By Dana Harding
Nixa, MO – It took a last-minute touchdown from Nixa quarterback Andrew Rivera to rally and overcome Neosho during the regular season.
In the Class 5, District 5 semifinal, history repeated itself.
Rivera’s 1-yard touchdown plunge in double-overtime propelled the Eagles to a thrilling, 38-31 victory over the visiting Wildcats, advancing Nixa to the next Friday’s championship game against Carthage, the district’s No. 1 seed.
Nixa head coach Richard Rehagen credited his team’s resilient nature and big-play ability for the comeback victory.
“Being in an overtime, you know you’re going to have chances,” Rehagen said. “You have chances to make plays, and I was really happy that our kids stepped up. They really did and made some plays. I couldn’t be happier.”
In a game that had plenty of twists, turns and momentum shifts, the fireworks started early.
Nixa’s special teams unit turned in a pair of big plays in the first half, when Neosho’s punt team turned the ball over on back-to-back series following a pair of bad snaps.
With a short field, the Eagles quickly capitalized on the miscues.
Nicos Oropeza scored on a 1-yard rush and a 36-yard reception to give Nixa an early 14-0 lead; however, Neosho would not go quietly.
The Wildcats rallied towards the end of the half, when quarterback Coleman Scott hit Payton Klier for a 9-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to 14-6.
Following a Nixa three-and-out to open the third quarter, Neosho went to the air once again.
Scott’s bomb down the sideline to Bryce Murphy resulted in a footrace to the end zone and a 58-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.
While the stage was set for the wild, overtime finish, Nixa’s journey to simply get there was just as big a moment.
Down 17-14 late in the fourth, Nixa’s special teams came up big again, forcing a short punt from deep in Neosho territory.
Unfortunately, the Eagles were unable to capitalize on the short field. Facing 4th-and-15 from the Neosho 33, Nixa sent out sophomore Sean Sample to try a 50-yard field goal.
Wait … what?
Knowing a slight breeze might be in Nixa’s favor, Rehagen rolled the dice.
“You just look up and … I think he’s good to 45,” Rehagen said. “This is 50, there’s a little breeze, and you feel good with a 50-50 chance from 45. He has a chance to make this kick, and 4th and 15 is going to be a real tough down for us.”
Sample, himself, was initially confused at the call.
“Whenever I saw the field goal unit coming out, I really didn’t think they were going to let me kick it,” Sample said. “I was really surprised, but after they called timeout, I knew I had it in me, because I’ve made longer in practice and I knew it was going to go in.”
Following a quick, 11-yard Neosho touchdown on the very next series from Scott to put the Wildcats up 24-17, Nixa once again found itself behind the 8-ball.
With 40 seconds left on the clock, the Eagles needed another big play.
Turns out, Sample had another to spare.
As if the 50-yard kick wasn’t enough, Sample one-upped his earlier heroics with a 25-yard touchdown reception in triple coverage to tie the game and set the stage for Rivera’s game-winning dive in the second overtime period.
“Coach called this trick play that we’ve been working on all week,” Sample said. “We were really confident in it, and when I saw [Rivera] threw it to me, I just had to go get it. I’m glad it was in.”
Oropeza led Nixa’s rushing attack with 123 yards on 18 carries to go with his three scores in the game. The Eagles were outgained by Neosho 414 – 273. Smart finished the game with 301 passing yards for the Wildcats.
Nixa now turns its attention to a rematch with Carthage on Nov. 4. The Tigers won the regular season contest 25-7.
Nixa – 38, Neosho – 31
Nixa 7 7 0 10 7 7 — 38
Neosho 0 6 8 10 7 0 — 31
First quarter scoring
Nixa Nicos Oropeza 1-yd TD rush 7 – 0
(Sean Sample kick)
Second quarter scoring
Nixa Oropeza 36-yd TD rec from Andrew Rivera 14 – 0
Neosho Payton Klier 9-yd TD rec from Coleman Scott 14 – 6
Third quarter scoring
Neosho Bryce Murphy 58-yd TD rec from Scott 14 – 14
(Miguel Aguilera 2pt conversion rec from Scott)
Fourth quarter scoring
Neosho Aguilera 23-yd FG 17 – 14
Nixa Sample 50-yd FG 17 – 17
Neosho Scott 11-yd TD rush 24 – 17
Nixa Sample 25-yd TD rec from Rivera 24 – 24
First Overtime scoring
Neosho Scott 1-yd TD rush 31 – 24
Nixa Oropeza 5-yd TD rush 31 – 31
Second Overtime scoring
Nixa Rivera 1-yd TD rush 38 – 31