Defensive heart wills ‘cats to district title game
Cassville holds off Seneca comeback for win
Up 20 points at the end of the third quarter against Seneca Friday, Cassville was seemingly in cruise control on its way to an 11-0 record and district championship berth.
However, Wildcat Nation collectively held its breath throughout the final frame, as 14 unanswered points, and two consecutive onside kick recoveries put the Indians in position to possibly take the lead with 4:20 left to play.
The Indians drove to about the 15-yard line, but two rushing stops, a batted pass and a sack from Andrew Prier on fourth-and-11, only his second tackle of the game and the only sack of the game, sealed the win for Cassville.
“Wow,” said Lance Parnell, Cassville coach. “There was a great ebb and flow to this game and a lot of emotion. This win shows the heart and character this team has. It’s easy to tuck your tail when momentum is against you like that, but we found a way to win.”
Evan Kessinger, senior linebacker, struggled after the game to find the words to describe how Cassville came up with the stop.
“We just had to stop them,” he said. “I can’t even remember what I was thinking. We just had to trust each other, to get through it and finish out the game.”
Parnell said trust was a big part of his defensive calls in Seneca’s final push.
“We just had to find a way to get that stop,” Parnell said. “I had to trust my kids to make the plays, and they did.”
On Sept. 14, Cassville walloped the Indians at home, putting up 48 first-half points en route to a 62-27 win. Parnell and Kessinger both said the Seneca team that showed up for the second meeting was not the same.
“They were healthy this time, and they are a very good football team,” Parnell said. “They play at a high level and they got after us.”
Kessinger said the difference in early September Seneca and early November Seneca was huge.
“I think we were expecting something different,” Kessinger said. “We did not expect them to have that level of intensity.”
Along with weathering the Indians’ attack, the Wildcats were forced to weather issues on their own sidelines, with running backs Bowen Preddy and Anthony Tolbert both benched with injuries.
Coming into the game with a season total of 143 yards on 35 carries, sophomore Jericho Farris suddenly found himself getting the handoffs.
He finished the game with 31 yards on 8 carries, and he scored the Wildcats’ final touchdown, an 18-yard scamper, which ultimately secured the Cassville victory.
“Jericho is one of those guys who works hard, and you never know when you’ll get called up,” Parnell said. “Bowen and Anthony went down, and he was the next guy up stepping into a huge role. And, he played very well.”
Kessinger said Farris’ performance is a testament to the team’s ability to adjust.
“We have a lot of depth, and when one goes down, it’s the next guy up,” he said. “He came in and did his job.”
Overall, the Wildcats were outgained by Seneca. The Indians totaled 351 net rushing yards and 141 passing, while Cassville mustered 289 rushing and 88 passing. Each team lost a fumble, Ethan Hoppes snagged an interception, and the Wildcats only punted once compared to the Indians’ three punts.
Quarterback Shannon Haney went 5-for-7 passing for the 88 yards and one interception. Hoppes and Austin Sanders each had catches for 12 yards, and DJ White reeled in three passes for 64 yards.
On the ground, Tolbert led the way despite his injury, tallying 134 yards on 15 carries. Haney added 122 yards on 14 carries.
Defensively, Kessinger and Kade Hayward led. Kessinger had 7 unassisted tackles and 1 assisted, and Hayward had 6 unassisted and 3 assisted. Jonny Medina also finished with 7 unassisted tackles, and Jose Melchor has 5 unassisted and 4 assisted. Logan Carlin ended the contest with 6 unassisted tackles and assisted.