The Wildcats, who leapfrogged to #2 in the state AP poll on the strength of their 27-0 shutout of Monett, ran their overall record to 8-1, moved to 6-0 in the Big 8 Conference and posted a 2-0 district record. The Wildcats will host a first round play-off game on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. against either Aurora or Mt. Vernon.
The Indians had not suffered a defeat to a Class 3 or smaller school before the Friday tilt with Cassville, losing only to Neosho and Carthage in weeks #1 and #3. Seneca's program has risen steadily under Rob Townsend, and the tussle with the Wildcats showed that the Indians are for real.
Seneca's line play was outstanding in the first half on both sides of the ball. But after Seneca scored to slice the lead to 17-13 at the 11:12 mark of the fourth quarter, Cassville drove 81 yards in 15 plays to score the final points of the night and seal the victory.
The Indians held Cassville on the first possession of the game, and then quarterback Jacob Rhoades marched the Indians 78 yards in 12 plays to take the early 7-0 lead. Tailback Dillan Webb carried eight times for 29 yards, and Rhoades competed three of four pass attempts for 49 yards as the Indians swept down the field.
The Wildcats answered immediately. Trevor Tanner returned Bryce Morris's short kickoff back to the Seneca 46 yard line. Three straight carries by Joseph Gouvion gave the 'Cats a first down at the 36. Tanner ran left out of the wishbone for 22 yards, and Gouvion dove for one yard on the power sweep.
"Tanner under center at the Seneca 13-yard line, Wildcats in the I-formation. Tanner has the snap, takes a three-step drop, he rifles a pass over the middle to Taran Holt! Touchdown, Cassville!"
Holt had disappeared from the offensive stat sheet for a number of games. But instead of putting his picture on a milk carton, Coach David Large dialed him up for a confidence-boosting TD reception.
Matt Angel punched the PAT through the bitterly cold wind to tie the score at 7-7 with 1:59 left on the first quarter clock.
Cassville missed a golden opportunity to score in the second quarter. Gouvion blocked a Morris punt and the Wildcats recovered in Seneca territory. Cassville unveiled their version of the Wildcat formation with Tanner in shotgun formation in an otherwise empty backfield.
On third and 11 at the Seneca 46, Tanner kept for 27 yards down to the 19. A first down pass sailed incomplete and then Dillan Webb jumped the route in the left flat and intercepted Tanner's second-down pass to kill the drive.
Cassville would not threaten again in the first half, but Seneca turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcat 34 and then Rhoades was intercepted by Chris Smith on the next Indians' possession.
The teams retired to the locker rooms deadlocked at 7-7. The Wildcats were worried, while the Indians smelled the upset.
As Arkansas Razorbacks coach Frank Broyles liked to say about underdogs in big games: "The longer you're tied, the more you're ahead."
The Cassville defense opened the third quarter with a sense of urgency, holding Seneca without a first down, the first three-and-out of the game for the Wildcat defenders.
Tanner then led the Cassville offense on a 55-yard drive that bogged down at the Seneca 10-yard line. Angel responded with a 26-yard field goal to give the Wildcats their first lead of the contest at 10-7.
Seneca started on offense at the 35 after a face mask penalty against Cassville on the kickoff. Webb carried four straight times for 11 yards, but Rhoades was held to just four yards on third and 10. Tanner called for a fair catch of the Morris punt at the Cassville 26 with 3:34 left in the quarter.
Gouvion rumbled off tackle for four yards on first down to set up second and six at the 30.
"Gouvion lines up deep in the I behind Tanner. Fake handoff to Gouvion, Tanner still has it, running right. He pulls up and throws long downfield for Travis Northern. Northern's got it behind the secondary! He's at the 30, 20, 10, finally dragged down at the Seneca two-yard line!"
No trickery on first and goal following the 68-yard catch-and-run. Gouvion plowed into the endzone and Cassville took a 16-7 lead. Angel tacked on the PAT to make it a 17-7 game with 2:27 to play in the third period.
But this game was far from over. Dillan Webb, the Seneca workhorse who rushed for 159 yards on the night, left the entire Cassville defense in his rearview mirror on a great cutback run that resulted in a 54-yard TD from scrimmage on the second play of the fourth quarter. Josh Lewright broke through and blocked the PAT attempt though, and the lead stood at 17-13.
Over 11 minutes remained. Lewright returned the kickoff to just shy of the 20-yard line to begin a critical possession for Cassville. The 'Cats reprised the Wildcat formation to help spread the field and create more running room for Tanner. But Cassville served healthy doses of their "I" and wishbone packages too, as the offense drove steadily down the field.
Tanner completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive, Gouvion tore for seven yards on a fourth and two at the Seneca 23, and Lewright bulled in for the touchdown from three yards out to punctuate the 15-play drive. Angel connected again, and the Wildcats proved they could handle adversity on the road, winning 24-13.
Gouvion led Cassville in rushing, amassing 97 yards on 20 carries and scored. Lewright ran for 17 yards on seven carries and scored. Trenton Tanner carried three times for 12 yards, and Zach Vittitoe collected nine yards on his lone carry of the game.
Trevor Tanner completed eight of his 12 passes for 123 yards with one interception. He added 95 yards on 12 carries to become the Cassville Democrat's Wildcat Player of the Week.
The Cassville Wildcats will be prohibitive favorites on Friday night at East Newton. The Patriots absorbed a merciless 38-0 pounding from Monett to fall to 1-8. Only a 31-22 decision over Aurora keeps them from being winless for the season. But Cassville is not taking this game lightly.
"We are playing for a lot next Friday. An outright conference championship. Keeping momentum heading in to the play-offs," said Coach David Large. "Our focus will be the same it is each week, improving and taking a step forward."
Seneca plays host to Monett on Friday night in a game that has huge play-off implications.