Gouvion and Tanner both rushed for over 100 yards to offset the exceptional play of Mountaineer quarterback Corey Phillips, as the two teams combined for over 700 yards of total offense.
After dropping their season opener to Branson, a potential Class 4 juggernaut, the Cassville Wildcats had some questions to answer against conference foe Mt. Vernon.
Gone was the #1 ranking in Class 3, along with any hopes of an undefeated season. The Wildcats found themselves looking up in the rankings at old rival Monett, who ascended to the top of the state list with the combination of their impressive opening win and the Cassville loss.
Mt. Vernon had a lot riding on Friday night's contest too. The Mountaineers bested East Newton in their first outing, and a win over the defending state champions would give them a 2-0 record overall in the tough Big 8 Conference.
Matt Angel kicked off for Cassville to start the contest, and Mt. Vernon's Kaden Jones settled under it at his own 11-yard line. Jones shed tacklers and churned upfield before Angel finally hauled him down at the Cassville 49.
Phillips, the All-Conference quarterback, led Mt. Vernon on a nine-play drive to the Cassville five-yard line. The Mountaineer signal caller found his favorite target, Blake Grooms for an 18-yard strike on third and 6 from the Wildcat 32 to keep the drive alive.
But on fourth and one at the five-yard line, Phillips fumbled on a keeper, recovered for no gain, and the Wildcats took over on downs.
While the Mountaineers consumed four and a half minutes with their first possession, Cassville would have the ball for only a single play. Gouvion broke loose down the left sideline and won the track meet to the end zone, going 95 yards for the first score of the night. Angel added the PAT, and Cassville held an early 7-0 lead.
Angel's squib kick was downed at the MV 40, and the Cassville defense held Phillips and his offense to a rare three-and-out. Tanner fielded a rugby-style punt from Phillips on fourth and seven, and was tackled at the Cassville 21.
Taking over with 5:51 left in the opening quarter, Josh Lewright led Cassville on a promising drive to midfield. But an offsides penalty and a sack reversed the momentum, and then Tanner fumbled on the Cassville sideline while fighting for extra yardage. The Mountaineers took over at the Cassville 49.
Phillips drove his team down the short field, aided by a pass interference penalty on a second and 20 to reach the Wildcat 34.
The teams switched ends as the quarter expired and then Phillips found Grooms loose in the end zone for a six-yard TD pass. The quarterback also kicked the PAT to tie the game, 7-7, with 11:13 to play in the first half.
Mt. Vernon had seen plenty of game film of Gouvion's 95-yard return against Branson, so Dillon Washam angled the kickoff to Tanner at the Wildcat 28. He shot straight up the field through a host of green shirts, breaking arm tackles along the way and went the distance for a second Cassville touchdown. Angel added the extra point for the 14-7 lead. The tie had lasted a mere 14 seconds.
Mt. Vernon's Caleb Myers returned the kickoff to his 26 yard line and was stopped there by Joel Williams. Phillips led the Mountaineers on a 16-play odyssey, overcoming a pair of sacks and converting a fourth and 10 along the way, before throwing a perfect 28-yard strike to Grooms down the Mt. Vernon sideline for a touchdown with 3:52 showing on the clock.
The stalwart Wildcat line broke through and blocked the PAT attempt, and Cassville retained a slim 14-13 lead.
The Mountaineers turned to trickery and recovered an onside kick in Cassville territory but wasted the opportunity. An incomplete pass, a loss of down penalty and a sack of Phillips by Gouvion forced Mt. Vernon to punt.
Tanner took over at quarterback for Cassville to run the two-minute drill and drove the 'Cats to the Mountaineer five-yard line with 40 seconds remaining. A fumble on third and goal at the 13 killed the scoring opportunity. Phillips took a knee to end the half, and Cassville went to the locker room with a one-point lead.
After having a decided advantage in time of possession and running 43 offensive plays to only 21 for the visitors, Mt. Vernon was scratching their heads over the Cassville lead. But stats can be misleading and easily offset by big plays as the Wildcats proved in the early going.
The second half opened with surprises from both teams.
The Mountaineers recovered a second onside kick to start the third quarter, and Phillips went to work inside Cassville territory. On third and goal at the Cassville four-yard line, Gouvion broke through and sacked Phillips for an 11-yard loss. But a piece of yellow laundry on the field signaled a Cassville penalty, and Mt. Vernon replayed third down from the 7.
