Cat scratch fever
Wildcats, Tigers battle for Big 8 title
Normally, when Cassville Coach Lance Parnell is asked about his team’s football opponent for the week, he always says the team prepares for every game and every opponent the same way.
This week is a touch different.
In what is billed as the biggest game in Cassville since a district title appearance in 2012. The Wildcats will be playing for four huge accomplishments on Friday against Lamar.
First, the Wildcats’ seniors will play their final home regular-season game in front of the raucous Wildcat Nation fan base at home.
Secondly, Cassville can secure the Big 8 Conference West Division title with a win.
Thirdly, a victory ensures the No. 1 district seed and potentially three more home playoff games.
Fourthly, a win on Friday would forever etch the Wildcats name into sports trivia lore as the team that ended the nation’s longest active high school winning streak at 57.
“It’s week nine and you work the entire winter, summer and offseason to be playing in meaningful games at the end of the year and that’s what we are doing,” Parnell said. “It’s an emotional game for both schools and to me, this is what high school football should be about. It will be a great atmosphere and I think our kids should be excited about this.”
For Lamar, the Tigers deal with the existence of their record every day.
“We can’t escape it,” said Scott Bailey, Lamar coach. “Every five minutes, it seems like someone says something to me or one of our players about the record. I think you have to acknowledge it as a team. For those players who graduated from here and kept the winning streak alive, I think it means more to them. For our players now, it is just one more added piece of pressure. I think the biggest thing is for us to focus on the little things that got us here and not be caught up thinking about a record.”
Teams like Lamar, however, do not turn in winning runs like this without doing the little things right.
Lamar calls that its “Brotherhood.”
“I didn’t come up with that phrase,” Bailey said. “In 2008 or 2009, my brother was talking to the team during warm-ups, and he told them that they needed to be more than a team, they needed to be a brotherhood. The players grasped that and took it and ran with it.
“Our players are not selfish. They put the team’s welfare ahead of their own. There have been many individual sacrifices made so that the team can benefit.”
There is no doubt the Tigers’ brotherhood is one of the most feared in the state. To prove it, look no further than
the fact Lamar could not find a ninth opponent to agree to play in the last two seasons.
Still, Bailey and the Tigers see a fierce opponent on Friday in the Wildcats.
“Cassville reminds me of the Maryville team we played in 2009 and more and more of the Cassville teams we played in 2008 and 2009,” Bailey said. “They don't rely on just one person to make plays for them. They have a team of guys doing it, and they have a solid football player at every position. Their approach to the game is very similar to ours — get the run game going, hit a big play, get a turnover and get field position with the special teams.
“It is coach speak, but this is going to be a challenge in all three phases this week. The positive is that regardless of the outcome of the game, our season does not end. And playing a good team exposes weaknesses, some of them we may not even know we have, and that will help us to improve as we go into district play.”
This season, the Tigers are averaging 375.38 yards per game with 318 on the ground and 57.38 in the air.
On the ground, Trevor Medlin leads the way with 638 yards and averages 13.29 yards per carry. Duncan Gepner is second on the team with 474 yards rushing at a 5.44 yard per carry clip. Cage Jordan is third with 340 yards on the season and a 10.63 yard per carry average. Gepner on the season is 23-of-32 passing for 459 yards and 9 touchdowns.
The Wildcats have spread the ball around as well this season.
Quarterback Shannon Haney is 52-of-77 for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. D.J. White leads all receivers with 29 catches for 590 yards and 7 touchdowns.
On the ground, Cassville is paced by Anthony Tolbert with 69 carries for 703 yards and 11 touchdowns Bowen Preddy is second with 436 yards on 71 carries and 11 touchdowns.
Parnell said the only way for the Wildcats to have a chance to win is to match the physicality of the Tigers.
“For years, the trademark of their team is big and physical up front with backs that can run behind them,” Parnell said. “We have to be sound and in the game. We have to execute and anytime you face a misdirection offense like Lamar you have to be disciplined defensively. We have to play well up front.”
Keys for Cassville
• Use the emotion
The atmosphere will no doubt be electric on Friday. The Wildcats must learn to play with emotion and not let their emotions play them.
• Big men up front
This game comes down to one thing — the linemen. Whichever group establish themselves as the strong unit will carry their team to victory on Friday.
• Stick to the plan
The team that can run their game plan and not have to alter too much wins this ball game.
• Have fun
Soak in the crowd, the lights and the night. This is what high school football is all about. Enjoy it.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.