Wildcats relish in wild senior night win
Line play key in long, grind-it-out victory
There are not enough synonyms for "wild" in the English language that would do justice to describing the final minutes of the Cassville football team's win over Mt. Vernon on Friday.
After eight lead changes in the game, the Wildcats lined up on their own 3-yard line with 4.7 seconds left on the clock, aiming to stop a ninth lead change and falling in the final regular-season game of the year.
After Coach Lance Parnell iced the Mountaineers' kicker with back-to-back timeouts, and the Wildcats went offside and moved the ball even closer, a high snap, low kick and big arm of Devin Phelps sent the stadium into a frenzy. Cassville had secured the 1-point win.
"It feels good," Phelps said. "That was a long, hard game. We all just wanted to get the stop. I just shot in between the center and the guard and got to the ball."
The kick was too low to have had a shot at adding 3 points to Mt. Vernon's total, but to the Wildcats, that did not matter.
"Games like this show how much heart we have," Phelps said. "We had the will to keep going and to win a game like that."
Parnell said such a finish was as exciting, and nerve-racking, as it gets.
"To come down to a blocked field goal with four seconds left, you can't ask for more out of a high school football game," he said. "We didn't play our A game. We didn't play sharp or crisp. But, we persevered, and we found a way to win."
Key in the Wildcats' victory was, once again, its running game and line play. The game did not start as they had hoped, with a fumble and 87-yard Mountaineer scoop-and-score on the first drive. However, Cassville did not get complacent. From his own 13 on fourth down, River Phelps rolled out rugby style and faked the punt, taking off to the 29 to preserve the possession. The Wildcats then capped a 17-play, 84-yard drive with a Gilbert Medina 10-yard scamper to paydirt. The drive took 6:17 off the clock and prevented the Mt. Vernon offense from taking the field until the 1:39 mark of the opening quarter.
"That was one of the things we knew would help us be successful, trying to keep Mt. Vernon's offense off the field," Parnell said.
At the end of the first half, Cassville embarked on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, setting up Phelps for a 30-yard field goal and a 2-point lead at halftime. With 7:20 left in the contest, a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Shannon Haney tied the game at 29, and a good point-after by Phelps provided the game's winning point.
"We executed well in special teams covering kickoffs, scoring the field goal in the first half and blocking that punt," Parnell said.
Offensively, Cassville rushed the ball 66 times and had two players, Phelps and Haney, top 100 yards. Steven Hunter was just outside the three-digit mark with about 90 yards rushing.
"Running the ball is our bread and butter, and the offensive line lives and dies by the run," Parnell said. "For us to be a good running team, that starts with the O-line, and they have been playing better and better as the season has gone on.
"They also overcame some adversity this week with Hunter Bailey being out."
Devin Phelps said it's hard work in the trenches that sets up the Wildcats to win games.
"The line worked hard all night trying to get movement, and there's times we didn't get much," he said. "But, we kept trying and got some big plays. As the coaches say, games are won and lost in the trenches."
An important factor in the back-and-forth game was the line's stamina, something Parnell said the whole team has been working on for months.
"That starts in the spring," he said. "We encourage the kids to be involved in three sports. They'll do something like track in the spring, then do summer weights and build in June, July and August to be ready for four-quarter games like this."
Parnell said with such a down-to-the-wire finish in the final regular-season contest, also on senior night, Friday's game will be one players, coaches and fans will remember for a long time.
"I've watched this group of seniors grow and get better and better, and I love them and am proud of them," he said. "And, what better a tribute on senior night than to have a ballgame like that. They will never forget it."
Phelps said the game was memorable, and when asked if Cassville plans on making a habit of creating exciting finishes, he had a simple response.
"Oh no," he said. "That was just a good win."