By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
McDonald County’s hopes of a conference championship were dashed in convincing fashion Friday night in Cassville.
The Mustangs could have locked up the Big 8 West with a win – instead they ran into Jericho Farris and the Wildcats.
The Cassville senior running back scored five touchdowns and the Wildcats rolled to a 44-21 victory, solidifying the top seed in Class 3 District 6 in the process.
“We all just wanted this win,” Farris said. “We wanted to secure the first seed in districts and Senior Night, we couldn’t lose on Senior Night.”
Farris did a little bit of everything. He scored three touchdowns on the ground, including a 46-yard run untouched to effectively put the game out of reach at the end of the third quarter. He hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Hayden Sink, and also scored on a 77-yard kick return.
And he almost passed for a touchdown, too, on Cassville’s second offensive snap.
“I was hoping to get a passing one, too,” he said, “but I threw it a little too far.”
The Wildcats (7-2) set the tone from the very start, despite allowing a long kickoff return to start the game. That gave the visiting Mustangs (4-4) possession at the Cassville 35 to start, but four plays later McDonald County turned it over on downs.
Cassville converted on a fourth down its first possession, then senior Zach Coenen broke free for a 49-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Sink passed to senior Killian Barbee for two.
“I thought we came out, made a huge defensive stand after they had a nice kickoff return,” Cassville coach Lance Parnell said. “That was a big momentum stop for us because that’s a very talented offensive football team for McDonald County and I thought our offense played outstanding all night long. I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage and took advantage of every opportunity they had.”
Farris’ first touchdown came with 7:47 left in the first half on a 5-yard run to make it 14-0.
McDonald County, which turned it over on downs twice and punted twice on its first four possessions, finally scored with 3:02 left in the half on a 9-yard pass from junior Cole Martin to senior Trent Alik.
That sparked a furious finish to the half – three more touchdowns would be scored before the break.
Farris returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, then after another long return by Alik, the Mustangs scored on a 3-yard run by senior Racey Shandley to cut it to 20-14.
Three plays later the Wildcats struck on the 40-yard reception by Farris, and Sink’s two-pointer made it 28-14 going into the break.
If the Mustangs weren’t in trouble then, they surely were after Cassville opened the third with a 57-yard scoring drive capped by a 6-yard Farris run. Sink again added the conversion run and Cassville led 36-14 with 8:23 left in the quarter.
Fortune favored McDonald County on its next possession. Cassville’s Barbee intercepted a pass at midfield but fumbled on the return and the Mustangs recovered at the Cassville 45, no worse for wear. They had to convert on a fourth-and-two later on and Martin rushed for 31 yards, then senior Bailey Lewis punched it in from the 6 with 2:04 left in the third, making it 36-21.
But less than two minutes later, Farris answered with his 46-yard scamper and the lead was back to three scores.
“I think it was the play of our offense,” Parnell said. “Our offense answered every one of McDonald County’s scores and kept us in that position where we always had that two touchdown lead. I thought we played really, really well offensively.”
“We really struggled on defense throughout the whole game,” Farris said. “We should have closed them out a lot earlier. They kept breaking big plays but our offense kept putting points on the board which got us the win.”
Parnell was a little more charitable toward the defense.
“I thought we buckled down defensively and played better football, got a couple more stops,” he said. “A lot of our issues defensively were self-inflicted wounds and that’s something we’ve got a week to work on now.”
Cassville rushed for 350 yards with Farris accounting for 134 of those. Coenen added 142.
McDonald County was led by Martin, who completed 19-of-32 passes for 253 yards.