"Prairie Grove has a good football team," said Large. "They were bigger than us, and they pushed us around early."
Indeed, the Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage on the game's opening possession. After Gabriel Olivas returned Matt Angel's opening kickoff out to the PG 41, that huge offensive line opened holes for senior tailback Thomas Soehner. He carried three times for 25 yards as Prairie Grove drove to the Cassville 32-yard line.
But on first and 10 from the 32, Soehner fumbled on a sweep, and Bo Blisard recovered for the Wildcats.
Against Mt. Vernon, Trevor Tanner made a cameo appearance at quarterback, directing the offense for the two-minute drill to end the first half. After watching game film and preparing for Josh Lewright's option game, Prairie Grove had to be surprised when Tanner started under center on Cassville's first drive.
"We changed some things around during the week and moving Tanner to quarterback was one of them," said Large. "That allows us to use Lewright's speed in different situations on offense, and lets us give him a bigger role on defense as a safety."
Joseph Gouvion ran for 194 yards against Mt. Vernon, and Prairie Grove's linebackers shifted constantly to try to take away his running angles. Gouvion carried twice for a single yard to bring up third and nine.
Tanner escaped the pass rush and scrambled left for a Cassville first down at the 46. On the next play, he froze the defense with a sweet fake to Gouvion, rolled left and sprinted down the sideline 54 yards for the game's first score with 7:17 to play in the quarter. Angel added the PAT to give Cassville the 7-0 lead.
Angel kicked off, and the Wildcats smothered Olivas at the PG 16 when the Tigers botched an attempted reverse. Prairie Grove's special teams used bizarre trick plays at every opportunity, and several of them backfired as the game progressed.
With Soehner running hard between the tackles out of the Wing-T formation, Prairie Grove drove to the Cassville 30 on nine consecutive rushing attempts. On second and nine from the 30, senior quarterback Chad Austin's first pass attempt of the game was batted away by Trevor Shumaker. Austin threw long again on third down, and Lewright deflected the ball away inside the 10.
The Tigers tried again on fourth down, but Austin overthrew Charles Stills in the endzone, and Cassville took over on downs with 2:49 left in the opening period.
The Wildcats went three-and-out, and Lewright's booming punt sailed from the Cassville 24 to the Prairie Grove 30. Another classic reverse followed, with Olivas pitching to Skylar Ellis to set up a return into Cassville territory at the 34. Lewright made the tackle to keep Ellis from going to the house.
The teams switched ends as the quarter ended, and the Tigers drove inside the Cassville 10-yard line on two strong runs by Soehner and a 12-yard completion from Austin to Ethan Robinson. On second and five at the 6, Austin handed to Caleb Sugg on the flanker reverse.
Clothesline! Linebacker Adam Prier broke through and felled Sugg in the backfield with a swinging left arm. The Prairie Grove receiver lost yardage all the way back to the 13 to set up third and 12.
Austin threw incomplete, and Taylor Lewis missed wide right on a field goal attempt with 9:56 to play in the half.
Having dodged the bullet, Cassville took over at its own 20. Gouvion finally found some running room and burst out to the 36 to cue the crowd: "That's another Cassville Wildcat...FIRST DOWN!"
On the second play of the drive, Tanner flipped a pass to Lewright in the left flat to set up the wide receiver screen. Lewright found a seam in the defense and flew 64 yards for another Wildcat touchdown. With 9:23 on the scoreboard clock, Angel pounded the PAT for a 14-0 lead.
The Tigers offense lined up at the 21 after an uneventful kickoff return, and moved the chains by inches on third and 6 for a first down at the 31. Soehner was held to a yard on first down, and Austin threw wildly on the next play as Gouvion broke free on the blitz.
Prairie Grove lined with four wide receivers to the left side on third and 9, but Chris Smith read the play perfectly and intercepted Austin's pass at the Cassville 45.
Gouvion tried the line for no gain, and then Tanner bombed down the left sideline for Travis Northern, who laid out and made an outstanding grab at the Tigers' 12-yard line. A penalty cost the 'Cats precious yards in the red zone, and Coach Large elected for the automatic field goal on fourth and 4 at the 7.
Angel split the uprights from 25 yards out to increase the Cassville lead to 17-0 at the 3:45 mark of the second quarter.
