Branson, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- The Branson Pirates defeated the Cassville Wildcats, 35-28, on Friday night. The heat and humidity played a factor in the end of the game as players from both teams were worn out. Branson head coach Steve Hancock said: “It was like an old Rocky movie, where two heavyweights were going at it and at the end they looked a little slow. The heat may have had something to do with that.”
Da’Quan Ervin made his varsity debut as starting quarterback, and what a debut it was. Ervin would score two rushing touchdowns, throw for another touchdown, and return kickoff 90-yards for another touchdown.
“I felt pretty good about my game,” Ervin said. “Coming in I was a little nervous. It’s different this year, but I like it. The ball’s in my hands every play and I love that. My offensive line created a lot of holes for me tonight and that made a big difference.”
In the first quarter, the two teams came out slugging, scoring five touchdowns in what was a surprise to everyone. Branson scored first with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Ervin to Micah Daniels and the scoring frenzy began.
A fumble by Cassville at 6:55 would allow Branson to score on Isaiah Daniels’ 8-yard run, to make the score 14-0.
Cassville responded with a 53-yard run by running back Brent Thompson. On the ensuing kickoff, Ervin would return the kick 90-yards to answer the Wildcats’ score.
In less than 17 seconds, quarterback Gabe Kirk would run the ball 71-yards on a quarterback keeper, closing the scoring in a fast-paced first quarter 21-14 in favor of the Pirates.
The teams would exchange touchdowns in the second quarter. Branson would score first when Cassville fumbled the ball again. Ervin would convert the turnover into a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Pirates the lead, 28-14. The Wildcats would again answer a score with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Kirk to Thompson, reducing Branson’s lead to 7.
At halftime, both coaches would tell their teams to come out and be stronger on defense, and it showed. Branson would end their scoring for the night in the middle of the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Ervin.
Trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were forced to pass the ball. The Wildcats caught a break in the fourth quarter when Kirk would heave a long pass which was tipped by a Branson defender into the open hands of Zach Rabourn for a 74-yard touchdown pass. It seemed the Wildcats would not go away.
“I thought our defense played well, but you’ve got to give Cassville credit, every time we would score, they kept answering. We’d get two touchdowns up on them and we thought we could put the finishing touches on them but they came rolling right back,” said Hancock. “Our defense forced three Cassville turnovers, which were huge because we turned two of those into touchdowns.”
The Branson defense would force a costly Cassville fumble with 4:55 left in the game, killing any momentum that the Wildcats had gained. The Wildcats would have one final try at tying the game, but with 1:21 they turned the ball over on downs, giving the ball back to Branson. Branson would simply run out the clock to end the game.
Cassville head coach Lance Parnell said: “We created a big hole for ourselves early. In the first quarter we didn’t play as well as we could have. We’ve got a young bunch and they got a little shell-shocked. We turned the ball over and then we gave up some big plays. You cannot win doing that. I’m proud of my kids.”
“You don’t know what to expect to expect the first game of the season. I was surprised it was as high a scoring game as it was,” said Hancock. “It was good to come away with a win; it’s been a while since we’ve been 1-0. It gives our kids confidence and it’s a change in attitude at Branson.”
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