Seneca capitalizes for win over Wildcats

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Cassville Wildcats lost a home Big 8 Conference game to the Seneca Indians on Friday, September 20, by a 26-7 score.

Seneca's tough senior tailback, Braxton Graham, rushed for over 200 yards and scored three touchdowns. Payton Rawlins, the senior quarterback for the Indians, shrugged off a first-quarter injury and riddled the Cassville secondary. Dalan Merriman, Rawlins' favorite receiver, caught seven balls for 107 yards and a touchdown.

But it was the Cassville stat sheet that told the story of the game. The injury bug continued to bite the Wildcats. Lance Parnell saw both of his top quarterbacks go down in this game. Gabe Kirk finally left the contest after taking numerous hard hits, and Ty Craig reinjured the same ankle that kept him off the field against McDonald County and Lamar. Senior lineman Hersayn Fierro was also knocked out of the game.

Turnovers and penalties gave Seneca the opportunity to seize the momentum in the contest, and the Indians welcomed the gifts.

After forcing a Seneca punt on the game's opening possession, the Wildcats drove the field.

Kirk exploded off left tackle for a 51-yard gain on Cassville's first snap from scrimmage. But on first-and-goal at the Seneca 1-yard line, Hayden Prater fumbled and the Indians recovered.

Jordan Fisher would intercept Rawlins later in the quarter to give Cassville the ball at the Seneca 32-yard line.

On third-and-13, Kirk stretched the field with a long rainbow down the left sideline for Prater on the wheel route. Prater hauled in the throw in full stride and outran the safety to the pylon for the first score of the game. Bradley Lueckenhoff's PAT gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 3:03 on the clock.

Seneca's second possession was noteworthy only for the punishment that wide receiver Chance Smith took from the Cassville defensive backs.

Smith took a short toss from Rawlins in the flat and Fisher unloaded with a highlight reel decleater of a hit. Two plays later, Smith was laid out again on an incompletion, and the Wildcat fans sensed a turning point.

The game turned in the second quarter, but not in Cassville's favor.

Seneca's defense held Cassville to a three-and-out as the quarter ended.

Then Rawlins led the Indians on a seven-play, 58-yard scoring drive. On third-and-8 at the Cassville 34-yard line, Craig jumped the route and nearly had an interception with nothing but green grass between him and the goal line.

Seneca rolled the dice on fourth-and-long. Rawlins connected with Merriman for a 29-yard gain to set up first-and-goal. Graham scored from five yards out on the next play, and Rawlins added the PAT to tie the score at 7-7.

The Wildcats stormed back. Kirk broke loose on a quarterback draw for a 52-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. But that score was wiped out by a holding call, an infraction that occurred on the Seneca sideline, almost 50 yards from the ball.

The teams traded punts as the second quarter ticked away, and the Wildcats took over at their own 20-yard stripe with 2:52 left before half.

Kirk hustled his team into the hurry-up offense, but the strategy backfired when the Cassville offense failed to move the chains. Lueckenhoff's punt died at the Seneca 42-yard line with 1:56 remaining on the clock.

Rawlins directed the Seneca offense on a textbook clock-management drive to finish the half. The Seneca quarterback completed all five of his passes on the drive, as the Indians raced 58 yards in nine plays. Rawlins fired a laser to Merriman for a 13-yard touchdown with just 20 seconds on the clock, and Seneca claimed a 14-7 lead.

Cassville got close enough for a long field goal attempt on the final play of the half. Lueckenhoff's kick was true but fell just short of the crossbar and Seneca still led by seven at halftime.

The Indians dressed fewer than 40 players for the game, and the Wildcat fans expected the fatigue factor to favor their team in the second half. Instead, Seneca controlled the pace of the game, and Graham's tireless running performance allowed the Indians to play keep-away in the closing quarters.

The Wildcats took the second half kickoff, gaining one first down on a penalty, but moving the chains no further. Lueckenhoff punted out of bounds at the Seneca 19-yard line.

Rawlins and company then marched 81 yards on a 12-play, time-consuming drive. Graham's cutback on a 7-yard scoring run gave the Indians a 20-7 lead. The Seneca tailback had seven carries on the drive, a clock-killing possession that was just nine seconds shy of five minutes in duration.

Kirk rallied the 'Cats down to the Seneca 12-yard line, but then the wheels came off the bus. A mixup in the backfield saw Prater recovering a loose ball for a loss of eight.

Kirk was shaken up as he stood tall against the blitz on third down. Seneca held Brent Thompson to just 4 yards on fourth-and-17, and the Indians took over at their own 15-yard line.

Graham then put the Indians on his back and carried them home in the fourth quarter. He led Seneca on an 85-yard drive, carrying on seven of the eight plays, and finishing with a 30-yard scoring sprint down the sideline. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Indians had a commanding 26-7 lead with just 9:23 left to play.

It was one of those blessed nights for Seneca. Every time the Indians needed a big play or a big stop, they came up with it.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, squandered opportunities with turnovers, penalties and miscues. Lance Parnell's team played hard all the way through and made some stellar plays. But on the most crucial snaps, Seneca was the dominant team.

All week, the question on everyone's mind was "How would the Wildcats respond after the tough loss at Lamar?"

The Cassville team and coaching staff put forth a great effort, and had the opportunity to win the game on Friday.

The 1-3 overall record, and particularly the 0-2 start in the conference, are less than satisfying, but this is a team on the mend and one that will get better when the flood of injuries recedes to low tide.

"Character is not made in a crisis," Parnell told his players after the game. "It is revealed."

The Wildcats go on the road to play a solid Carl Junction team this Friday. The Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Webb City, but have lit up the scoreboard since then in improving to 3-1. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Big 8 Roundup

Lamar 48, Mt. Vernon 7

Monett 34, East Newton 0

Carl Junction 56, Aurora 26

Seneca 26, Cassville 7

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