Wildcats bring physicality in season opener
Quarterback: ‘We fought all the way through’
Cassville may have lost its home opener to Lamar, 28-0, but those who were at the game or watched it online know the score is not reflective of how the game felt.
The Wildcats fell to the Tigers on the road last year, 52-0, and although they were held scoreless again, the start of the season left a better taste in the players’ and coaches’ mouths than in 2016.
“We played physical,” said Lance Parnell, Cassville head coach. “We did not do that a year ago, but we did it this year.”
Junior quarterback Shannon Haney agreed there was a big difference in how Cassville went at the Tigers on Friday.
“We were two physical teams, and we knew we had to come in and hit them in the mouth, and we can’t take any plays off,” he said. “It’s great to start with them because it’s a benchmark of where we are. Last year, myself included, you could see some people start to give up, and this year, we fought all the way through.”
The six-time defending Class 2 state champion Tigers opened the scoring with a fourth-and-inches run up the middle after Cassville stuffed a third-and-one goal line dive attempt. Lamar scored again from a yard away to take a 14-0 lead into the break.
In the second half, Haney rugby kicked a punt that pinned Lamar inside its own 1-yard line, but the Tigers were up for the challenge, driving 99 yards to score on a 39-yard rush. Lamar added a late 69-yard dash to paydirt for the 28-0 scoreline.
A worry for Wildcat fans at game time was the weather, as there was a two-hour rain delay, pushing the kickoff to 9 p.m.
“The biggest thing I’m proud of is how we showed our mental toughness,” Parnell said. “Three times in the two-hour delay we got the guys up to start stretching and get ready to play, and they never shut down mentally. The juniors and seniors really stepped up as leaders, and the job they did shows their mental makeup, especially going the whole game without any turnovers.”
Parnell said Haney was a big part of that leadership group.
“Shannon is a developing athlete that’s stepped into the true quarterback role well,” he said. “When he’s in the huddle, the team knows he’s the field general. He’s had a tremendous offseason, and we’re excited to move forward with him.”
Haney said everything in the offense starts with his offensive line, and the do-it-for-one-another philosophy is a big part of how the team is run.
“You have to do your part first so others may do their part,” he said. “I have to do my part so they can do theirs.”
One part Haney is doing more is airing the ball out, going 6-for-17 passing for 30 yards. Multiple longer passes, some into the end zone, fell just out of the reach of his receivers, and two passes were flagged for pass interference. DJ White led in receiving yards with 17 on two catches.
“I’m starting to feel good passing,” he said. “Lamar has some great corners. I think our pass game will progress throughout the season and get better to give us a more balanced offense.
Haney led the ground game for the Wildcats, going 74 yards on 14 attempts. He also had a 38-yard run, on the first play from scrimmage for Cassville, called back for a hold. Logan Carlin tailed not far behind Haney with 51 yards on 11 attempts. Anthony Tolbert, 15 yards on 5 attempts; Garret Knight, 5 yards on 2 attempts; and Wyatt Goade, 2 yards on 2 attempts; also took handoffs for Cassville.
Haney’s rugby punts were also an item of postgame discussion.
“He’s a real weapon there,” Parnell said. “He started working hard on that this summer. [The punt pinned inside Lamar’s 1-yard line] goes back to the emphasis we put on special teams.”
Haney punted three times for 132 yards, an average of 44 per punt.