Wildcats share in emotional win
Seniors shown respect by both teammates and coaches
When the Cassville football team took the field Friday in its final regular-season contest, the Wildcats did not storm through the banner as they had in the four other home games.
Instead, the Wildcats walked tall and held hands in a show of solidarity for their many seniors who were injured during the season and could not suit up.
However, the night turned special, and emotional, for senior running back Chase Jackson and Head Coach Lance Parnell, as Parnell granted Jackson's request to step on the field one last time, allowing him to line up as a receiver in the first play of the second half, when the Wildcats were enjoying a 34-0 lead.
"That meant everything to me," Jackson said after the game and an emotional embrace with Parnell. "I just wanted to get on the field one more time because I had to quit after only three games.
"I just wanted to be out there with my brothers one last time."
Parnell said Jackson's injury was unfortunate, and the gesture was one small thing he could do to make a difference.
"He asked if there was any way he could step on the field one last time, and I said we can do something," Parnell said. "If I can do something to give one of my players a good memory, that's what I want to do."
The entire Wildcats team showed its solidarity with the injured seniors by taking the field of play in a different manner than normal at home games.
Instead of bursting through the banner and running through the tunnel to midfield, the Wildcats held hands and walked sternly to the sidelines, led by seniors Justin Dunivant, Dalton Jett, Cody Olson, Isiah Phinney and Jackson.
"Us holding hands is something we have done for a long time, because football is a team sport, and there's nothing individual about it," he said. "The kids believe that, and they count on the guys next to them. That's our way of saying we are together."
Parnell said the players have bought into the hand-holding wholeheartedly, seeing themselves as brothers on the field.
"When you spend as much time as we do together, you become pretty close-knit and pretty tight," he said.
Leigh Cox, junior running back, said he was proud to walk onto the field with his fellow teammates, and the respect he has for them is immeasurable.
"We have great senior leadership, and a lot of those seniors were not able to partake in the game, so we wanted to do something for them," he said. "We are all brothers, and we all work together."
The entrance set the stage for a Wildcats mauling of the Seneca, 41-8, with the Indians' only score coming with less than a minute to play in the game. Cassville led at the half by a score of 34-0, and it would have invoked the mercy rule for the whole second half a field goal attempt at the midway horn had not flown a few feet to the left of the uprights.
"I feel like we came out really strong, worked hard and moved the ball," Cox said. "Now, I feel like we are stronger than ever and can go win everything. We just have to keep working hard and moving forward."
Parnell said although the Wildcats are not quite where they want to be, they are moving in the right direction late in the season.
"I've told the guys all year, we want to play our best football at the end of the season, and it was good to see us pull together and four quarters of good football [on Friday]," he said.
Parnell said he wanted to give his own thanks to the seniors, and their parents, for the support over their four years and the efforts they have given him, on and off the field.
"They have been a great group and been supportive all the way through," he said. "They've worked their tails off and showed a lot of character to overcome all we've been through this season."
The Wildcats continue their campaign Friday with the season on the line in the district tournament quarterfinals. Cassville will host Mt. Vernon at 7 p.m.