Jared Lankford: A window is now open for Cassville
In 2008, not many expected the Cassville football team to rise up and claim the Class 3 state title.
The Wildcats came together, pushed the right buttons at the right time and -- with a little luck -- hoisted the state championship trophy.
That title gave way to another one the next season and elevated expectations for the years that followed.
This season, the Wildcats felt the sting of a heartbreaking, 21-20 loss to Monett. It was a game many believe the Wildcats should have won.
Even though the rematch wasn't quite as close, there was one undeniable truth about Wildcat football this past season -- it is on the rise once again.
Monett fans heard the support from Cassville in the playoffs. Despite being handed two stinging losses, Wildcats fans rallied to the fact that the Big 8 Conference took home two state titles this year, with Monett winning Class 3 and Lamar Class 2.
The Wildcats finished the season 8-3, with all three losses coming to eventual state champions.
Wildcat Nation has remained eager for the team's return to the top of the state mountain. Their wait may soon be rewarded.
The Wildcats have a huge opportunity over the next few years to make a run at a third state title. With a solid group of incoming juniors and one of the largest and most athletic offensive lines returning in the Big 8, the option-oriented Wildcats have a huge cog in place for the next two seasons.
The Black and Gold return six players with all-conference accolades, and Cassville is one of the only teams with a third-year starter at quarterback in 2017 season junior Shannon Haney.
There has been no turnover in the Cassville coaching ranks, which means the team is picking up where it left off and does not have to learn a completely new system.
While none of these singular pieces look flashy, the sum of all the parts should be enough to make fans giddy.
Monett looked the exact same way when Derrek Uhl came back last season. Cassville is in the same boat Monett was a year ago. The pieces are there, they just need to come together.
At worst, the Wildcats should be a top-two conference team next season. Lamar has to be considered No. 1 until someone beats them.
As history has shown, the winner of Cassville's football district has advanced to the state semifinal each of the last five seasons. Two reached the championship game, and one has claimed one state title.
There is no doubt that the Big 8 Conference is the toughest in Missouri. If you can survive the grind of conference and district play, good things tend to happen in the playoffs.
Cassville fans need to look at this past season as a harbinger of things to come. Instead of quitting in a season-opening loss to Lamar, the Wildcats hardened and became a tough team to beat the rest of the season. Cassville was close this season.
With a lot of talent returning next year, how much better can the Wildcats be?
Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com, or 417-847-2610.