Prairie Grove fumbled the kickoff but recovered at its own 10-yard line. Austin directed the Tigers in their hurry-up offense, and the change of pace caught the Wildcats off guard. The Tigers marched to the Cassville 34 in 14 plays, until Cassville's Kendal Cooper and Devin Linenbrink combined to sack Austin on fourth down.
Cassville ran out the final 54 seconds and went to the locker room leading at halftime, 17-0.
It was a competitive first half with only the two big plays creating the gap in the score. Prairie Grove's superior size caused Cassville some problems in the line. Soehner ran for 87 yards on 15 carries to lead all first half rushers. But the long run by Tanner, and Lewright's catch-and-run gave the visitors a decided halftime advantage.
"It was neat to see Josh Lewright get a big play," said Large after the game.
Lewright responded positively and maturely to the move away from quarterback and showcased his leadership in his new role.
Prairie Grove was offsides on the kickoff to start the second half, and Lewright returned the second try from the 20 out to the Cassville 41. The Wildcats moved the chains three times on four plays, and Tanner's 19-yard burst from the PG 24 set up first and goal at the 5. The Wildcats lined up in their power wishbone formation, and Gouvion knifed into the end zone for a 23-0 lead at the 9:59 mark of the third quarter.
Tanner fumbled the snap on the PAT attempt but scooped up the ball and outran the Tigers to the goal line for a two-point conversion. Cassville lead 25-0.
Angel foiled any trick plans by kicking into the end zone for a touchback, and Prairie Grove started from its own 20. The Tigers went three-and-out, and Ellis's punt was downed at the Cassville 47.
The Wildcats lost two yards in three plays, and Northern punted it right back to the home team.
The Tigers drove from their own 27 to the Cassville 18 behind the hard running of Soehner. His 22-yard cutback against the Cassville secondary set up the first Prairie Grove score, an 18-yard toss from Austin to Stills in the back of the end zone. The two-point conversion try failed, and Cassville's lead was cut to 25-6 with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter.
Lewis kicked off to Gouvion at the Cassville 15-yard marker. Big mistake. Gouvion rambled 85 yards through the Prairie Grove coverage, and Cassville had scored on a kickoff return in all three games to start the 2009 season. Angel added the PAT for a 32-6 lead.
Angel launched another moonshot for a touchback, and the teams traded punts to begin the fourth quarter.
Starting from his own 16 after Northern's kick, Austin was sacked and drew an intentional grounding penalty. On second down, Linenbrink stepped in front of Austin's throw over the middle and scored on the short return. Angel's kick made it 39-6 with 10:35 to play.
Ellis lined up at quarterback on the next Prairie Grove possession, and Kyle Brady intercepted his first attempt at the Cassville 42, returning only two yards before being tripped up.
With substitutes pouring off the Wildcats' bench like worker ants, the offense bogged down and then the Tigers fashioned an 89-yard scoring drive. With Dakota Daniels installed at quarterback, Ellis accepted an inside handoff on the reverse and raced down the right sideline 49 yards for a touchdown. Lewis's PAT was the final point of the night, setting the score at 39-13.
Brady and the second--team offense ran out the clock to give Cassville another road win, and a 2-1 record.
After allowing Soehner nearly 90 yards on the ground in the first half, Cassville shut down the big back and held him to less than 40 the rest of the way. The Wildcats forced four Prairie Grove turnovers: three interceptions and the big fumble to snuff out the scoring threat on the first Tigers' possession.
Tanner was both efficient and effective in his first start at quarterback, completing 8 of 10 passes with no interceptions and adding the dazzling long TD run. Gouvion provided the theatrics on special teams, and Northern and Lewright starred as receivers.
The defense played the classic "bend but not break" game and held the Tigers to a pair of statbuilder touchdowns in the late going.
Unnoticed by many, Angel and Northern gave the 'Cats a decided kicking advantage. Angel connected on all four of his PAT attempts and added a field goal, while Northern showed both height and distance on his punts.
Lewright is this week's Cassville Democrat Wildcat Player of the Game, playing major roles on both sides of the ball and scoring on the 64-yard pass play to break the game open.
Cassville returns home to play Aurora on Friday, Sept. 18. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.