By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It may be years before Cassville sophomore Drake Reese finds words to describe Oct, 19 2018.
You know, the night that his 37-yard field goal as time expired gave Cassville a 24-21 win, ending Lamar’s 57-game winning streak and giving the Wildcats an undefeated Big 8 championship.
“I’m speechless,” said Reese just minutes after the kick.
Cassville coach Lance Parnell did find words to sum up his team’s historic win, saying:
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now; I’m so proud of my kids,” said Parnell. “We took some punches early, got down early, and a lot of kids could’ve folded.”
But really, who can blame either of them for struggling to find the perfect sequence of words?
Just two minutes prior to Reese’s kick, the sophomore missed a go-ahead field goal following a bobbled snap. He then had to watch as Lamar began mounting its own game-winning bid, until a Deven Bates interception halted that drive.
Following a 35-yard gain on a modified fumblerooski, Cassville was set up at Lamar’s 18-yard line with a chance to win the game with just three seconds to play.
For Parnell, there was never a doubt of what to do. Kick it.
“There wasn’t a lot of anxiety,” said Parnell. “I believed in my kicker. He had a great look at it earlier… got another opportunity and nailed it. That’s a big moment for a sophomore.”
The game is fit for a movie with an ending straight out of an Oliver Stone flick. Two undefeated teams in different classes. Lamar, seven-time reigning state champs and carrying the nation’s longest winning streak at 57 games.
Cassville had managed just six points against the Tigers in their previous five meetings and seemed headed for a similar fate on Friday night following a 98-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown and a seven-yard touchdown run later in the quarter.
Lamar led 21-7 at the half, likely on its way to win No. 58.
Then Cassville woke up.
“We talked about mental toughness and we talked about adversity,” said Parnell. “We knew that we would see it at some point this year. We really hadn’t seen much this season, especially to that extent. We challenged them a little bit.
“We changed what we were doing upfront a little in the second half; they were gashing us off tackle. We also got a couple more guys in the box. Zack Burton played tremendously in the second half after we moved him from end down to tackle. He made some big plays for us. But we came back and rallied.”
That adjustment led to Lamar rushing for just 54 yards in the second half on 13 carries, this after gaining 212 yards on 30 attempts in the first half.
Offensively, Cassville was able to get things going both through the air and on the ground. In doing so, they also dominated time of possession in the half which seemingly threw off Lamar’s offensive continuity.
The Wildcats outgained Lamar 372-270, with the majority of those Cassville yards coming in the second half.
Senior quarterback Shannon Haney flashed both his legs and his arm, rushing for 119 yards on 17 carries and adding another 123 yards through the air.
“Shannon played unbelievable tonight,” said Parnell. “He willed us to some first downs. He’s a strong kid and physical runner; he made some things happen tonight that weren’t necessarily there.”
Backfield mate Bowen Preddy had one of the best performances you’ll see against a Lamar defense, rushing for 92 yards on 14 carries, not including an 80-yard gain as the second leg on a hitch and pitch.
Lamar senior quarterback Duncan Gepner did finish with 98 yards on 17 rushes, both were team-highs. Hardman finished with a hat trick, recording all three Lamar touchdowns and totaling 179 all-purpose yards.
For Lamar, this isn’t unfamiliar territory.
In 2013, the Tigers lost a Big 8 championship on a hitch and pitch against Carl Junction. The following year, Lamar lost to the same Bulldogs via a last-second field goal block.
Lost in Lamar’s recent dominance is the not so friendly reminder that the Tigers are still the smallest team in the Big 8 and conference championships have never been easy to come by in the league.
In fact, it was that 2014 loss to Carl Junction in Week 9 that was the start of the streak. So, when asked how he gets a group of 15-18 year old kids to get refocused, his answer was simple.
“We’ve been here before and all you can do is go back to work,” said Lamar coach Scott Bailey. “I told our kids, we got beat in 2014 on a field goal, went back to work and won our next game in the first round of districts and nobody even knew we were starting this streak.
“We’ll go back to work the same way we did then. Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll hit our kids too hard. They’re good about not letting their successes go to their head or their failures to go to their heart. They understand that it’s Week 9 and not the end of their season. On Monday we go back to work and get ready for district play.”
For Cassville, Week 9 represented what has been a string of impressive wins. Of their nine wins, four have come against state-ranked teams and five of those nine have come on the road.
While earning their first Big 8 championship since 2012 is nice, there’s still plenty of work remaining.
Half of its district has been ranked at some point this season and reigning Class 3 runner-up Mount Vernon is hanging out on the other side of the bracket, meaning the Cats will have their work cut out for them.
But – for the crew whose motto this season has been “7/11 non-stop we rock” – this is the grind they both expected and want.
They’ll enjoy one of the biggest wins in program history, but Monday starts a new season.
“Our first goal is a district championship and we’ve talked about that from Day One,” said Parnell. “We’ve been here before with some wine early where we had to turn around and refocus the next week.
“The past is the past. Everybody is 0-0 and playing for their lives from this point forward. There is no time for letdowns. This group is driven, I think they’ll refocus themselves.”