By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Cassville football coach Lance Parnell wanted another week with the 2020 edition of the Wildcats.
That was his message to the team entering Saturday’s do-or-die Class 3 quarterfinal game against Buffalo. He got his wish.
Cassville scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second half and won 41-16 on a rain-soaked afternoon at Wildcat Stadium, earning a berth in the state semifinals for the second season in a row.
“We’re not playing our best football yet,” Parnell said. “I want another week with these guys to get better as a football team. I thought we played pretty good football last week in the district championship game but made some mistakes. We needed to be better tonight and everybody says you want to be playing your best football at the end of the year and we want to take the opportunity to get a little bit better.”
The Wildcats, 10-2, never trailed on Saturday and had an answer every time the visiting Bison (9-3) made things close.
Cassville led 14-2 in the first half after a 4-yard touchdown run by senior Jericho Farris and a 1-yard sneak by senior quarterback Hayden Sink. A safety on a botched punt gave Buffalo its first points.
The Bison mounted an 80-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter, finding the end zone on a 13-yard reception by junior Jaren Smith. That made it 14-9 with 1:56 remaining before halftime.
That was enough time for Cassville to run nine plays and cover 66 yards. Helped out by a pair of costly defensive penalties, the Wildcats scored with 3.9 seconds on the clock on a 2-yard plunge by Sink and took a 20-9 lead into the locker room.
Buffalo recovered a pooch kick at the Wildcat 35-yard line to open the third quarter and quickly scored on an 8-yard run by senior quarterback Jamen Smith, who dove to the right pylon.
Cassville 20, Buffalo 16.
The Wildcats were dominant after that on an increasingly sloppy field.
Senior running back Zach Coenen broke free for a 74-yard touchdown barely a minute later, then the Cassville defense forced a punt after five plays. Sink scored on a 7-yard run after a 12-play drive to make it 34-16 with 1:14 left in the third quarter.
Buffalo’s Smith got to the edge and sprinted down the Cassville sideline for a 76-yard touchdown on the next Bison possession, but the score was called back for holding. Five plays later Cassville linebacker Keaton Shellenberger intercepted a deflected pass.
“That one pretty much sealed our fate I think,” Buffalo coach Ed Phillips said of the penalty on Smith’s run. “At that point we were still within striking distance.”
“Then they put it away,” he said.
The Shellenberger interception set up another Coenen touchdown run with 6:23 left in the game. And Buffalo fumbled on its next possession.
“Our offense played really well,” Parnell said. “It’s our offensive line up front that does a great job. Our backs ran hard. We were able to answer. We knew it was going to be a physical football game and when you look at the conditions right now it was going to be who was going to win the war in the trenches and I think that was our big boys up front.”
“My offensive coordinator Clay Weldy says it best, we feel like we’re built for any weather conditions with what we do offensively and I think that was shown today,” he said. “In a muddy, nasty trek we lined up and we ran the football. That’s who we are, that’s what we want to do.”
Phillips felt the same way.
“They’re a great team, great program,” Phillips said. “They’ve got a lot of great players over there. That fullback is just a tremendous player and the quarterback. He was big and they were tough running. They were made for these kind of conditions, they’re built for this time of year. They are a perennial power, they’re a great program. They just kept answering anything we came back with and we just couldn’t get them off the field when we needed to and that’s a tribute to how well they block and how hard they run. They kept getting yards and kept us at bay a little bit.”
Phillips, in his fourth year with the Bison, bid an emotional farewell to his senior class after the game.
“They came in with me,” he said. “They came in as freshmen so they mean a lot to me.”
Cassville now turns its attention to the 10-3 Maryville Spoofhounds, who won 35-9 against Summit Christian in another Saturday quarterfinal. The semifinal contest will be played in Maryville.
“Feels really good,” Parnell said. “Back to back district championships, now back to back appearances in the semifinals. It’s a special group of seniors sitting right over there I’m looking forward to going and talking to in a minute.”