bo Bergen.
Hoover is in his seventh season with the Mustangs.