Wildcats' defense a bright spot
Versatile players make marks on team
Asking Cassville Football Coach Lance Parnell how many players he has playing both ways this season will elicit a short and simple answer -- too many.
Among others, and with more playing on both sides in Week 1, quarterback Leigh Cox and running backs River Phelps and Kyle Ruark pulled double duty, showing the Wildcats' versatility early in the season.
In Friday's 15-6 road loss to Mountain Grove, Phelps showed his skill set on offense, defense and special teams, as he scored a touchdown, handled punting duties and forced a fumble after a blocked punt by tackling the Mountain Grove recoverer.
"I'm upset we lost and wish we had come out and played better, but we have to get ready for next week," Phelps said. "But, [playing so many roles] felt good, and Coach [Clay] Weldy always tells me there are three sides to the ball, and leave everything on the field."
And leave it on the field the Wildcats did. Cassville clung to a 7-0 deficit at halftime after the Panthers broke a 63-yard run for a score on the opening drive. After that, and not counting turnovers on downs, Cassville forced three turnovers in the first two quarters, including two fumble recoveries -- one by Phelps and another by Devin Phelps -- and an interception by Devin Messbarger, his second on the year.
"I just wanted to get the ball back and put him in the ground," River Phelps said of the forced fumble after his punt was blocked. "Maybe he will think twice about blocking it next time."
The Wildcats kept the game close, but a couple of mistakes on defense led to long touchdown runs for Mountain Grove.
"We've got to fix that, but I'm proud of the effort we gave against a good offensive football team," Parnell said.
The Wildcats' lone score came from Phelps, who followed a trio of blockers off the right tackle and down the sideline for a 45-yard score, flirting with the white paint on the home team's side of the field.
"I just turned the jets on," he said. "I saw a little opening and I hit it hard, and Allen [Lambel] had a great block out there for me."
"River is a good football player, and he was banged up all week and didn't practice until Thursday," Parnell said. "He showed a lot of guts to come out and play like he did."
The score was one of the few times the Wildcats got free on the outside, as Parnell said Mountain Grove did well at controlling the line.
"Their defense controlled the line of scrimmage, and we preach whoever controls the line of scrimmage will win the game, and they did," he said.
Phelps said the line will be key this week, as the Wildcats travel to Anderson to play McDonald County on Friday.
"We have to get more blocks on the offensive line, get physical and get low," he said.