East meets West for title
Cassville, Mt. Vernon vie for conference, district supremacy
All eyes will be upon the Barry County seat town of Cassville on Friday as the Wildcats (11-0) welcome an old foe to town in Mt. Vernon (10-1) for the Class 3, District 6 championship.
The game has all the markings of a classic, as two state-ranked powers collide on the gridiron for the first time since the Big 8 Conference expanded to 14-teams.
Not only will the game decide who is the district champion, it will also answer, although not officially recognized, who is the best team in the Big 8 Conference this season.
The Wildcats marched through the Big 8 West Division and earned its most impressive win in Week 9 when they upended Lamar.
Mt. Vernon was the king of the East Division and was a failed 2-point attempt against Reeds Spring away from having an unblemished record. The Mountaineers earned their revenge last week as they traveled to the Wolves’ den and trounced them, 43-7.
Tom Cox, Mt. Vernon coach, has led his team to its third consecutive district title game appearance. This year’s run may be the most impressive of the bunch, as it comes on the heels a state-runner up finish last year and then graduating 10 starters.
“It has definitely been a building process for us,” Cox said. “We have tried to do the right things to get here. My third year back, we reached the title game and lost to Monett in a good game. Then last year, winning at Reeds Spring just getting to that spot again. I think the experience helped out a lot winning in a close game. It was one of the best wins that I have been involved in just to see the joy in our players, coaches, fans and community.”
Cox said the biggest plus for his team this year was the five extra weeks of practice the team received as a product of that deep playoff run last year.
“Just to get back to this game this year, when a lot of people didn’t think we would be near this good, is great” Cox said. “I think one publication that does predictions had us going 3-6 in the regular season. But, our guys were focused.”
One key to the Mountaineers’ success this season has been Will Boswell, the reigning Missouri Class 3 Defensive Player of the Year.
Cox said Boswell, does a tremendous amount for the Mountaineer defense, but his contributions on offense as a running back are maybe even more impressive.
The senior tailback has 191 carries for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has also caught 18 passes for 218 yards and another score.
Zack Jones, the junior quarterback for the Mountaineers, has emerged as leader for the Green and White.
Jones has completed 57.4 percent of his passes (165-of-287) for 2,007 yards, and he tossed 20 touchdowns while rushing for another 3.
The Mt. Vernon receiving core is led by Cale Miller, 24 receptions, 358 yards, 4 touchdowns; Kelly Vaughn, 31 receptions, 350 yards, 5 touchdowns; Rafe Darter, 31 receptions, 374 yards and 6 touchdowns; and Carson Bowman, 36 receptions, 518 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Jagen Prescott, the junior kick return specialist for the Mountaineers, is averaging 19.8 yards per return.
“Cassville is just the same as they have always been, only they are a lot more physical this year and better,” Cox said. “Big, physical teams have given us trouble in the past. Just look at their defensive interior, they have 260 and 300 pounds right there, and then they have a bunch of players that can run. We’ve all known around the Big 8 that this was going to be a great class for Cassville, and they were going to have to be a team that has to be reckoned with.”
Cox praised the Wildcats’ ability to run the ball, but he also singled out Shannon Haney’s ability to throw the ball this season.
“I think the biggest key is that Haney has worked so hard on [improving] his passing,” Cox said. “He and D.J. White have both developed a sync and are in a groove with each other, and that has added a whole new dimension to their offense.”
The Wildcats roll into the district title game game after needing a defensive stand to hold off a pesky Seneca squad in the semifinal.
Lance Parnell, Cassville coach, said his team knew it would be a tough game and was happy to escape with the win.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Parnell said. “We came together when we had to in order to make a stand at the end.”
Parnell said the Mountaineers present some challenges for his team on Friday. He praised the tough running of Boswell as a big reason why.
“On defense, he is a guy who runs to contact,” Parnell said. “As a running back, he is a guy who will run to contact. He is a tough runner and is not easy to bring down.”
The Wildcats are led on the ground by Anthony Tolbert with 956 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.
Haney is second on the team with 678 yards rushing and 11 scores. Haney has thrown for 1,239 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 67.7 percent of his passes (67-of-99).
Bowen Preddy had 568 yards on the season with 14 touchdowns. White has caught 39 passes for 774 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Parnell said the team will not change from the philosophy that has got them to this point so far.
“We’re thankful to have this game at home,” he said. “We want to come out and run the ball and be the more physical team.”
Keys for Cassville
• Make a path
Cassville needs to open up some running room for its backfield. If the Wildcats’ ground game gets rolling, it is all downhill for the Mountaineers from there.
• Apply the pressure
Look for the Wildcats to force the Mountaineers to win this game in the air. They will need to pressure Jones and force him to make quick decisions.
• Stay loose
The best thing for Cassville is to simply go out and have fun. Enjoy the moment.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.