Wildcats reflect on tumultuous season
Football coach honors seniors for commitment
After a season-ending loss to Reeds Spring on Friday, the 17 Cassville football seniors spent an extra minute on the field after the weekly post-game huddle.
There was no shortage of hugs and tears among the gridiron brothers, as the emotional sting of the 20-13 scoreline meant the last time many of them would don the pads.
"It's really tough, especially being a senior," said Colton Dilbeck, who recovered his third fumble in three consecutive games on Friday. "The season is over, but we had a good run."
Cassville's campaign in 2015 saw its share of ups and downs. After wins over Aurora and McDonald County in the first three weeks, the Wildcats (5-6, 4-4) dropped four straight contests before getting back to winning ways against East Newton, Seneca and Mt. Vernon.
"It was great that we bounced back at the end of the season," Dilbeck said. "It was fun, and I'm glad we had the faith and put in the effort."
Cassville's contest in Reeds Spring was a close one, but the Wolves' sustained ground attack proved to be the undoing of the Wildcats, especially during Reeds Spring's final drive, which took the last five minutes off the clock and secured the Wolves' win.
"The Wolves offense chewed up a lot of yardage," said Lance Parnell, Cassville coach. "I felt we had multiple times we were in good situations to get off the field on third downs. We had two times to get off the field on their last drive, and we just couldn't do it."
Despite the one-score loss, Cassville had a number of bright moments in its final showing of 2015.
Dakota Townsend, a player Parnell described as a true program player, scored on an 8-yard fumble recovery after Reeds Spring missed an option pitch and two attempts to recover by the Wolves failed, pushing the ball nearer and nearer to the end zone.
"It's really cool to see a kid like that scoop and score," Parnell said. "This was his first year to start, and he had worked his way through the program and made some huge contributions for us. I call him a program kid, because he went all the way through, and that hard work and effort he put forth paid off."
Cassville's passing game also showed its effectiveness in pressure situations, with Freshman Shannon Haney completing three passes to Jacob Holz.
"Shannon is getting better and better," Parnell said. "He was within an eyelash of scoring to tie the game, and I'm glad I've got him for three more years."
The play Parnell is referring to was a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, where Haney kept the ball, rolled out to his left and broke one tackle, but was stopped short of the end zone by two Wolves linebackers. A score at that time would have tied the game 20-20, but that was the last time Cassville got its hands on the football.
Parnell said despite the loss, he was pleased with the progress his team made over the past 11 weeks.
"I want to say a big thank you to the seniors," he said. "We went through that rough spell mid-year, and instead of hanging their heads, they kept on fighting. They fought tooth and nail, and that was a tough conversation to have with the kids after the [Reeds Spring] game."
Cassville has 17 seniors hanging up the pads, including three-year starters in Dilbeck and Leigh Cox, among others.
"The way these seniors continued to get better and better each year and each week was incredible," Parnell said. "You saw a group of guys come in as freshmen and become leaders over those four years, and I'm really proud of the way they progressed through the program and the leaders they became."
Dilbeck said that was the highlight of his time at Cassville.
"It was great to get better each year and to step up and be a leader," he said.
This season, Cassville was outscored by its opponents, 255-253, and averaged 263.9 yards of offense per game.
River Phelps led the Wildcats in rushing with 1,158 yards on 194 attempts, an average of 105.3 yards per game. Cox came in second in the stats with 715 yards on 152 attempts, averaging 65 yards per game.
Cox was also 22-of-58 passing for 254 yards and one touchdown. Haney was 8-for-20 for 141 yards and one score.
Allen Lambel led Cassville in receptions with 11 catches for 251 yards. Troy Rose, Dusty Huett and Holz had three catches apiece.
Phelps led in touchdowns with 19 on the year, and he hit 22 extra-point field goals. Cox scored 11 touchdowns, and Lambel had two.
On defense, Steven Hunter led the charge with 65 unassisted tackles, including two sacks. Zane Everett had 46 tackles, Cox made 42 tackles, Garrett Knight had 39 tackles and Dylan Klewer made 35 tackles.