On Friday, the Cassville Wildcats beat East Newton 28-13 to win their fifth conference game and improve to 7-0 overall.
The Wildcats wrapped up another successful regular season. For those keeping track, this makes five straight years Cassville has finished the first seven games with a winning record. Yet, this year's team seems a far contrast from those in the past.
For at least the last two years Cassville has been known for their superior running game. This was largely due to Cassville's big and talented offensive linemen as well as star runningback Brian Elkins.
This year, Cassville has one of the smallest lines in the conference and the Wildcats use a stable of backs. Before the season, many believed that the Wildcats were set for a rebuilding year, but somehow Cassville has exceeded those expectations.
So how have the 'Cats duplicated their past results? "Defense" and "good team chemistry," according to Head Coach David Large.
"We've put ourselves in a position to accomplish some big goals," said Large, who added how proud he was of the team thus far.
Cassville continued to show its "team" prowess against East Newton. The Wildcats used five different players to get into the end-zone.
Danny Naugle came up with the defining score. Cassville led at half-time 21-7 but had been unable to put the game out of reach. The Wildcats received to start the half and put a defining drive together.
Laith Hayward got the ball rolling and hit a 20-yard run to get Cassville to East Newton's 48. Then after some penalties, Jake Nolan hit Naugle for a 22-yard gain that bailed the 'Cats out. The Wildcats then were stymied again and faced a fourth-and-two situation, but a 5-yard run by Naugle kept the drive alive. Finally after 6:06 had been chewed off the clock, Naugle punched it in from one-yard out to put Cassville up 28-7.
East Newton scored in the fourth quarter to make it interesting, but ultimately the Wildcats held, to move to 5-0 in the Big 8.
Although the second half of the contest was the most intense, several players excelled in the first two quarters of the game.
In the first quarter, Lane Stubblefield found the end-zone from nine yards out. Less than three minutes later, Cassville took the lead as Cory Howard threw a 35-yard bomb to Ryan Rowley on a trick play.
Nolan got in on the action in the second quarter, hitting Howard on a roll-out pass from the 18-yard line, ending the scoring in the first half.
Howard did it all for the Wildcats on offense. The multi-talented senior combined for 77 yards, passing (35), rushing (15) and receiving (27). He threw one touchdown and also caught one for his team-leading fourth.
Hayward also had a good night. Hayward picked up 114 yards on the ground and also caught a pass for nine yards.
Both performances relied heavily on the work of Cassville's offensive line, which was highlighted by Coach Large.
Nolan had another career night, throwing for 141 yards and a score. Naugle and Stubblefield combined for 37 yards on the ground and two scores.
Michael Baker led the receiving core with 60 yards. Rowley had two receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Dannon Rose played well, totaling six tackles and an interception. Billy Wright also did well, recovering a fumble and totaling 1.5 tackles as well as a sack.
Rowley also totaled six tackles on the night and had a tackle for a loss. Jacob Gouvion got a sack in the contest and his counter-mate Naugle also got in the backfield to make a tackle for a loss. (Note: Gouvion and Naugle are Cassville's starting defensive ends).
Aaron Jamieson went four-for-four on extra-point attempts for Cassville's kicking game.
The Wildcats out-gained their opponents by 203 yards in the contest. They completed 71 percent of their passes and picked up 18 first downs all because of their teamwork.
"This was one of those games that you worry about as a coach," said Large. "Coming off a big emotional win (against Mt. Vernon) and having to face a very good East Newton team."
The Wildcats had no let down and they hope to continue that trend into district play.
Cassville has done a great job in the past five years for the first part of the season going a combined 31-3 (91 percent), but the Wildcats have not always finished strong. Cassville boasts an 8-4 (67 percent) record in district play, enabling them to qualify for the state playoffs two out of four times.
"It's a two-half season," said Large, "and we're getting ready to start the second half."
The Wildcats will attempt to get it started right as they host Nevada on Friday at 7 p.m.
Both Dylan Yarnall and Cody Pierson returned to the playing field last week, but the Wildcats had another injury in this week's contest and one left from last week.
Both Brent Elkins and Ethan Couch are questionable this week. Elkins went down last week on a special teams play and found out that he tore some ligaments in his elbow.
Couch meanwhile sustained an injury to his knee against East Newton and did not play in the second half. MRI results are still pending for Cassville's leading tackler. "It's been a tough season; we've seemed to have every injury imaginable," said Large.