The invitation from Metallica's rock anthem "Enter Sandman" was joyously received on the Cassville side of Wildcat Stadium. The Wildcats defeated Archbishop O'Hara Catholic High School of Kansas City, 23-7, on Saturday afternoon, earning a berth in the Class 3 state championship game against Bowling Green.
Archbishop O' Hara High School, a Kansas City private Catholic school since 1965, sneaked into the Class 3 football semifinals with a 50-49 victory over Pleasant Hill. Meanwhile, Cassville survived against a strong Logan-Rogersville team, by the same one-point margin, 21-20. Trevor Tanner's quarterback sneak for a touchdown and Matt Angel's PAT in the closing minutes provided the cardiac finish for the Cassville faithful.
The Cassville coaching staff warned all week about the superior speed of O'Hara, especially their three key players: quarterback T.J. White, runningback Raphael Spencer, and wideout Aaron Stubblefield. O'Hara's weakness was depth. The Celtics only dress 37 players, and too many of them play significant minutes on both offense and defense.
The Cassville game plan was to control the ball and keep it out of the hands of O'Hara's skill players.
"But doesn't every coach plan to do that?" asked Cassville's David Large after the game. "You have to try to possess the ball because of the kind of athletes they have."
Early on, it was Cassville that looked unstoppable on offense. After holding O'Hara to three and out on the game's initial possession, Trevor Tanner drove the Wildcats 49 yards in nine plays with Joseph Gouvion scoring from 15 yards out on a well-executed trap play. Matt Angel converted the PAT for a 7-0 Cassville lead with 7:01 left in the first quarter.
Cassville narrowly missed taking a two-touchdown lead three minutes deep into the second quarter. Travis Northern was ruled out of bounds on an apparent 35-yard strike from Tanner on a fourth--and-15 play.
O'Hara took advantage of the new life immediately. White threw long to Stubblefield at the Cassville 31-yard line and then Spencer hurdled through the line and scored on the next play. Julian Gidley tied the game at 7-7 with his extra point with 7:59 on the second quarter clock.
After O'Hara's Jimmy Clark intercepted Tanner inside the Celtics 10-yard line, the Wildcats forced a three-and-out punt in the final minute of the half. Cassville took over at the O'Hara 33 after Tanner's 12-yard return. Only 18 seconds remained in the half.
Tanner threw to Northern for 11 yards and a first down, then threw incomplete. On second and 10, Tanner ran for seven yards on the quarterback draw, and Large called timout with 3.2 seconds to play.
Angel trotted out for the most important field goal try of his career. O'Hara promptly took a timeout to ice the Wildcat kicker.
"I was a little nervous when they tried to ice me with the timeout," said Angel after the game. "But I had been warming up on the sideline, kicking into the net and getting ready. It felt good when I kicked it."
Angel's boot was high and true on the final play of the half, and Cassville carried a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
Cassville resumed pounding the ball with the power running game in the third quarter. A seven-play drive produced no points, but the defense held O'Hara to a punt on their 10-play drive.
From the Cassville 43, Tanner directed the Cassville offense from the Wildcat formation. The 'Cats drove to the O'Hara 21-yard line in nine plays and faced a third and one situation. Trevor Tanner, Zach Vittitoe and Gouvion lined up in the power I, and Vittitoe took the straight handoff and plowed into the line. The ball came out, and O'Hara recovered at its own 19-yard line to snuff out the scoring threat.
"After that fumble, coach gave me a motivational speech on the sideline," said Vittitoe. "I told myself I had to pick it up."
On the next drive, Cassville advanced to midfield on three plays and then Large dialed Vittitoe's number. On three consecutive plays, the big fullback pounded through and over the tiring O'Hara defenders, gaining six, two and then 11 yards for a first down at the 31-yard line.
"Cassville football, second down and 12 at the O'Hara thirty three, Tanner under center with split backs. He hands to Gouvion off left tackle, he breaks into the secondary, touchdown, Cassville!"
Even though Angel hooked the PAT attempt wide of the mark, Cassville owned a 16-7 lead with 7:33 to play in the final period. At least with a two-possession margin, even a one-play scoring drive would not give O'Hara the lead.
After Angel's third touchback of the game, O'Hara started at its own 20-yard line with the season ticking away. White led the Celtics to the 49-yard line in 10 tense plays, including a clutch 17-yard completion to Spencer on fourth and 10 from the 34. But on another fourth-and-10 play, White scrambled, pumped and lost possession of the ball when he tried to pull his arm back from the fake. Adam Prier pounced on the loose ball, and Cassville had the ball and the lead with less than five minutes to play.
The O'Hara players were exhausted. Trying to control the Cassville running game had sapped their strength, and they had no gas left in the tank late in the fourth quarter. Three plays netted the Wildcats seven yards, and O'Hara even declined a holding penalty after third down to conserve the clock by forcing a punt.
David Large, quickly gaining a reputation as a gambling man, called for the fake punt. Northern sprinted to the right hash marker, and crashed into a pair of O'Hara defenders at the 38-yard line. Somehow, Northern kept his feet and staggered to the 36 for a first down.
Raphael Spencer, the deep returner in punt formation, watched Northern's gutsy run and sank to his knees in frustration. The fake punt was the -- as the Washington Wizards' Steve Buckhantz would say with his signature call -- "Dagger!"
With the drive still alive, Cassville bled the clock with every snap. On the ninth play of the possession, Trevor Tanner broke loose off right tackle and spun into the end zone for a third Cassville touchdown. Angel's successful PAT established the final score of 23-7.
White did drive his team to the Cassville 10-yard line in the final minute, but Chris Smith wrestled the ball away from Aaron Stubblefield in the end zone for an interception. Tanner took a knee in the victory formation, and the Cassville Wildcats punched their ticket to St. Louis.
"O'Hara was a lot more physical than they looked on film," said Coach Large after the game. "They made some defensive adjustments after our first scoring drive and played well."
The Wildcats owned the line of scrimmage in the contest, racking up 262 rushing yards on 56 carries. Gouvion alone carried 30 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Trenton Tanner added 96 more yards and a touchdown on the ground, and completed four of 10 passes for 31 yards.
Spencer got loose for the 31-yard scoring run, but was held in check for most of the afternoon. He finished with 65 yards on nine carries. White ran for 48 yards and passed for 102 for O'Hara.
This week's Cassville Democrat Player of the Game is Matt Stockton, the stalwart defensive lineman who led the defense in a stellar outing, limiting one of the best offenses in Class 3 to a single touchdown.
Bowling Green overcame an early 7-6 deficit to defeat Priory 20-7 in the other Class 3 semifinal. Cassville will play for back-to-back Class 3 titles against undefeated Bowling Green at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
"I dressed but didn't get to play in last year's game in St. Louis," said Angel. "I'm looking forward to it."
"Off to never never land..."