Cassville polishing pass coverage

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Cassville defensive back Garrett Knight makes a tackle during the Wildcats' win over Aurora on Friday. Kyle Troutman/

Wildcats nab 5 picks in past 2 games

Cassville's football team has been shoring up its pass coverage for weeks, and if the past two games are any indication, the work in practice has been paying off.

The Wildcats have snagged five interceptions in the last pair of contests, three against Seneca and two against Aurora. Coach Lance Parnell said the improvement is a direct result of how Cassville prepares.

River Phelps breaks past an Aurora defender during Cassville's win over the Houn' Dawgs on Friday. Kyle Troutman/

"[Heading into Aurora], we threw a lot in practice," he said. "Our focus was keeping [Aurora quarterback Payton] Evans in the pocket. He throws the ball well, but he can also scramble, and our defense did a great job containing him."

The Wildcats held the Houn' Dawgs to only 116 yards through the air on 30 attempts Friday, an average of 3.9 yards per pass on a 50 percent completion rate.

Much of that was rooted in keeping Aurora from gaining big yardage in the flats on screen and slant passes.

"We are a zone team, and we did a good job staying with our principles and dropping into the zone coverage," Parnell said. "I told the guys before the game Aurora would complete some balls, and we just have to keep them in front of us. And, we did that."

Defensive back Garrett Knight, who picked one of the few deep balls Evans attempted Friday, said the Wildcats played true to their game plan. Troy Rose grabbed a second pick late, his fourth in the past two games.

"We knew Evans is a good quarterback, and we had to control the line and watch for the deep ball," Knight said. "We had to make them one-dimensional. We used a different defense to cover that, and whenever they looked to go to the flats, we recognized it and adjusted to shorten their game."

Knight said on his interception, he saw the developing play and waited for the ball to come his way.

"I was staying deep, and I saw the wheel and slant routes in front of me," he said. "I knew there was no other coverage behind me, so I took my chance."

Since facing their first air team, McDonald County in Week 4, stats show Cassville's coverage has been on the up and up. Against the Mustangs, Cassville allowed 186 yards through the air on 40 attempts, an average of 4.65 yards per pass on a 40 percent completion rate. Against Seneca, with the three interceptions, Cassville allowed only 33 yards through the air on 11 attempts, an average of 3 yards per pass on a 54.5 percent completion rate.

For comparison, through 11 games in the 2015 season, the Wildcats allowed 1,420 total passing yards on 193 attempts, an average of 7.35 yards per play on a 54.4 percent completion rate. This year, through eight games played, the Wildcats have allowed 1,113 total passing yards on 168 attempts, an average of 6.6 yards per play on a 57.1 percent completion rate.

Friday's Aurora game showed even more improvement against the pass-heavy squad.

"We have been a lot better since last year covering the pass," Knight said.

Parnell said the stats are reflective of the Wildcats' philosophy in practice and in games.

"We've shown a lot of improvement in controlling the pass attack, and that goes back to what we have preached from day one," he said.

Offensively, senior River Phelps had another big night for Cassville, racking up 233 yards on 26 attempts and scoring five touchdowns, giving him 11 scores in the past two contests.

The Wildcats will face one more air challenge on Friday, hosting Mt. Vernon, before heading into a home district playoff game next week.

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