The Mountaineers were offsides and then Phillips threw incomplete in the end zone. On fourth down, Grooms caught Phillips' offering but was tackled at the five, and the Wildcats took over on downs, a game-changing stop by the Cassville defense.
It was time for the Wildcats to unveil their own second half surprise. Enter the wishbone.
"We worked on our rhino package (Cassville's offset wishbone formation) this week, and thought about using it in the first half," said David Large after the game. "But we ended up not using it until the second half."
The wishbone fit perfectly with Large's desire for his team to assert itself physically in the second half. While most people associate wild option pitches on the corners with the wishbone offense, the Wildcats ran more traditional plays from the set. The extra blocking back added even more punch to the Cassville running game and kept both Gouvion and Tanner available in tandem.
With a full backfield, Lewright operated the offense in textbook fashion, advancing the 'Cats from the shadow of their own goal line out to the 43 in eight plays. On fourth and three, Large never hesitated to go for the first down.
Gouvion broke free down the Cassville sideline and raced 48 yards before being hauled down at the MV 9. Lewright kept for four yards on first down and then Gouvion powered into the end zone with 2:52 to play in the third quarter. Angel's PAT established a 21-13 lead for the visiting Wildcats.
Angel pumped up and drove the ball deep into the end zone for a touchback on the kickoff.
The Mountaineers sensed the game slipping away as Cassville seized momentum in the second half. The steady diet of Gouvion and Tanner on offense earned possession time and gave the Wildcat defenders some needed recovery time on the sideline.
Phillips threw long to Caleb Myers for a 27-yard gain to the Cassville 40 as Mt. Vernon embarked on a crucial drive at the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter opened with the Mountaineers facing third and seven at the Wildcat 37. Phillips took a sack and a two-yard loss and then threw incomplete on fourth down. The resilient Cassville defenders had posted another critical stop.
Lewright directed the offense to midfield on four blue-collar plays and then kept off left tackle for a 23-yard burst down to the 25. Gouvion creased the line for a pair of yards, then Tanner sliced outside for seven. On third and one at the 16, Lewright read the defense perfectly on the option, kept and scored.
Angel banged another PAT between the sticks, and Cassville forged to a 28-13 lead with only 8:21 to play.
But Phillips wasn't done. The Mountaineers set up on offense at their own 43 following the kickoff return, and Phillips moved the chains with a nifty 16-yard run on third and four. On second and 10 at the Cassville 35, wideout Jackson Tettenhorst took advantage of the double coverage on Grooms to get behind the Cassville secondary and hauled in a TD strike from Phillips.
The try for 2 points failed, but the lead was pared to 28-19.
Mt. Vernon tried yet another onside kick, but Tanner smothered it at the Cassville 49. Just over six minutes remained in the contest, and Lewright seemed ever-mindful of the clock each time he led his team to the line of scrimmage. With the Mountaineer defense tiring, Cassville bled the play clock on each snap.
A Gouvion sweep and a Mountaineer penalty gave Cassville a first down at the MV 46. Lewright pitched left to Tanner for a 13-yard gain down to the 28 then ran consecutive keepers for nine and four yards respectively.
Gouvion found the end zone from the 15-yard line, but the ball popped loose at play's end. The zebras ruled a fumble, but that only shifted credit for the score from Gouvion to Dylan Gibson, who cradled the ball in the end zone for the Wildcats. Cassville increased the lead to 35-19 following Angel's fifth conversion of the night.
Phillips moved the Mt. Vernon offense to midfield on a desperation drive, but Cassville took over on downs with just over two minutes remaining. Lewright took a knee on the final play, and the Wildcats broke into the win column with the 35-19 victory.
"You win games in the second half," said Coach Large on his postgame show. "We played much better, and more physical this week."
More Wildcats played on both sides of the ball against Mt. Vernon, as Cassville made a point of getting more playing time for its best players. Besides being the game's leading rusher, Gouvion was a force on defense as well.
Gouvion and Tanner are this week's Cassville Democrat Co-Wildcat Players of the Game. Gouvion ran for 194 yards on the night and scored twice, and Tanner posted 103 rushing yards along with his kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
On defense, Matt Stockton was the tackle leader with seven solo takedowns. Other defensive leaders were: Preston Forsythe, six tackles; Rose, Linebrink and Gouvion with five each; and Shumaker, Kyle Brady and Tanner with four each.
The Wildcats invade Arkansas next Friday, Sept. 11 for a game against Prairie Grove.
More photos of the Sept. 4 game are available in our Sept. 9 print edition.