Cassville shows grit in season opener

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Cassville's Kyle Ruark fights through a pack of Houn' Dawgs during the Wildcats' 21-20 win over Aurora Friday. Kyle Troutman

Comeback win highlights Wildcats' ability to overcome adversity

The third quarter of the Cassville football team's Friday night game against Aurora went all wrong for the Wildcats, but overcoming adversity is part of the Cassville philosophy.

After giving up a score but still taking a 13-7 lead into halftime, the Houn' Dawgs dug in after the break, scoring back-to-back touchdowns on back-to-back Wildcats turnovers, a fumble and an interception.

Cassville senior quarterback Leigh Cox connects a pass to River Phelps (23) during the Wildcats' 21-20 home win over Aurora Friday. Kyle Troutman

Cassville found its legs in the fourth quarter, with senior quarterback Leigh Cox fighting through cramps and scoring his third touchdown of the night to lead the Wildcats to a 21-20 win.

"Football has highs and lows, and it's a lot like life," said Lance Parnell, Cassville head coach. "The boys had a chance to duck their heads, but they rallied, and this group of seniors willed themselves to that win."

Cox had plenty of help in the Wildcats' comeback drive, as junior running back River Phelps took over 
quarterback duties during the game-winning drive, while Cox was fighting through cramps. Cox returned to punch in the 1-yard score to bring the game to 20-19 for Aurora.

In a move some said was reminiscent of former head coach David Large, Parnell called a timeout and sent in his offense to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.

Cassville's Kobe Mueller avoids a tackler during the Wildcats' 21-20 win over Aurora Friday. Kyle Troutman

Capping off his contribution to the drive, Phelps took the handoff wide to the left corner of the end zone, muscling his way through a tackle to get the go-ahead score.

"I started thinking about it earlier in the drive, and Leigh was cramped up, so he wasn't even in the majority of that drive," he said. "We had the momentum, so I wanted to get the points and put the defense out to get the stop."

And get the stop the Wildcats did, courtesy of a Devin Messbarger interception with less than a minute to play.

"I love seeing a kid like [Messbarger] be successful," Parnell said. "He's a senior that's gone all the way through our program and wasn't even a starter tonight."

Parnell said the win is a testament to the team's ability to overcome challenges during games.

"It's a Week 1 win and to do it in that fashion, going through that grind and that adversity to get the win, shows a lot about these kids."

Cox, who was starting his first game at quarterback for

the Wildcats, said he had his own challenges to overcome.

"I was nervous," he said. "I had butterflies from the moment I woke up [Friday]. But, once I started rolling, the butterflies flushed out and it all turned to adrenaline."

Parnell said he sees the butterflies as a good sign.

"I told Leigh I hope he had butterflies," he said. "I still get them. If he doesn't have some butterflies, I wonder if it means anything to him."

Cox showed his ability to scramble Friday as well, such as the 9-yard run for his second score, when he evaded two would-be tacklers in the backfield, found a lane outside and dove for the pylon and the score.

"I just kept my feet moving and kept squirming so they couldn't get ahold of me," he said.

Cox, who finished with more than 70 yards rushing, was quick to admit he had help, such as Phelps, who rushed for more than 100 yards, and junior running back Kyle Ruark, who rushed for more than 70 yards.

"I'm blessed to have such a good set of running backs, and I trust them with all my heart," Cox said.

Parnell said the Wildcat's depth in the backfield is one of their greatest assets.

"We won that game with our backfield," he said. "Any one of our four or five guys back there can carry the load. Night in and night out, there will be different guys carrying the load."

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