Cassville hopes big win is a turning point

Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Cassville senior running back River Phelps cuts around the edge during the Wildcats' win over Reeds Spring on Friday. Kyle Troutman/

Wildcats see growing senior leadership

A complete 180 is the best way to put it.

These were the words Cassville Coach Lance Parnell used to describe his team's mentality in Week 2 compared to Week 1 and the Wildcats' 50-0 drubbing in Lamar.

The wheels to improve were put in motion about 15 minutes into the drive home from Lamar that Friday, when senior lineman Devin Phelps sent out a group text inviting his teammates to his house two days later for an impromptu film session, with no coaches attending.

"I heard about that [the same Friday we lost to Lamar] on the way home because one of the kids called me," Parnell said. "That's senior leadership, something as a coach you hope and pray you have in a team. This group of

seniors was embarrassed [in Lamar]. They wanted to change that, and they did."

River Phelps, senior running back, said the whole offensive line, some defensive backs, some linebackers and a few other players in on the Devin Phelps message decided they needed to change their mindset.

"That's just [Devin's] leadership," River Phelps said. "We were not going to get put down, and now, we will get on a roll and show everyone who Cassville really is."

The look of the Wildcats in Week 2 was virtually unrecognizable compared to Week 1, as Cassville turned up the intensity and got payback on Reeds Spring, the team that defeated the 'Cats in the district playoffs last year, in the form of a 27-6 home-opening win.

Phelps put up three scores in the contest. His first was a burst up the middle for 60 yards to paydirt, and his second came after an option pitch to the right, where Phelps turned on the jets at the sideline and outran the Wolves for 80 yards to the end zone. His last score came after motion at the line, then a streak up the middle and reception of quarterback Shannon Haney's pass for a 64-yard touchdown strike.

"Our physicality at the line was really improved," he said. "We were so different from last week, and I kept telling the guys on the line [Friday] I'll give them the credit, and I appreciate the work they did."

Physicality was a primary point for Parnell in practice last week, as he decided to change up the normal schedule and get the players hitting more.

"I take full responsibility in not doing a good job getting the kids in that physical mindset, and they did a great job grasping that change," Parnell said. "Football is a mental, physical game, and the kids figured that out.

"Sometimes, we as coaches take for granted the kids understand these things. There was no complaining [at practices], and all the kids said we had to do this."

Parnell said the week after the loss to Lamar, Monday was a heavy day in the weight room, and Tuesday the team totally changed its routine.

"We did a lot of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills," he said. "We went about 25 minutes, and the kids all asked to do it again on Wednesday. I can't describe how proud I am of them for how we back on Monday, had some good conversations and then worked to get tougher and more physical.

"You could look in the kids' eyes [on Friday] and see it, and that's why I do what I do."

That new mentality, to be physical and attack the football, led to a number of gang tackles and some pad-popping hits.

"You have to put your hat into the fray, and we had some big hits [against Reeds Spring]," Parnell said.

One of those big hits, arguably the biggest of the night, came at the second half kickoff. Phelps put the ball just outside the end zone, and the Wolves' returner got maybe 15 yards before junior Braden Strahan leveled a punishing blow that drew an enthusiastic reaction from the sidelines and the fans.

"That was a shot," Parnell said. "That's what we've been looking for, and stuff like that is contagious."

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