Kyle Troutman: An unforgettable season

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Editor's Note: This column accompanies a "Congratulations Wildcats!" section in the Dec. 9 print edition. For more photos from throughout the season and congratulatory wishes, pick up a copy of the paper at the stand or in our office!

In the face of a worldwide pandemic threatening to end the season at any point, the Cassville football team missed no games and gave itself and all of Wildcat Nation a bright spot in 2020 and a 14-week campaign that will be remembered for many, many years to come.

Taking the field in week 1 at Mt. Vernon, the Wildcats started out the year with a slight misstep and wanting more out of themselves. After the game, Coach Lance Parnell said while it was good to be playing football again, a 21-13 loss to the Mountaineers — with the final touchdown coming on a 38-yard hail mary with 12 seconds left — was not the start the Class 3 No. 1-ranked team had in mind.

In that contest, quarterback Hayden Sink, who returned to Cassville this year after spending two in Bentonville, Ark., came up limping late in the game with an injury ultimately sidelining him until Week 4.

The Wildcats’ next-man-up mentality shone bright, and junior Cutter Hicks stepped in to right the ship and deliver two consecutive victories — 22-20 over Marshfield and 47-28 over Nevada.

Those games also saw big performances from running back Jericho Farris, receiver Drake Reese and journeyman Brett Cooper. The Nevada game was a glimpse of how powerful the Wildcats’ offense could be, especially with a back-up quarterback and a piece of the running game still on the sideline.

Week 4 was truly a show, as Cassville traveled 68 miles to Logan-Rogersville and, with Sink and running back Zach Coenen back in the mix, activated the turbo clock a few minutes after halftime.

The next two weeks were defining moments for the eventual state semifinalists.

A 40-20 loss to Lamar at home was a tough pill to swallow for Cassville, as even Parnell said, “It was not a very well coached, played or executed game on our part.”

However, a return to success in week 6 — big success — set the stage for the rest of the season.

The Wildcats hiked up to Burl Fowler Stadium and gave the Cubs their worst loss of the season, a 50-0 thumping to retain the Barry County Brawl trophy. Many of the players looked at this game as a highlight of the season and a turning point mentally as the playoffs approached.

And, they were right to take that mentality. The next three weeks were all heavy-handed wins — 42-21 over Seneca, 42-0 over East Newton and 44-21 over McDonald County — giving Cassville the No. 1 district seed and a 7-2 record going into the playoffs.

A bye in the first round gave way to a Reeds Spring forfeit in the second round, and the Wildcats found themselves in an interesting place, set to host Mt. Vernon for a district title after not playing a live snap for more than 20 days.

While there were some worries the team would come out stale, the players answered the call. A 14-point first quarter tumbled into a slow second quarter, but an absolute clinic on both sides of the ball after the break led to a 35-13 victory and second straight district championship.

Cassville continued its playoff march at home the following week, facing a Buffalo team with an equal record and impressive stats. However, the Wildcats saw no fear in the chilly, sloppy contest, dispatching the Bisons, 41-16. The win was largely credited, as many were this season to the “three-headed monster” ground game of Sink, Farris and Coenen.

Semifinal-bound, the Wildcats were forced into a meeting with Maryville in Title Town, 290 miles from home.

Down 10-0 at the half and 17-0 at the end of the third quarter, Cassville crafted a phenomenal comeback, with a wide receiver pass from Drake Reese to Brett Cooper giving the Wildcats a lead with 1:07 left to play.

The tenacity of Cassville, however, was matched by the home team, which took to the air and scored on a 12-yard pass with 11 seconds to go, sealing a 2-point win and ending the Cassville season.

Coaches in all sports routinely say something to the effect of, “Only one team finished the season with a win — the state champion — and all other teams are left disappointed.”

While the disappointment was heavy on the faces of the Cassville players and coaching staff in Maryville, their heads should be held high. The never-say-die, never-yield attitude in the face of injuries, COVID quarantines and point deficits, created a fantastic season enjoyed by all the Wildcat faithful.

We can’t wait to see what 2021 brings — Week 1 is 261 days and counting.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.

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