All-State linebacker Devin Linenbrink correctly predicted on Thursday that Cassville's stingy pass defense would play a major role in defeating Aurora.
"Our defensive backs have six picks already," he said. "We could use a couple by our linebackers too."
The big difference for the Aurora offense in 2010 has been the play of quarterback Clayton Summers. In three games, #7 had completed 15 of 24 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. In the opener against Warsaw, he only threw four passes for 11 yards but went on a tear the next two weeks.
Meanwhile Aurora's unsung defense only allowed 23 points total against Warsaw, Lamar and Carl Junction. The top-ranked Cassville Wildcats? They yielded 28 points to Mountain Grove, Branson and Prairie Grove.
Those who expected a night of smashmouth football were not disappointed. Except for a surprise play-action bomb from Ricky Nichols to Josh Lewright that gained 43 yards on Cassville's first play from scrimmage, the two teams fought it out between the tackles for most of the first quarter.
Aurora could not cross midfield against the fired up Wildcat defense, and Cassville squandered a golden opportunity, failing to score after having a first and 10 in the red zone on that first drive.
The Wildcats finally cashed in their field position advantage late in the opening period. Trenton Tanner downed a short punt by Aurora's Cody Coatney at midfield with 4:09 on the clock. Nichols drove the 'Cats to the Aurora five-yard line in six plays, aided by a personal foul penalty against the Dawgs.
"Cassville football, first and goal at the Aurora 5. Nichols feeds Tanner out of the I, he slices through the line, TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
Although Garrett Barnes missed the conversion attempt, Cassville held a 6-0 lead with 2:02 to play in the opening quarter.
Barnes nailed his kickoff for a touchback to match his effort following the coin toss, and Aurora started from the 20 again. The Dawgs fought to a first down at their 34 with their running attack. A host of Wildcats ran halfback Manuel Rios out of bounds for a loss of five yards on the final play of the quarter to set up third and 10 at the Aurora 34.
The Dawgs opened the second quarter with some Boise State-like trickery. Quarterback Sumners pitched to Zack Keckler running the left sweep, and Keckler pulled up and delivered a halfback pass to Jacob Stonecypher. Some good running and a broken tackle later, Stonecypher reached the Cassville six-yard line to complete the 58-yard play.
The Cassville defense dug in with the overflow crowd screaming. Sumners took his team to the line, ready for the go-ahead score.
On first down, Everett Basham tried the center of the line. One yard. On second and goal from the five, Aurora tried play action, but Sumners was leveled in the backfield by Justin Pflug and Chris Smith. Loss of 10. The Dawgs, facing third and goal from the 15 in a four-down situation, ran the sprint draw with Rios. But Trevor Shumaker trapped Rios in his tracks. Loss of four.
Sumners threw incomplete on fourth and goal from the 19, and Cassville took over on downs with 10:05 to play before halftime.
With Aurora demoralized by Cassville's goal-line stand, the Wildcat offense raced down the field and scored in just seven plays. The 81-yard drive was keyed by a 21-yard pass from Nichols to Lewright and a 23-yard burst by Kyle Brattin to set up first and goal.
"Cassville football at the Aurora 7, the Wildcats are looking to extend their lead. Nichols sets them in the I, he turns and hands off. Brattin follows the trap block into the endzone, TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
Coach David Large kept his offense on the field for the conversion, and Nichols sprinted into the endzone off left tackle for the successful two-point try.
Trailing 14-0 with 7:09 remaining before halftime, the Houn' Dawgs faced their most important possession of the young season. Cassville's experienced defense was just as aware of what was at stake on this drive.
Kurt Hadlow returned Barnes' kickoff only to the 15-yard line, and Aurora began another drive deep in its own territory. Two running plays set up a third and 11 situation.
Sumners dropped back and delivered a strike to Stonecypher for 15 yards and a first down out at the Aurora 29. Meanwhile, Sumners was down on the grass after taking a late hit from a Cassville blitzer. The penalty advanced the line of scrimmage out to the Aurora 44.
But Sumners, the field general of the Houn's, was forced to the sideline. Michael Parbury directed the offense for one down and then Sumners trotted back out to the huddle.
On second and nine from the 45, Sumners dropped back to throw. Linenbrink read the quarterback's eyes, jumped the route and intercepted the pass. He returned the ball to the Aurora 42-yard line with 4:46 left in the first half.
