Proving the doubters wrong

Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Zach Coenen takes a handoff and prepares to plow into the endzone for a touchdown for the Wildcats against Blair Oaks. Jared Lankford/

Cassville lets its play do all the talking

The Wildcats never talked public about it, but they heard all the talk.

The Cassville football team heard how the line was too weak, the team was too flawed, and it could not rise up to win the big game and could not get through its conference, district or even quarterfinal unscathed.

Andrew Prier works around a defender toward the Blair Oaks quarterback during the Wildcats’ quarterfinal win Saturday. Jared Lankford/

Never did they discuss the disrespect and doubters publicly until the postgame team huddle after a 35-28 win over No. 1 ranked Blair Oaks on Saturday.

“We heard from all the doubters how we could not win this year, but did we ever doubt ourselves?” Cassville coach Lance Parnell asked his team. “You just beat a heck of team and let your play show why you should never doubt this team.”

The Wildcats (11-2) just did not create a straw man doubter situation to fire themselves up for the game. One media outlet had half of their experts pick against them.

They had read on an internet postboard how the line was soft and they had escaped with some lucky wins.

If that was not enough, just to rub dirt in an open wound, the Wildcats’ fan base was called out for not traveling to road games to support the team.

Days before Thanksgiving, Cassville, easy as pie, shut down all of the critics.

The Wildcats racked up 353 yards rushing, with Bowen Preddy chewing up 214 yards on 23 carries (9.3 yard per attempt) and a pair of scores. Zach Coenen bruised his way for 118 yards on 20 carries (5.9 yards per attempt) and touchdown.

“Both backs gave me everything they had,” Parnell said. “We knew that was the effort it was going to take. What a group of young men are on this team. I am just so proud of each and every one of them.”

Both backs frequently carried Falcon players on their backs for extra yards and refused to go down on first contact.

“All of us knew what we had to do today,” Preddy said. “We had the confidence and the drive. We knew that we had to beat them up front if we wanted to win. We are playing with a chip on our shoulders. We played with so much aggression losing to Seneca, and Lamar showed us who we needed to be and what we needed to be.”

Blair Oaks stung the Wildcats early, going 80 yards in just two plays to take a 7-0 lead less than 40 seconds into the contest.

“The first play was my fault,” Preddy said. “After their second play, we were like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ As a team, we just needed to regather and refocus on the field.”

The Wildcats did settle down and took a 20-7 advantage into intermission.

Preddy made two huge plays in the second half to propel the Wildcats into the state semifinal. The first came on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, where the senior returned the ball 85 yards to the house. The second was a 60-yard touchdown run to allow Cassville to take a 35-21 edge after the Falcons had claimed the momentum.

“I saw the hole open up on the kick and was able to get to the edge even though I had to work across the field,” Preddy said. “The long run there at the end was just great blocking. I give our offensive line a 10-out-of-10 for their performance. I can’t thank them enough. They are the reason we won.”

Coenen said he believes that the Wildcats’ doubters have no room left to talk.

“We have been playing with a chip on our shoulders for a long time,” Coenen said. “To come in here and take down a really good team answers those questions. This is such a great feeling.”

Parnell noted that the Wildcats played a near flawless first half outside of the first two plays of the game. He said his team’s heart and character were revealed in the second half, as they were able to dig deep and answer the Blair Oaks run.

“We played excellent in the first half minus that opening possession,” Parnell said. “They hit us with two big shock plays and put us on our heels, but I am so proud of our kids. They never dropped their heads, from being down early to losing the momentum in the third quarter. Both times, our kids went right back to work and got a big score.”

All game long, the Wildcats picked up third down conversion after third down conversion to keep the chains and clock moving. Cassville punter Drake Reese was only utilized one time for a 35-yard kick.

Deven Bates was 2-of-3 passing for 43 yards and an interception.

D.J White caught both passes, none bigger than his 35-yard catch on an under-thrown pass to set up the Wildcats’ final score of the first half.

“You saw the heart of this football team,” Parnell said. “You saw kids step up and make plays, from the offensive line making huge blocks to our backs running hard and our defense making some key and critical stops when we absolutely had to have them.”

Parnell was asked what this win personally meant to him, and in typical fashion, he dodged the question because of his staunch belief in football being a family and group accomplishment.

“This is huge for our program,” Parnell said. “We got to a Saturday game, and we won a Saturday game. Now, we get another Saturday game, a semifinal, and we are at home. I’ve got about 50 young men and seven coaches that are dang happy to be giving up their Thanksgiving week to be practicing for another football game.”

Cassville welcomes the defending Class 3 state champion Trinity Catholic on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

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