Depth in backfield key to Cassville's success

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Cassville's Anthony Tolbert returns an interception during the Wildcats' win over McDonald County Friday. Kyle Troutman/

6 players get touches in win over Mustangs

It was a warm, muggy night on Friday in Anderson, and for the Cassville football team, who had some issues with cramping on the humid night, depth became key.

In no position has depth been more important than at running back, where the Wildcats (3-1, 2-1) employed six different ball-carriers in the 33-22 victory on the road.

Cassville's Kyle Ruark attempts to avoid a tackle during the Wildcats' win over McDonald County Friday. Kyle Troutman/

Lance Parnell, Cassville head coach, said the Wildcats have so many that can do damage in the backfield, even the coaches cannot always keep them straight.

"Offensive Coordinator Clay Weldy has his hands full rotating guys in and out," Parnell said. "There are times he has to look around and figure out what set we are in."

Players with touches on Friday included River Phelps, Kyle Ruark, Anthony Tolbert, Steven Hunter, Garrett Knight and Shannon Haney. Phelps netted 152 yards and three scores on 15 carries, Ruark tallied 86 yards on 15 carries and Tolbert chewed up 40 yards on 12 carries. Garret Knight had only four carries for 11 yards, but provided the Wildcats a touchdown. A total of nine players have received touches at running back throughout this season.

"We're lucky we have a lot of running backs because we were fighting cramps, and that hurt what we could do offensively," Parnell said. "The offensive line really stepped up and played well for us

in the fourth quarter."

After McDonald County brought the score back to a 5-point difference, the Wildcats stifled a Mustang drive, then embarked on a drive from midfield that ended with a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Haney to put the game away with an 11-point win.

Parnell said using so many different running backs, there has to be harmony.

"When you run that many backs in our offense and have zero turnovers [like we did in McDonald County], that's a statement to Clay as the offensive coordinator," he said. "To have that good of a mesh is not easy."

Parnell said how the team chooses who gets carries depends largely on the game's flow.

"A lot of it depends on who needs a break," he said. "Garrett Knight plays a big role for us on defense, and Kyle Ruark has been a Godsend because he runs so physical. There are multiple roles for our backs, and the flow of the game determines what we do."

One of those backs who saw a lot of action Friday, sophomore Tolbert, said the win was not an easy one, and credit for Cassville's scores go to the offensive line opening holes to allow the runners to get points on the board. He said having so many backs rotating in the offense is key to the Wildcats' success in the past two games.

"The backs get exhausted because we run around all over the place on defense," he said. "It gets tiring, but we all prepare in practices, and I'm always ready to go when the coaches want me to."

Tolbert, who also plays linebacker, said transitioning from offense to defense so much can wear players down mentally if they do not stay focused.

"It just takes practice," he said. "The more we practice, the easier it gets. We started the season a little rough, but we're picking things up now."

Parnell said a big reason for using so many backs is to give the two-way players breaks when they need them.

"We have to give kids breathers," he said. "We try to start as few kids as we can going both ways, and that's been our philosophy going back to 2005. What we do is dictated by our personnel year in and year out. The more kids we get on the field, the fresher we will be in the second half."

Parnell said he also sees his team growing in the past couple weeks.

"We've overcome some mistakes and adversity, and that's the sign of a maturing team," he said.

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