Barry County Brawl, part two

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Cassville Coach Lance Parnell, left, high-fives senior lineman Devin Phelps after a touchdown in the Wildcats' win in first round of the district playoffs Friday. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Cassville seeking more than a trophy on Friday

Wildcats fans are being encouraged to put on their sweatshirts, bring the cowbells and hold on for a what is slated to be an exciting football game Friday at Monett.

Cassville (8-2) heads to Monett (9-1) with a chance to play not for a trophy, but earn a berth in the Class 3, District 4 championship game.

The last time the Wildcats and Cubs tangled, on Sept. 23, it was Cassville that watched a late lead slip away and sour in the form of a 21-20 defeat.

If history is any indication, Friday night could be lucky for the Wildcats.

Four years ago, it was an upstart Monett team that waltzed into Wildcat Stadium and took home the district title from a Cassville team that had defeated the Cubs earlier in the season.

That win propelled the Cubs into two of the next three state semifinals.

It is now time for a hungry, and just as talented, upstart group of Wildcats to head to Burl Fowler Stadium and hopefully return the favor.

"I can't imagine motivation for our players or fans being an issue on Friday," said Lance Parnell, Cassville coach. "We lost by a point to Monett and made too many mistakes in a game we had chances to win."

Parnell said his Wildcats have improved since their loss to Monett, and the stats back his claim up.

Cassville has played four games since the 21-20 setback and has scored 197 points (49.25 points per game) in those contests.

River Phelps has also found his stride behind a revamped offensive line, rushing for 856 yards (253, 231, 148, and 224) or 52 percent of his total season yardage (1,662) in just 40 percent of his team's games and has scored 18 of his 27 rushing touchdowns in the same period (67 percent).

Phelps has been held only twice this season without a rushing touchdown, against Lamar and Monett.

"Our resurgence is because of our offensive line," Parnell said. "You can ask any one of our running backs and they are going to tell you that their success is because of the improved play of the line up front."

Parnell said he made a small tweak to the personnel on the line in Week 5, and since then, the group has gelled and pulled together nicely.

"Early in the season, we had some guys just out there playing," Parnell said. "As the season has gone on, those linemen have learned to play as a unit. As they have improved, we have improved."

The Wildcats have become nearly unstoppable on the ground, rushing for 2,903 yard on the season, with 1,490 of those yards (51 percent) collected in the last four games (440, 356, 376, 318).

As a team, the Wildcats are averaging 335 total yards per contest (290.3 rushing and 44.7 yards passing).

Defensively, Cassville is surrendering 20.4 points per contest on the season. Over the last four games, the total is slightly less at 19.25.

Quarterback Shannon Haney has not been asked to throw very much. He is just 31 of 63 (49.2 percent) for 447 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

When asked what his 'Cats needed to improve upon the second time around against Monett, Parnell broke it down into two main points.

"We have got to get off the field on third and fourth downs defensively, and we have to fly to the ball," he said. "Monett can hit you with a multifaceted attack, and we have to be ready for that."

While Cassville has put up substantial rushing totals, the Cubs are averaging more yards per game with 211.8 yards rushing and 
146.6 passing.

Michael Branch leads the way on the ground with 1,272 yards rushing this season (7.8 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns.

The only game Branch has not recorded a touchdown was against the Wildcats.

While Monett has not been crisp, the Cubs just keep finding ways to win games.

Keys for Cassville

* Ball control offense

Look for Cassville to try to run time off the clock and shorten the game on the ground. In the first meeting, the Wildcats forced the Cubs to the air and were just a play or two away from winning.

* Jam it up front

The Wildcats want to take the Cubs' ground game away and force them to throw the ball. Despite Monett having some success in the air this season, three things can happen on every pass -- catch, incompletion or interception. Two of those favor the Wildcats.

* Send the message early

Cassville needs to make a statement early in the game that they are there to win. Whether that is a score, turnover or hard hit, it needs to be clear that the Wildcats will advance to the district championship.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

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