Wildcats slump into offseason
Loss to Reeds Spring ends 2017 campaign
“It’s depressing and sad.”
That was the description given by a gloomy Braden Strahan following the Cassville football team’s 42-7 loss to Reeds Spring in the district semifinals on Friday.
Following a 47-0 blanking of Hollister in the district opener, arguably the Wildcats’ best defensive game of the year, Cassville has little answers for the Wolves offense in its semifinal matchup.
“They hit us in the mouth,” said Lance Parnell, Cassville head coach. “We had a mistake on one of their punts, and we made some adjustments in practice, but we could not handle them well enough.”
Turnovers and big plays stymied the Wildcats in the loss. Two lost fumbles and two more interceptions killed Wildcats drives, and Reeds Spring’s offense was rolling all game long.
The Wolves’ first score came after a fumble recovery at their own 8-yard line. They drove 92 yards on 26 plays in the opening quarter to take a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard run. Cassville managed to strike back on its next drive, when Bowen Preddy reeled in a rope through the middle and went the rest of the 72 yards to paydirt. This, however, would be the final touchdown of the 2017 season.
Reeds Spring went on to score on rushes from 79, 60, 1 and 43 yards, picking off two passes in the second half to keep the Wildcats’ offense on the bench.
“Physicality was what hurt us,” Strahan said. “We came out soft and didn’t execute very well. It’s almost like we let them beat us, and I don’t know why.”
“Turnovers at crucial times plagued us,” Parnell said. “If you turn the ball over four times, you’re not going to win a football game. At halftime we knew we had to make some changes to slow their run game, and we played well in the first possession, but then we were hit with a big play.”
Parnell said as the game and score progressed, the Wolves controlled the line of scrimmage, forcing his offense to the air.
“We struggled late with some protection and had to throw the ball before we wanted to,” he said. “But, [receivers] DJ White and Bowen Preddy are just sophomores, and they are getting better and better.”
Despite the loss, Strahan said he takes solace in the growth he and his fellow seniors have seen over the years.
“Considering where we were from third grade to our freshman year to this year, we did very well,” he said. “[If I had one thing to say to underclassmen, it would be] take offseason conditioning seriously.”
Parnell said although it’s not a big group of seniors, he will miss them.
“I love each and every one of those kids to death,” he said. “If someone had told them as freshmen they would be playing as well as they did as seniors, they would not have believed it. They will go on to be successful in whatever field they choose and be good family men.”
Seniors leaving the squad include Strahan, Dalton O’Neill, Garret Knight, Austun Periman, Mark Collinwood, Wyatt Goade, Jamie Aguinaga, Caleb Lucero, Grant Davis and Hunter Bailey.
Parnell said with 2017 in the books, work toward next season started on Monday.
“I told the kid to guarantee I’ll walk in on Monday ready to go back to work,” he said. “We will return a lot of players. The junior class is very nice, sophomores are a good group and we have a good group of freshmen kids, some of which will figure into the mix.
“I saw the look in those players’ eyes after the game, and they will be ready to go back to work.”
Stat-wise, Cassville outscored its opponents this season 281-197. The Wildcats outgained opponents in rushing yards as well, 2,427 to 2,036. Shannon Haney led rushers with 911 yards on 165 attempts with 10 touchdowns. Anthony Tolbert racked up 865 rushing yards on 155 attempts with 15 touchdowns. Logan Carlin came in third in the totals with 447 yards on 87 attempts with 2 touchdowns. The Wildcats lost 6 fumbles, with Tolbert dropping 3.
In the air, Cassville out-passed opponents in yardage, 1,072 to 953. Haney went 62-for-122 for 927 yards, 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Deven Bates went 2-for-7 for 93 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
In the receiving category, Bowen Preddy led in catches with 24, garnering 370 yards and 5 touchdowns. DJ White racked up 510 yards and 6 scores on 21 catches. Goade also scored a receiving touchdown, getting 29 yards on 3 catches. Tolbert had 8 catches for 89 yards.
Defensively, Goade led with 56 unassisted tackles and 24 assisted. Knight also had 56 unassisted tackles, with 13 assisted. Strahan racked up 52 unassisted tackles and 12 assisted. Others with double-digit unassisted tackles included: Evan Kessinger, 51; Tolbert, 42; Jonny Medina, 37; Zack Burton, 32; Carlin, 27; Sol Rainey, 18; Ethan Hoppes, 16; Jose Melchor, 16; Austin Sanders, 14; Aguinaga, 13; Preddy, 11; and Jesus Perez, 10.
Medina led in takeaways with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Hoppes, Knight, Strahan and White each had one interception apiece. Hunter Bailey recovered two fumbles, and Goade, Carson Jacobson, Perez and Tolbert had one recovery apiece.
Kicker Drake Reese was 1-for-1 in field goals and 22-for-33 in extra-point attempts.