In the Show-Me State, no team faced a longer layoff between games than Cassville last week.
As the top seed in Class 3 District 6, the Wildcats received a first-round bye in the six-team bracket. Then their semifinal game was canceled because of coronavirus complications at Reeds Spring.
By the time Cassville took the field for the district championship against Mount Vernon, the Wildcats hadn’t played a down of football in almost three weeks.
“It was a worry that I had going in,” Cassville coach Lance Parnell said. “I have never been in that situation, having 20 days off that late in the year.”
But Cassville (9-2) showed no signs of rust, cruising to an emphatic 35-13 victory over the Mountaineers (5-6). The Wildcats claimed their second straight district title and became the first No. 1 seed out of their district to win the title since 2011 when they beat Seneca 42-0 on Oct. 28, 2011.
“I was really, really proud of our kids and the way they came out to open the game,” Parnell said. “I thought we played with great effort, intensity and physicality from the opening kickoff. I’m just super proud of the seniors and the way they handled themselves over the break. To come out with a district championship in a district with a lot of quality opponents — it’s quite an accomplishment.”
Cassville advanced to the Class 3 quarterfinal game and hosts Buffalo (9-2) today at 1 p.m.
“There are eight teams in Class 3 left, and we are fortunate to be one of those eight,” Parnell said. “Every single one of them are very good football teams.”
Buffalo is led by senior quarterback Jamen Smith, who has amassed 2,721 of the Bisons 4,129 yards this season. He’s thrown for 1,543 yards, rushed for 1,178 yards and accounted for 47 touchdowns (21 rushing, 26 passing).
“You don’t have to go very far from home — he reminds me of (former Missouri Southern Lion and Wildcats all-state quarterback) Ricky Nichols,” Parnell said. “They are very similar in stature. Both have really good speed and a smooth athlete that can make plays. Just an outstanding athlete. Runs well, throws the ball well. Very, very smooth in the way he operates their offense.”
Buffalo is averaging 43 points per game with 243 yards rushing and 140 yards passing per contest. Juniors Cameron Portis and Jaren Smith have split duties at tailback, running for a combined 1,073 yards on 102 carries and 14 touchdowns.
Senior Bode Abraham leads the receiving corps with 27 catches for 590 yards. He has also scored 10 touchdowns. Junior Logan Horn leads the defense with 99 total tackles.
“Offensively, they are extremely athletic and explosive,” Parnell said. “It all starts with their talented quarterback. They have some very talented running backs and receivers around him. They spread the field and distribute the ball that way. They will condense the formations and try to run the ball at you. It’s a very balanced attack we have to be ready for defensively.”
The Wildcats average 33 points, 243 yards rushing and 140 yards passing per contest.
Senior running back Jericho Farris has been Cassville’s featured offensive weapon this season with 1,469 yards on 198 attempts and 20 touchdowns. Pittsburg State commit Zach Coenen has scored nine touchdowns, running for 650 yards on 71 attempts.
Senior quarterback Hayden Sink has completed 27-of-45 passes for 628 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He’s also scampered for 438 yards on 89 carries. Brett Cooper leads all receivers with 11 catches while Drake Reese has 10 catches for 359 yards and four touchdowns.
Coenen paces the defense with 78 tackles while Spencer Moeller is next with 65.
In an era of spread offenses, Cassville serves as an example that smashmouth football hasn't gone out of style. It's safe to say the Wildcats will stick to their strengths.
“We just have to continue to do what we do and that is to run the football offensively,” Parnell said. “We have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and win that war in the trenches. We have to play with that physical mindset that we have tried to base our program on for the last 23 years I’ve been here.”