Sumners had thrown 28 passes on the season without an interception to that point, but Linenbrink ended that streak.
Nichols led the Cassville offensive unit to the line, and the Wildcats immediately went for the jugular.
"Cassville football, first and 10 at the Aurora 42 following the turnover. The Wildcats line up in the power I, Nichols tosses to Brattin running right. The Aurora defense strings the play out to the sideline, Brattin throws long for Lewright. He catches it at the 10 and walks in, TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
What goes around, comes around. Aurora's halfback pass was a surprise, but Cassville's was a shocker. Large went deep into the playbook throughout the game but putting Brattin into a passing role had to be way back in the glossary pages. Lewright's catch-and stroll created a 20-0 lead with 4:38 left in the half.
Another PAT miss kept the score at 20-0, but Barnes boomed his third touchback of the night to make Aurora start at their 20-yard line again.
Sumners willed his team down the field, reaching the Cassville 37-yard line with less than three minutes left in the half. On second and eight, he threw long down the sideline, but Lewright came over from his safety position to make the saving interception inside the Cassville 10-yard line.
Cassville didn't just win the field position battle in the first half, they owned it. Aurora had six possessions in the opening half with starting field position at their own 20,12, 20, 15, 20 and 40-yard lines. The drive that started at their 40 came after Cassville punted while trying to run out the clock before half, and the Dawgs ran one play before the clock expired.
Trailing 20-0 at halftime, Aurora faced an uphill climb. Cassville is famous for driving the field on its first possession of the third quarter, and this game was no exception.
The Houn's kicked off, and Lewright returned the ball all the way to the Aurora 48, as Cassville borrowed a page from Prairie Grove's special teams playbook. Brattin ran for 10 yards and then 13 on consecutive carries to reach the Aurora 25-yard line. Zach Vititoe crashed the interior for five more yards to the 20.
On second and five, Nichols handed to Lewright out of the wishbone, and he rumbled off left tackle for 12 yards as he crossed the 10.
"The Wildcats have the football, first and goal at the Aurora 8. I-formation, Nichols tosses left to Brattin, he sprints to the pylon, TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
Stone Phelps popped the PAT through the uprights, and Cassville held a commanding 27-0 lead with 10:06 left in the third quarter.
The Dawgs would not gain a first down on their first possession of the second half, and Cassville set up shop on the Aurora 45 after Tanner returned Coatney's punt 11 yards.
In what would be the last appearance of the night for the Cassville starters, Nichols led his team to another score in eight plays. Vititoe bulled in from the one-yard line for the final Wildcat touchdown of the night with 6:20 showing on the third quarter clock.
Phelps added another PAT as the lead grew to 34-0.
Aurora finally scored midway through the fourth quarter. Kurt Hadlow's nine-yard TD run capped a nine-play, 65-yard drive against the Cassville second-team defense.
Cole Beagle quarterbacked the Cassville offense on a long drive that ended the game, and the Wildcats improved to 4-0 on the season and 1-0 in the Big 8 Conference race.
"This was an all-around great game," David Large told his players in the Cassville post-game huddle. "This was another step forward, it's still about getting better."
Cassville's offensive line, the target of Coach Large's concern just a week earlier, earned the coach's praise for a complete-game performance.
"We've got a great group of kids," Large emphasized. "We keep telling them it's about improving week to week, game to game, half to half, quarter to quarter and play to play. Now we've got to get ready for a very good Mt. Vernon team."
Linenbrink, who got that interception from his linebacker position, complimented Aurora for their play.
"They were very physical, and we expected that," he said. "The Big 8 is the most physical conference there is."
Cassville will host Mt. Vernon on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Coach Joy Mayberry's Mountaineers are 1-3 on the season after losing to Seneca, 27-12, on Friday night.
Big 8 scores
In other games involving Big 8 Conference teams on Friday night, Lamar defeated Monett, 27-21, Seneca downed Mt. Vernon, 27-12, and Carl Junction needed a field goal to beat East Newton, 22-20.
Of compelling interest to Wildcat fans was the shocking upset of Logan-Rogersville. The second-ranked team in Class 3, the maroon Wildcats were upended by Springfield Catholic, 20-13.