The victory was a costly one though. Fullback Zac Vititoe was dinged in the first half and has already been ruled out for the Carl Junction contest. Justin Pflug, one of Cassville's steadiest linemen, suffered a more serious injury in the second quarter and will likely miss the remainder of the season.
The Tigers entered the contest missing two starting running backs. But with a big and physical offensive line, the Lamar team was fired up for their biggest game of the season. After playing Seneca dead even before suffering costly fourth quarter turnovers, Scott Bailey's club believed they could hang with the Wildcats.
On Thursday night, Cassville's Nichols was cool and calm, insisting his team was totally prepared but also acknowledging that he needed to have a big game against Lamar. On the opening series of Friday's contest, the Tigers got Nichols' attention.
"They came out fired up," said Nichols of the host team.
That's like saying Custer had a little Indian problem.
Lamar won the toss, deferred and then proceeded to hold Cassville to three-and-out on the visitors' first two offensive possessions. For their part, the Tigers earned two first downs on their first possession and had a third wiped out by a holding call.
Quarterback Brett Campbell carried the load for Lamar, keeping time and time again out of the Wildcat formation. That big wall of blockers confounded the Cassville defense, giving Campbell just enough room to squeeze out positive yardage.
Lamar picked up another first down on its second possession and punted away to the Cassville 26-yard line with 1:07 to play in a scoreless first quarter.
Nichols fed Kyle Brattin on first down, but the Lamar line yielded nothing as the clock wound down on the period.
"Cassville football, second and 10 at the 26-yard line. I-formation behind Nichols, option fake to the fullback in the middle, Nichols keeps to his right, cuts wide to the sideline and turns on the jets! He is gone! Seventy-four yards! TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
The Gouvion-like sprint broke the scoreless tie, and even though Lamar blocked Garrett Barnes' PAT attempt, Nichols' score lifted both the Wildcats and their fans.
Lamar's offense is not built to come from behind. Campbell is an exceptional athlete playing quarterback but is not a serious threat as a thrower. The Tigers did not attempt a pass until after Cassville had taken the 6-0 lead.
Campbell's incomplete pass on second and nine from his own 15-yard line came on the opening play of the second quarter. The Tiger quarterback scrambled for no gain on the following play and then Lamar punted out of bounds at the Cassville 40-yard line.
The Wildcats backed up five yards on an illegal procedure call, and Nichols led his team to the line on first and 15. Lamar's linebackers cheated to the outside to shore up the corners after being burned by Nichols on the last Cassville snap. Brattin took the straight handoff from Nichols, broke through the line and raced between the linebackers and safeties for a second Cassville touchdown.
The try for two points failed, but the Wildcats had doubled their lead, 12-0, with 11:03 to play in the half.
Campbell drove the Tigers from their own 22 out near midfield, gaining two first downs against the Wildcat defense. On second and 15 from the Lamar 40, Campbell's second pass of the game was picked by Trevor Shumaker on the Lamar sideline.
After Brattin struggled for a two-yard gain, Cassville's David Large resurrected the double-reverse, halfback pass, and Bo Blisard threw a perfect strike to a wide open Josh Lewright deep in Lamar territory. The deceptively fast Lewright strolled in for a third Cassville score, and Nichols spun into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion to build a 20-0 lead.
The Tigers struggled through a three-and-out possession, but Cassville fumbled the ball back to them in the red zone. On third and seven from their own 18, Lamar returned the favor with Campbell fumbling after a vicious hit by Trenton Tanner.
"Cassville football, second and nine at the Lamar 19-yard line. Nichols drops to pass, he floats a screen to Tanner on the left side, he cuts back across the center of the field, angles to the far corner, TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
Barnes split the uprights with his PAT, and the Wildcats led 28-0 at halftime.
As all stat junkies know, numbers can be deceiving. Lamar picked up five first downs in the first half, compared to only two for Cassville. Both teams fumbled the ball away once, and Cassville intercepted Campbell once.
Rushing totals were similar, with Cassville picking up 139 yards unofficially on 12 carries. Lamar ran for 96 yards on 30 carries.
But the game turned on Cassville's success in the air, and Lamar's inability to throw. Nichols went five for nine in the first half for 46 yards, and Blisard added the 50-yard scoring strike to Lewright.
Only one of Campbell's passes was caught in the first half: the interception by Shumaker.
Lamar made adjustments at halftime to try and solve the Cassville defensive puzzle. Coach Bailey inserted Levi Petersen at quarterback to give Campbell extra blocking and greater vision on his carries. After the teams traded three-and-outs to start the third quarter, Campbell carried 13 times on a 17-play drive as Lamar reached Cassville's 44-yard line. But the Wildcats batted down the desperation pass on fourth down and took over on downs.
Large dialed Lewright's number again, but it was Nichols who texted the perfect pass down the field on the hitch-and-go route, hitting his receiver in stride. Lewright eluded the safety and scored on the 56-yard play. Barnes converted again for the 35-0 lead.
Cole Beagle quarterbacked the second-string offense to a score midway through the fourth quarter. Kreg Myers outran the Lamar defense for a 51-yard touchdown run down the Cassville sideline, and Stone Phelps nailed the conversion for the 42-0 lead.
Levi Peterson scored late for Lamar to cut the score to 42-7, and Cassville's Beagle executed the kneeldown deep in Lamar territory to end the game.
"I don't care about the score," Coach Large told his team after the game. "It's all about taking steps forward."
A number of penalties and blown assignments, plus the injuries to the two starters, tempered the postgame celebration.
"We didn't execute very well tonight," admitted Nichols after the game. "It took a while to get going."
Cassville's quarterback had a lot of praise for teammate Lewright.
"He runs great routes and finds a way to get open," said Nichols. "On the hitch-and-go play, I just rolled out a bit to give him time to break free and then he made a great play with the ball."
The Wildcats will be enjoying two weeks of home cooking, hosting the Carl Junction Bulldogs on Friday night and then welcoming their Highway 37 rival Monett on Oct. 15. Cassville will conclude their regular season with games at East Newton on Friday, Oct. 22 and at Seneca on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Carl Junction limps into Friday night's game with a 1-5 record after being shutout by Seneca, 27-0 on Friday night. The Bulldogs' only win to this point in 2010 was a 22-20 squeaker against the East Newton Patriots on Sept. 17.