Running backs bolster Wildcats
Cox's 4 scores, interception, kickoff return lead Cassville
Just before Mt. Vernon closed out a 75-yard touchdown drive after a long Cassville kickoff return and a fumble, a timeout was called.
That timeout proved to be a pivotal moment in the district quarterfinal game, as Head Coach Lance Parnell told his guys to stay put on the goal line and met them on the field for a stern discussion.
"I told them we were not mentally ready to play, and we have to play with more focus," he said.
Mt. Vernon would score on the next play, but Parnell's words hit home for the Wildcats, as they reeled off 35 unanswered points en route to a 54-20 win.
No players were more visible in the win than two running backs who each play on both sides of the ball.
Junior Leigh Cox provided the early fireworks, returning a kickoff 75 yards for a score, rushing for 3 touchdowns from 8 yards, 9 yards and 7 yards, and picking off a Mt. Vernon pass on a tipped ball in there second quarter.
Cox said he changed up his pregame rituals for the playoffs, hoping to play with more focus in the game.
"I got to the field house a bit earlier and was a lot more serious than I was in the regular season," he said.
Cox said he was frustrated after the game's opening kickoff, as he returned it to inside the Mt. Vernon 25-yard line, but could not break a tackle for a score. That frustration turned into fuel on the kickoff after the Mt. Vernon score, as he went 75 yards to find paydirt.
"I was pretty mad about the first return because I thought I could break that tackle," he said. "The second time, I just went out there with the will to score."
That would made its presence felt again in the second quarter, when a pass was tipped by Andrew Shepherd and Cox readjusted to make the interception.
"When he tipped it, I knew it was in the air somewhere, and I knew I could get to it," Cox said.
Parnell said Cox's performance was a testament to his ability to compete.
"Leigh is a competitor and gives everything he's got on every snap," Parnell said. "He never wants to come off the field, and when we ask him if he needs a breather, he says he's good."
After his strong first half, Cox took a back seat in the second half and sophomore River Phelps took over the show.
Phelps scored rushing touchdowns from 33 yards, 60 yards and 45 yards in the second half.
"Our offense has been getting much better and with [Cox and Phelps], we've stepped it up at running back," Parnell said. "They have been a really good find for us."
Parnell said as good as Cox and Phelps have been of late, he said they can not do it on their own.
"Those two and [quarterback] Gabe
[Kirk] get all the publicity, but it's the five or six guys in front of them that create the holes," he said. "You have to give credit to those guys in the trenches."
Cox finished Friday's contest with 113 yards on 16 carries (7 yards per carry), one interception, 5 tackles and 4 touchdowns, 3 rushing and one on a kickoff return.
Phelps put up 237 yards on 19 carries (12.5 yards per carry) for three touchdowns on Friday.
The Wildcats rematch with Monett this week in the semifinals. The game will be in Monett at 7 p.m. Friday.