Wildcats top Tigers with opportunistic scores

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Cassville Wildcats used big plays in every phase of the game to dismantle the Hollister Tigers, 47-6 on Thursday, Oct. 31 at Wildcat Field in Cassville.

A blocked punt, a fumble return and a kickoff return all resulted in shocking scores. By the time Chase Jackson tore through the Hollister defense for a 73-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Halloween crowd was comfortably numb from the scoring barrage.

But this first-round game in the Class 3, District 4 playoffs was anything but comfortable for the Wildcats in the early going.

Led by the live right arm of quarterback Cody Ballard, Hollister stormed down the field with the game's first possession. Beginning at their own 5-yard line after mishandling the opening kickoff, the Tigers drove to the Cassville 22-yard line in just five plays.

On the sixth play of the drive, Ballard scrambled out of the pocket and raced into the end zone. But a piece of yellow laundry and its accompanying penalty for offensive holding negated the score.

The Cassville defense regrouped after the reprieve and sacked Ballard twice in the next four plays as Hollister turned the ball over on downs.

The Cassville offense responded with a seven-play, 59-yard drive for the game's first score. Brent Thompson burst off left tackle and found the end zone from 22 yards out, and the Wildcats claimed a 6-0 lead at the 6:26 mark, despite a missed extra point.

The Tigers started deep in their own territory following Bradley Lueckenhoff's kickoff.

A penalty, a sack of Ballard by Dalton Jett and an incompletion set up a fourth and 22 at the Hollister 10-yard line.

Cody Canote, the Hollister punter, was engulfed by the Cassville rush in the end zone. Ty Craig recovered the blocked kick in the muddy shadow of the north end zone goal posts, and the Wildcats claimed a 13-0 lead with 5:12 left in the quarter.

Ballard suffered another sack as Hollister went three and out on the next possession and Canote punted away to the Cassville 37-yard line.

With the wet field deteriorating, the Wildcats drove the field with an unimaginative repetition of runs between the tackles. After Hayden Prater tested the line three times from the I-formation to start the drive, the Cassville offense switched to the wishbone to add another interior blocker.

Six plays later, Prater finished the 63-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge to give the 'Cats a 19-0 lead as the opening quarter ended.

Triston Shofner ran Lueckenhoff's short kickoff out to the Hollister 48-yard line to give the Tigers excellent field position.

The Tigers' ensuing drive was a "mean, ugly, nasty thing," to borrow a phrase from Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant." But despite three penalties and a sack, the Hollister offense drove the 52 yards in 12 plays, and scored when Ballard whistled a 6-yard slant to Alex Bach.

The Tigers' try for two points failed when Ballard slipped down in the mud, but the lead was down to 19-6 with 6:47 left in the half.

The following drive illustrated the difference in the two programs. Hollister, in only its fourth year of varsity competition, is still learning not only x's and o's, but also how to embrace the culture of winning.

The battle-tested Wildcats, a longtime Big 8 contender and not that far removed from back-to-back state titles, know how to respond in those most crucial moments in the game.

So when Prater's 19-yard scoring run on fourth and inches was wiped away by a controversial flag, the Cassville players never flinched. Thompson sprinted to the Hollister 12-yard line to move the chains on the next snap, and then Prater finished the eight-play drive with a 3-yard explosion through the line.

Thompson hurdled for a successful extra-value conversion, and Cassville carried a 27-6 lead into halftime.

Hollister's hopes of a grand comeback on the road at Cassville slid from slim to none when Craig gathered the second-half kickoff inside the Cassville 10-yard stripe and raced 91 yards down the Wildcat sideline for the score. Lueckenhoff delivered the PAT for a 33-6 lead only 14 seconds into the third quarter.

A kickoff return and a 2-yard plunge by Chandler Shook later, the Tigers faced second and long at their own 39-yard line. As Ballard barked signals from the shotgun, the deep snap sailed over his head. The Hollister quarterback then slipped down in the mud and could only watch as Thompson scooped up the ball and raced 20 yards for the gift touchdown.

With the score at 41-6, the mercy clock kicked in with 10:53 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats had scored twice in just 67 seconds following halftime.

Ballard continued to throw, confounding the Cassville secondary at times with his strength and accuracy. The Tigers pushed to a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs.

Thompson burst through the line on first down for a 25-yard gain and some breathing room as the quarter ended.

"The Wildcats have a first down at their own 27-yard line as the fourth quarter starts. Gabe Kirk hands to Chase Jackson up the middle, he breaks into the second level and cuts left against the grain. He's got one man to beat down the sideline, he turns the corner and he is gone! TOUCHDOWN CASSVILLE!"

Jackson's long sprint to the end zone became the final entry in the scoring column for either team. The Cassville side of the scoring-yardage T-chart included:

* Brent Thompson leading the Cassville attack with 121 yards on just 13 carries. He scored twice, once on the 22-yard run and the second on the bizarre fumble return.

* Hayden Prater scoring twice on short runs.

* Ty Craig adding two special teams scores: the blocked punt recovery in the end zone and the kickoff return to open the second half.

* Gabe Kirk's efficient passing, completing two of his three throws for a total of 15 yards.

But the Cassville defense and special teams set the tone for this game.

The Wildcats surrendered chunks of yardage to Hollister's sophisticated passing attack, but bowed up for big stops when it counted. By game's end, Cody Ballard had the dirtiest jersey on the field, a memorial to the seven sacks inflicted by the swarming Cassville line and backers.

The Black and Gold defense held Hollister to less than 5 yards rushing, and scored on a fumble return. The two scores by the special teams robbed the Tigers of momentum in critical points of the game.

The Wildcats improved to 6-4 with the win, pushing the current win streak to five. Hollister finished the season with a 2-8 mark.

Class 3, District 4 recap

Cassville's win over Hollister earned the Wildcats a rematch with Seneca. The Indians defeated Mt. Vernon in first-round playoff action, 40-7. Cassville must travel to Seneca for the game at Earl D. Campbell Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

Top seed Reeds Spring survived a scare from one-win East Newton to advance to the next round of playoffs. Despite trailing early, the Wolves came on to defeat the Patriots, 35-6. Reeds Spring will host Aurora on Wednesday night, thanks to a 29-21 Houn' Dawgs victory over Monett.

Editor's note: The Seneca-Cassville semi-final game has been moved from Seneca to Fred Hughes Stadium on the campus of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

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