By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When Monett really needed a stop, its defense got one.
Senior linebacker Gunnar Bradley dropped Seneca running back Trey Wilson for a three-yard loss on a fourth down play in the final minutes of the game, helping the Cubs hold on for a 35-28 win Friday at Earl D. Campbell Stadium in Seneca.
“Gunnar Bradley came up with a huge play to end the game right there,” Monett coach Derrek Uhl said.
The stop ended Seneca’s last-ditch comeback effort on homecoming night. That Seneca was even in position to potentially tie or take the late lead was a testament to the 10th-ranked Indians, who found themselves trailing 20-0 in a blink of an eye early on.
Monett’s Ethan Umfleet set the tone by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Jamie Guinn scored on a 15-yard run on Monett’s first offensive possession, and quarterback Karter Brink scored on a sneak early in the second quarter.
All Seneca had done until that point was punt the ball twice.
“The first quarter you can’t get down 20 points,” Seneca coach Ryan McFarland said. “And giving up the kickoff and not being able to move the ball a whole lot on offense the first drive and letting them go down and score again, it really gave them the momentum.”
But the Indians scored twice in a two minute span after that to stay in the game.
Monty Mailes scored a 7-yard touchdown to cap a 63-yard drive, making it 20-6, and then Seneca recovered a fumble at the Monett 35, leading to a 23-yard Lance Stephens touchdown and a Mailes’ two-point conversion.
Seneca’s defense followed up the fumble recovery with a Preston Armstrong interception at the Indians’ own 12 to halt another Monett drive and keep it 20-14 going into the half.
The Indians’ defense came up big again early in the third quarter with a fourth-down stop near midfield to give the offense great field position.
On a fourth-and-2 from the Monett 49, Wilson broke loose for the team’s longest run of the night, and Stephens passed to Daythen Long for the two-point conversion to give Seneca a 22-20 lead.
“I’m extremely proud of our kids,” McFarland said. “You get in that twenty-to-zero hole and to be able to come back and take the lead. We just kind of ran out of gas and couldn’t hang on.”
Monett answered immediately with a 52-yard scoring drive and a 10-yard touchdown by Guinn. Umfleet added the conversion run to make it 28-22 and then the Cubs turned it over to their defense.
A pair of big sacks by Bradley and Brandon Majors put Seneca in a fourth-and-26 hole, forcing a punt.
On Seneca’s next possession the Cubs forced a three-and-out, and that led to a 50-yard drive and a 1-yard Brink touchdown with 4:46 left in the game.
Monett led 35-22 at that point.
Seneca’s Wilson added a 44-yard touchdown run three plays later to pull the Indians back to within a touchdown. Their defense even got a stop after that, giving Seneca the ball at its own 15 with 2:25 left in the game.
But after a six-yard gain and two incompletions, Bradley came up with the stop for a loss on fourth down to effectively end the game.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a really good football game and it was going to come down to something like this, maybe a last drive and our kids understood that,” Uhl said. “When we got up 20 on them we did gain a lot of confidence from that, returning that first kickoff. They’re one heck of a team and we knew it was going to take a big effort to get them.”
After Seneca scored to lead 22-20, Monett’s defense held the Indians to just one score in the final 19 minutes of the game and forced two punts and a turnover on downs in three of Seneca’s final four possessions.
“They had them when we needed them,” Uhl said of the defensive stops. “Going into the half they kind of got some momentum back but then coming out the second half I felt like we started gang tackling. Really I thought our defense played well overall. They had some big hits and were gang tackling.”
And Seneca’s defense came up with three turnovers, including two interceptions by Armstrong deep in Seneca territory.
“They’re proving to be one of the better defenses in the Big 8,” McFarland said. “We need them to keep doing that.”
Monett improved to 4-2 overall and has won four-straight games. Seneca dropped to 4-2.