Wildcats' win over Lamar silences critics
The Cassville Wildcats continued their regular season win streak on Friday night, pounding the visiting Lamar Tigers, 49-21. Senior Ricky Nichols ran for three scores and threw for another to lead the 'Cats past Lamar and into the lead in the Big 8 Conference rankings.
But it wasn't easy. Cassville fans have grown accustomed to winning over the years, but the atmosphere preceding this game had the feel of the 2009 playoff game at Rogersville and the semifinal matchup against Richmond last season. This was touted as the kind of game that could turn on a single play.
When Lamar drove 80 yards and scored following the opening kickoff, the Cassville bench and the crowd grew quiet. It usually takes a playoff game or a border war with Monett to produce such a crowd at Cassville, and the mass of humanity testified to the importance of this game. The hush that fell on the throng after Markell White's five-yard touchdown run seemed to capture the soul of the stadium.
Kyle Brattin single handedly rejuvenated the Wildcat Nation, racing 60 yards straight through the heart of the Lamar defense for the tying touchdown. When Garrett Barnes nailed his PAT to give the Wildcats an early 7-6 lead, the crowd surged back to life.
Then Cassville's defense stymied the Tigers, with Kayman Walker intercepting a Levi Petersen pass. Six plays later, Nichols scored on a quarterback sneak from the Lamar one-yard line, and the Barnes PAT gave Cassville a 14-6 lead.
The first quarter ended with Lamar on the third play of a drive that began at the Tigers' 10-yard line. That drive became a 17-play nightmare for the Cassville defense, as White and Jared Beshore played a shell game in the Lamar backfield on nearly every play. The dizzying succession of double reverses allowed the Lamar backs to find running lanes through and around the Wildcats, and Lamar tied the game with a Beshore touchdown and a White run for a 2-point conversion.
With the second quarter clock slipping away, Nichols led his offense out to begin a drive at its own 16-yard line. On first down, Chris Dunker exploded through the line for a 52-yard gain to the Lamar 32-yard line. Nichols followed with a spin off left tackle for 14 more yards. On second and three at the 11-yard line, Trey Rose ran a crisp slant pattern from his wide position on the right sideline and scored with a perfect strike from Nichols.
Barnes added his third PAT, and the Wildcats held a 21-14 lead at halftime.
The Cassville offensive line owned Lamar on that last drive, and David Large's team took to the field with renewed optimism. Rose returned the third-quarter kickoff out to the Cassville 40-yard line to set the stage for a half that would end one team's hopes for an undefeated season.
"Cassville football, second down and nine at the 41-yard line as we begin the third quarter. Nichols has Brattin and Dunker behind him with Rose split out wide . . . Nichols hands off to Dunker right up the middle . . . he breaks into the secondary . . . they won't catch him . . . touchdown Cassville!"
Dunker continued his monster night, finding open daylight at the second level with the defensive backs keying on Nichols and Brattin. Barnes banged another PAT between the sticks to give Cassville a 28-14 lead with 11:16 remaining in the quarter.
The fired-up Wildcats held the Tigers to a rare three-and-out deep in their own territory, and Cassville started a drive at the Lamar 39-yard line following a Dalton Bailey punt. Nichols then punched across the goal line from the one-yard line on a quarterback sneak. The Wildcats owned a 35-14 lead at the 6:24 mark of the third quarter.
The lead reached 42-14 late in the third quarter when Nichols found Brattin open for a 32-yard pass to set up first and goal and then fed Brattin out of the wishbone for the scoring run.
Markell White sprinted and pounded his way on Lamar's next possession and led the Tigers into the Cassville red zone. But on fourth and inches at the Cassville three-yard line, Petersen fumbled and the Cassville defenders gang-tackled him for a three-yard loss as the quarter expired.
On a drive that started deep in Wildcat territory, Brattin carried on six consecutive plays to move the ball to the Lamar 23-yard line.
"Cassville football, third down and six to go at the Lamar 23-yard line. Nichols keeps left, cuts to the sidelines . . . he does a double spin to stay inbounds . . . spins again out of a tackle and he stumbles into the endzone. Touchdown Cassville!"
Barnes pounded his seventh PAT of the game, and Cassville opened a 49-14 lead over Lamar. Tweets spread across the state as the mercy clock ran on the stunned Tigers.
Lamar scored on the following possession, as Petersen escaped down the sideline for a 46-yard scoring run. But that would be the final score of the game as the Wildcats left the field with the 49-21 victory.
This game was a thrilling novel with many subplots. After the close game against Aurora, many predicted that the bigger Tigers would control the line of scrimmage against the Wildcats. Instead, the Cassville offensive line had its coming out party, opening huge running lanes as Brattin, Dunker and Nichols all reached the century mark in rushing.
Playing without All-Conference punter Stone Phelps, the Wildcats chewed up the clock with an efficient ground game and won the field position battle.
Place kicker Barnes bled the life out of the Lamar special teams with his booming kickoffs. All four of his first half kickoffs reached the end zone for touchbacks, and he added another in the second half.
Lamar posted some impressive offensive statistics -- White alone rushed for 199 yards -- but the Wildcats stiffened in the red zone to keep those yards from translating into points.
The Wildcats extended their regular season winning streak to 25 games. Cassville has not lost in regular season play since losing to Branson in the first week of the 2009 season and hasn't lost a Big 8 Conference game since the 13-7 loss to Monett in Week 8 of the 2008 campaign.
"Just a great game," David Large told his Wildcats after the game. "You executed everything perfectly in the third quarter, and you showed that you are a physical football team."
Cassville improved to 6-0 with the victory. Lamar, losing for the first time this year, slipped to 5-1. The Tigers won't fall much in the Class 2 rankings, and the loss to a state-ranked Class 3 opponent means nothing in their quest for a Class 2 state championship.
The Wildcats return to action next Friday at Carl Junction against a Bulldog team that is 2-4 after losing to Seneca by a 27-7 score on Friday night.