A team can be motivated by losing a state championship game going into an offseason.
However, for the Mount Ida Lions, motivation for the offseason came from several people outside the program who doubted their 27-26 Class 2A state championship victory over the Hampton Bulldogs in 2016.
Hampton, which led Mount Ida 20-7 at the end of the first quarter, had four touchdowns by quarterback Monta Thomas called back in last season's championship game. Mount Ida was able to control the clock in the second half, holding possession for 17:01 in the final two quarters, to earn its second state title.
A year later, the Montgomery County school is returning to the Class 2A state championship game.
The Lions (14-0) will face their 7-2A Conference rival, the Foreman Gators (12-1), at 7 p.m. today at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Mount Ida Coach Michael White isn't apologizing for last year's championship victory.
"My kids worked as hard or harder than anybody else," White, a 1993 Mount Ida graduate, said Thursday after his team's practice at War Memorial Stadium. "They earned their right to be here. My kids kept playing. We didn't panic. We didn't lose our composure.
"Lo and behold, we got some breaks. But it don't bother me when people say that. The final score is what matters."
Mount Ida has been the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's top team in Class 2A the entire 2017 season. The Lions, who run the Split Back Veer offense, are averaging 358.1 rushing yards per game and 388.6 yards overall as they've won 21 consecutive games since a Week 8 loss at Dierks in October 2016.
Juniors Cade Jackson and Jonathan Lagrange and senior Cade Helms have allowed the Lions to be one of the top offenses in Class 2A.
A running back, Lagrange leads the Lions with 26 rushing touchdowns and has 1,279 yards rushing. Jackson, the team's quarterback, is second on the team with 17 rushing touchdowns and 986 rushing yards while Helms, a running back, has scored 14 touchdowns and rushed for 646 yards.
Of Mount Ida's 83 offensive touchdowns, 77 have come on the ground.
"Those guys are going to get their yards," White said. "Lagrange and Helms are just bruiser backs. Jackson, he's improved his speed. He's averaging over 10 yards per carry."
Lagrange, who has played in the Split Back Veer since he was a third-grader in Mount Ida's pee-wee football program, enjoys playing in the scheme.
"This is my type of offense," said Lagrange, who is part of a junior class that has lost only twice in their football careers -- last year to Dierks and to Danville in double overtime in ninth grade. "I know every bit of it. I know every play and I know what I'm doing. We've all grown up doing it."
White credits Mount Ida's community for buying into the offense and said it's a scheme that not a lot of people see statewide.
"This group, you're starting to see what happens when they're doing it so long," White said. "It's pounded into your brain.
"It can be deception. It can be power. Or, it can be misdirection. It can be all three and you can have a good passing game. But we don't throw it much."
Foreman Coach Mark King respects the Lions for their success over the past decade.
"They've been the ones we've set our eyes on," King said. "You want to pattern yourself after them because they play physical, they're tough and they're old-school football.
"If you want to beat the best, you have to beat the best."
White said Thursday that he's heard comparisons from his school's fans of Mount Ida's second matchup with Foreman to Auburn and Georgia, which met twice in the 2017 season. Auburn won the first meeting against Georgia in Auburn, Ala., but Georgia won the rematch in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2.
"The hard part for us is the game plan from the first time worked," said White, whose Lions defeated the Gators 36-7 on Oct. 13 behind a 395-yard effort, all rushing. "We have to figure out what they're going to do different and how are we going to counter coming up with a Plan B. Our kids know each other. We've played each other since seventh grade.
"It's hard to beat a team twice. Everybody knows that. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
Lagrange hopes the Lions can beat the Gators for a second time in 2017 and win the program's third state championship.
"[We've] got a big target on our back," Lagrange said. "Everybody's looking to beat the defending state champions. We're just working hard to not let that happen."
Running back Jonathan Lagrange takes a handoff from quarterback Cade Jackson during Thursday’s practice at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The duo has rushed for 2,265 combined yards this season and scored 43 touchdowns.
Sept. 1;Genoa Central;W, 42-14
Sept. 15;at Horatio;W, 47-0
Sept. 22;Spring Hill*;W, 42-0
Sept. 29;Dierks*;W, 56-14
Oct. 6;at Lafayette County*;W, 63-8
Oct. 13;at Mount Ida*;L, 36-7
Oct. 20;Mineral Springs*;W, 28-14
Oct. 27;at Murfreesboro*;W, 69-0
Nov. 2;at Mountain Pine*;W, 49-21
Nov. 10;Clarendon#;W, 52-0
Nov. 17;Bearden#;W, 35-18
Nov. 24;at Danville#;W, 51-6
Dec. 8;Salem#;W, 41-7
*7-2A Conference game
COACH Mark King (20-5 in second season at school)
RECORD 12-1, 6-1 7-2A, second
RANKING Not ranked (at end of regular season)
PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Kyren Batey (Jr., 5-9, 180); RB Isaac Carver (So., 5-7, 150); RB C.J. Green (5-9, 180); DE/LB Chris Haywood (6-3, 240); LB Corey Lovewell (Sr., 5-10, 195)
MOUNT IDA (14-0)
Sept. 1;at Magazine;W, 41-6
Sept. 8;at Jessieville;W, 28-6
Sept. 15;Lamar;W, 42-7
Sept. 22;at Mineral Springs*;W, 42-14
Sept. 29;Murfreesboro*;W, 48-0
Oct. 6;at Spring Hill*;W, 57-7
Oct. 13;Foreman*;W, 36-7
Oct. 20;at Dierks*;W, 44-6
Oct. 27;Mountain Pine*;W, 49-22
Nov. 2;at Lafayette County*;W, 54-0
Nov. 10;Des Arc#;W, 45-0
Nov. 17;Marked Tree#;W, 56-22
Nov. 24;Conway Christian#;W, 34-28
Dec. 8;at Camden Harmony Grove#;W, 27-14
*7-2A Conference game
COACH Michael White (113-41 in 13th season at school)
RECORD 14-0, 7-0 7-2A, first
RANKING No. 1 in Class 2A
PLAYERS TO WATCH QB/SS Cade Jackson (Jr., 5-9, 165); RB/LB Jonathan Lagrange (Jr., 6-1, 216); RB/LB Cade Helms (Sr., 5-10, 208); DE Champ Saylors (Jr., 6-2, 165); CB Bridger Farmer (Sr., 5-8, 155)
Sports on 12/15/2017
Print Headline: Hungry for another: Mount Ida looking to go back-to-back