Wildcats overcome Seneca upset bid

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Full steam ahead Chuck Nickle Photography Chris Dunker takes the hand off from Wildcats' quarterback Gabe Kirk during Friday night's come-from-behind victory over Seneca.

With Cassville trailing 14-12 on the road late in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats committed the game's first turnover at the Seneca 40-yard line, and the Indians were just a couple of first downs away from recording a shocking upset.

But on the very next play, Chris Dunker stripped Seneca tailback Braxton Graham as he crossed the line of scrimmage, and Cassville's defense covered the loose ball near midfield.

"Less than five minutes to play at Seneca, Cassville football second down and eight at the Indians' 45-yard line. Gabe Kirk takes the snap, drops back, he throws long to Logan Scott down the left sideline! TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"

In a classic David Large roll of the dice, the Wildcats surprised the Indians with the home run ball to Scott, the tight end. Scott beat Seneca's Jalen Skaggs on the deep out and cradled Kirk's pass at the 16-yard line before turning up the left sideline to the end zone.

Cassville held Seneca on downs on the ensuing possession and the Wildcats ran the final two minutes off the clock to claim the 18-14 comeback victory.

The heavily-favored Wildcats were fortunate to win this game. Led by a formidable line anchored by Montana Cooper, and a potent backfield with quarterback Payton Rawlins and running back Braxton Graham, Seneca fought off the elements and the Wildcats for over 43 minutes before the Kirk-to-Scott heroics rescued Cassville in the closing minutes.

Closing speed Chuck Nickle Photography Quarterback Peyton Rawlins tries to escape the clutches of Cassville lineman Josh Carlton during Friday night's gridiron action.

The center of Tom Hodge Field looked more suited to host a tractor-pull than a football game.

The day-long rain stopped about half an hour before kickoff, but the field was a muddy mess before the game ever started. With both teams focused on straight dive plays in the early going.

The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and stormed to the Seneca 4-yard line before the Indians stopped Stone Phelps on a fourth-down carry.

"Might have got a little greedy there," said Cassville's David Large after the game. "We left some points on the board when we probably should have kicked the field goal."

Still, the poor field position led to a Seneca punt and the Wildcats took over at midfield. Chris Dunker's 22-yard touchdown run capped a 51-yard, eight-play drive as Cassville took an early 6-0 lead. The PAT failed when the snap went awry, but the 'Cats were on the board with 2:59 to play in the opening quarter.

Cassville opened the second period of play with a 66-yard drive through the mud for a second score. Hayden Prater dashed 20 yards with a screen pass, on third and 15, to keep the drive alive at the Seneca 35-yard line. Dunker capped the drive when he crashed into the end zone from a yard out to give the Wildcats a 12-0 lead. The two-point conversion attempt failed.

Words of wisdom Chuck Nickle Photography David Large, Cassville's head football coach, talks to his Wildcats squad at the conclusion of another victory Friday night. Large improved to 48-2 in conference games since the 2005-06 season.

Seneca's offense came alive after Dunker's score. The Indians drove from their own 21-yard line deep into Cassville territory. But the 15-play drive fizzled at Cassville's 11-yard line when Garrett Kirk tipped away a Rawlins' fourth-down pass.

Part of the Cassville mystique lies in the ability of the Wildcats to storm out of the dressing room and take control of a ball game in the third quarter. But after spotting the visitors a 12-0 lead, it was the Indians who seized momentum after halftime.

Braxton Graham broke for gains of 11 and 25 yards on the first two offensive plays of the third quarter, and the Indians scored on an 8-yard pass from Rawlins to Chance Smith with just over 10 minutes left in the period. The PAT failed but Seneca had cut Cassville's lead in half with the seven-play, 68-yard scoring drive.

Seneca's defense rose up and stifled the Wildcats for the remainder of the quarter. A Phelps punt flipped field position in favor of Cassville. The Indians went three-and-out inside their own 10-yard line, and Rawlins' punt died at the Seneca 41-yard line.

Cassville moved to the Seneca red zone as the final quarter began, but Devin Madison stopped Prater on a fourth-and-four carry.

Rawlins directed the Indians from their own 18-yard line to midfield in seven plays, on the eighth play Graham ripped through the Cassville defense for a 51-yard touchdown romp. Rawlins flicked a quick pass to Graham for the two-point conversion, and Seneca took a 14-12 lead with 6:04 left in the game.

A big haul Chuck Nickle Photography Cassville's Logan Scott caught what proved to be the winning touchdown pass during the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 18-14 victory over Seneca. The Wildcats host Carl Junction Friday night.

Brent Thompson gave Cassville great field position, running the ensuing kickoff out to the 45-yard line. On third-and-five, Kirk found Phelps with a pass for the first down, but he fumbled to set up the game-ending drama.

"That was a tough game all night," said Large. "Our kids might have taken them a little for granted."

The comeback victory overshadowed a 25-carry, 182-yard rushing performance by Seneca's Graham.

Cassville's sophomore quarterback Kirk completed nine of his 13 passes for 130 yards, including the game-winning touchdown strike to Scott.

Dunker ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and finished with 15 carries for 99 yards. His three-yard run on fourth down at the Seneca 33-yard line with 1:37 left in the game moved the chains for the Wildcats and allowed Kirk to take a knee and run out the clock.

Big 8 results

Friday night's results left Cassville and Carl Junction as the only Big 8 teams with unblemished conference records. CJ handed Aurora its first loss of the season on Friday night, 45-22. Likewise, Lamar ended Mt. Vernon's winning streak with a 28-6 win. Monett kept East Newton winless with a 42-14 victory.

This Friday night in the Big 8, Lamar (2-2, 1-2) hosts undefeated Butler (4-0) and Seneca (1-3, 1-2) hosts McDonald County (0-4) in a pair of non-conference games. Monett (3-1, 1-1) travels to Aurora (3-1, 2-1), and East Newton (0-4, 0-3) plays at Mt. Vernon (3-1, 1-1)

Cassville (4-0, 2-0) hosts Carl Junction (2-2, 2-0) for Homecoming in a critical Big 8 contest. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Class 3 - District 4

3Mt. Vernon42.06
5Reeds Spring39.02
8East Newton16.33
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