Wildcats finding their stride late in season
Offense, defense getting unexpected, welcomed contributions
In wins over Mt. Vernon and East Newton in the past two weeks, Cassville's football team has needed a little pep talk at halftime.
Only up 7-0 at the break on Friday in East Newton, Head Coach Lance Parnell said he told his team that mental focus is key if the Wildcats wanted two hold on to the win.
The speech worked, as Cassville reeled off a 27-point third quarter en route to a 47-0 win over the Patriots.
"[At halftime], I talked about mental focus because I didn't feel we were focused offensively and ready to play," Parnell said. "The big thing is the approach we take mentally, and it's a sign of a maturing football team to be able to execute the way we did in the second half."
In the third quarter, junior running back Leigh Cox scored on 60-yard and 21-yard rushes, senior quarterback Gabe Kirk scored from 50 yards out, and sophomore River Phelps posted the longest rushing score of the night, finding paydirt from 64 yards out.
"In the second half, we executed very well," Kirk said. "We stepped up and I don't think anyone missed a block, and we played a heck of a game."
Part of Cassville's offensive powers came from some different formations and direct snaps to Cox and Phelps, and Kirk said the different calls have been in the Wildcats' back pocket for some time.
"Coach has had those plays in the playbook for a while, and we were just waiting for the right time to break them out," Kirk said. "It was a messy ballgame, so we said, 'Let's go right at them and do all we can.'"
The Wildcats also worked the option play Friday, which is what allowed Kirk to break the 50-yard scoring rush. Sweeping left after the snap, Kirk faked the toss and spun up the middle to get into the open field.
"I saw they weren't respecting me enough and were playing on my shoulder, so I gave the ball fake and cut back and found the open field," Kirk said.
Another big positive for the Wildcats was the performances of Kirk, Cox and Phelps on the ground, especially since Cox and Phelps have been thrust into running back positions due to injuries.
"Those guys have been a nice find late in the season," Parnell said. "Leigh and River did not start the season at running back, and they've done a great job stepping up when we've asked them to."
Also stepping up Friday was the defense, which never let the Patriots cross midfield until the second half of the game. The shutout effort resembles the defense's play in the Wildcats' season opener against Aurora, sealing the gaps and tackling with authority, especially senior Dalton Jett, who returned to the field after overcoming an injury.
"The defense was very effective," Parnell said. "We had a pretty good week of practice and it was good to get Jett back because we need that leadership.
"Our linebackers also played a lot better, especially guys like Gilbert Medina, Dylan Klewer and Zane Everett."