The Wildcats (5-0, 4-0) took a 21-3 lead into halftime and appeared on their way to an easy victory. But Carl Junction's junior quarterback Dustin Satterlee got a hot hand in the second half, and the Wildcats had to battle to hold on for the 34-24 victory.
Cassville entered the contest without the services of starting quarterback Gabe Kirk, who suffered a whiplash injury in the win at Seneca. Ty Craig stepped in and played admirably in Kirk's stead.
Carl Junction opened the season with losses to perennial powers Webb City and Carthage, before downing East Newton and Aurora in Big 8 play. The Bulldogs entered Wildcat Stadium on Friday night as the only undefeated team in the conference besides Cassville.
Neither team could earn a first down in the early going, although the Bulldogs started a drive at the Cassville 39-yard line after recovering a fumble. That golden opportunity was wasted when the Cassville defense forced Nick Thompson out of bounds just inches short of a first down on a fourth and one at the 30-yard stripe.
The Wildcat offense then marched 71 yards in eight plays with Chris Dunker exploding up the middle for 25 yards and the score. Stone Phelps rescued the possession just two plays earlier when he raced for a first down at the Bulldogs' 38-yard line on a fake punt.
Bradley Lueckenhoff converted the PAT to give Cassville a 7-0 lead with 4:03 left in the first quarter.
With their running game not having much luck, the Bulldogs took to the air. Satterlee completed five of seven passes on the drive to lead his team inside the Cassville 10-yard line. But Cody Frana sacked Satterlee at the 15-yard line to stall the drive. The Bulldogs settled for a 23-yard field goal by Reece Tholen on the first play of the second quarter, and Cassville's lead was cut to 7-3.
There was no trickery on this trip to the end zone, but a pair of fortuitous bounces kept the drive alive.
Craig dumped the ball to Garrett Kirk for a 32-yard center screen to move the Wildcats to the Bulldogs' 32-yard line. On third down, there was a fumble but a Bulldog player slapped it out of bounds without gaining possession to give Cassville a first down at the 20-yard line.
Two plays later, a mixup in the backfield saw the ball bouncing free again. Hayden Prater scooped it up in full stride, and a Carl Junction defenseman yanked him down by the face mask. The resulting penalty gave the Wildcats the ball at the CJ 11-yard line.
Prater scored from six yards out to finish the drive. Lueckenhoff's PAT created the 14-3 score with 6:42 left in the half.
The Carl Junction offense started at the 20-yard line after Phelps authored a touchback.
The series was short-lived though, as the Wildcats snuffed out a bubble screen to speedster Matt Magee on third down. Aaron Moore punted the ball back to Cassville with 4:17 showing on the clock.
Craig directed the Wildcats from their 31-yard line to the CJ red zone in six plays. With time running down, Cassville's David Large called a time out to set up a third-down play at the CJ 19-yard line.
Large didn't invent the Statue of Liberty play, but he has an uncanny sense of when to use it. With Thompson dotting the I-formation behind Craig, the Bulldogs crowded the line of scrimmage in anticipation of a run on third-and-three. When Craig dropped back to pass, the defenders scrambled back in coverage.
Thompson circled behind Craig for the blind handoff, turned on the jets to the sideline and raced untouched into the south end zone for the score. Lueckenhoff converted again, and Cassville led 21-3 with 1:38 left on the clock.
CJ failed to move the chains and punted. Cassville ran out the clock with two snaps to send the teams to the dressing rooms.
A scoreless third quarter lulled the Cassville crowd into a false sense of security. Satterlee came out throwing in the final stanza, and the Wildcats were powerless to stop the aerial onslaught.
Connor Rohmiller snagged a touchdown pass to finish off a nine-play, 65-yard drive for Carl Junction at the 9:59 mark. Tholen's PAT cut the lead to 21-10.
Cassville answered a couple of possessions later, going 64 yards in five plays. It was a costly drive however, with Dunker sustaining a knee injury on a 15-yard breakaway run to the CJ 19-yard line.
Three plays later, Thompson pulled up on the power sweep and delivered a perfect halfback pass to Phelps for an apparent touchdown. But the score was erased by a motion penalty, and the Wildcats faced another third-and-long situation.
"Cassville football, third down and 16 at the CJ 25-yard line. Craig hands to Garrett Kirk running right on the reverse, he throws long into the corner of the end zone for Phelps! TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"
The back-to-back trick plays gave the Wildcats another 18-point cushion, as Lueckenhoff delivered for the 28-10 lead.
But Satterlee wasn't done yet. Although Cassville held the Bulldogs to a punt, the Wildcats fumbled the ball right back to Carl Junction. Satterlee, the CJ rifleman, whiffed on first down but then connected on three straight throws to earn another touchdown against the vaunted Cassville defense. Tholen toed the PAT to create a 28-17 score with 3:14 left in the game.
The expected onside kick failed, and Cassville recovered at the 43-yard line.
The Wildcats kept the ball on the ground to burn the clock. Thompson cracked the line for 11 yards, then Prater carried twice for gains of 6 and 5. On first down at the CJ 35-yard line, Thompson broke loose into the secondary and outran the Bulldog secondary to the end zone. The Bulldogs blocked Lueckenhoff's PAT, but the score stood at 34-17 with 1:48 to play.
Satterlee led his team down the field one more time, finishing a 10-play, 66-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown strike to the tight end Thomas with just 15 seconds remaining on the clock. Tholen accounted for the final point of the 34-24 game, and the Wildcats owned a hard-fought victory.
Satterlee finished the night with 28 completions on 47 attempts for 289 yards and three touchdowns, all without throwing an interception.
The Carl Junction ground game was all but nonexistent, gaining only 33 yards on 23 carries as a team against the stingy Cassville running defense. Still, the Bulldogs put up 322 yards of total offense against the Wildcats.
Cassville gained 266 yards total on the ground and 50 more in the air for a total of 316 yards.
That would seem to vindicate Lou Piniella's classic observation that "Statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot but not everything."
Cassville's Craig was steady in his varsity quarterback debut. He completed three of eight passes for 25 yards, with no interceptions. Garrett Kirk equaled Craig's yardage in one toss, with the touchdown heave off the reverse.
Thompson led the Wildcats in rushing, gaining 99 yards on 13 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Dunker gained 65 yards on 10 carries and scored, and Prater gained 60 yards on 13 carries and scored.
The 38 points that Cassville surrendered to Seneca and Carl Junction combined were the most a Wildcat defense has surrendered in consecutive regular season games since allowing 39 points to Monett and Seneca to finish the 2006 season.
Cassville remained undefeated (5-0, 3-0) with the 34-24 win over Carl Junction (2-3, 2-1).
The Monett Cubs (4-1, 2-1) surprised a lot of fans with their 21-0 shutout of Aurora (3-2, 2-2).
Lamar (3-2, 1-2) handed Butler its first loss of the season, 63-12.
Mt. Vernon (4-1, 2-1) cruised past East Newton, 54-14 (0-5, 0-4).
Seneca (2-3, 1-2) defeated McDonald County, 41-14.
This Friday's Big 8 schedule has Cassville at Monett, Lamar at Carl Junction, Mt. Vernon at Seneca and Aurora hosting a Logan-Rogersville team that has only beaten Marshfield while accumulating a 1-4 record, and winless East Newton at winless McDonald County.