By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After a five-point loss to McDonald County in week eight, Nevada coach Wes Beachler didn’t think his team had prepared very well. That was an emphasis in practice this week.
“Our kids had a great week of practice. Tuesday was solid, Wednesday was solid,” he said. “When you practice well you’re going to perform to the best of your ability.”
The Tigers followed it up with an impressive 41-16 win on Friday night in the regular season finale, snapping visiting Aurora’s seven-game win streak in the process. Beachler said it was probably the team’s best overall performance this season.
“It’s good to see that come together at this point in the season,” he said.
Nevada (7-2) scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and was driving for a third early in the second. By then, a Houn Dawgs team that had won by an average of three touchdowns this season had run just six plays, and hadn’t gotten the ball past the original line of scrimmage.
“We talked about it before the game,” Beachler said. “My defensive coordinator Neil Barnes talked about it and then I followed up with hey, when you play a team like this that’s physical, they like to impose their will at the line of scrimmage and they play option football. You’ve got to be disciplined, number one, and you have to be willing to impose your will right back at them. I thought we did a good job of being disciplined and stopping their offense. That’s a very good football team. You can definitely see why they’re a 7-2 football team and they’re well coached.”
Junior Case Sanderson scored on runs of 17 and 2 yards to give Nevada a 15-0 lead just six minutes in, with junior quarterback Cade Beshore adding a two-point run. Early in the second quarter the Tigers drove to the Aurora 3 before senior Gavin Youngblood intercepted a pass in the end zone.
Nevada finally got its three touchdown lead with 1:52 left in the half when Sanderson scored on a 22-yard run, right after gaining 10 on a fourth-and-5 play. Beshore’s two-point conversion made it 22-0.
But Aurora (7-2) answered with a 65-yard scoring drive and a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior Aaron Fisher to senior Brendan Hall to make it a 22-8 game at halftime. The momentum carried over into the second half.
Aurora started the third with another 65-yard scoring drive and another Fisher-to-Hall pass, this time for 42 yards. Fisher added the conversion and suddenly Nevada’s lead was just six points.
Two plays later, Nevada responded with a 37-yard run by junior Avious Steadman to make it 28-16. And then Nevada’s defense forced a punt, setting up a short drive and Sanderson’s fourth touchdown of the game on a 32-yard run.
The ensuing kickoff hit hard off an Aurora player and was recovered by the Tigers inside the 50. This time they turned it over on downs, but after an Aurora four-and-out, Nevada got the ball back at the 33 and finished the game with a 6-yard touchdown by junior Jordan Johnson.
“We didn’t play assignment football, at all, defensively or offensively,” Aurora coach Craig Weldy said. “We did not play the type of football game that our kids are capable to play. Way too many penalties. Way too many missed assignments. That’s not indicative of what these kids are capable of doing, so yeah I’m a little bit upset about the way we played. I’m not upset about our effort. Our kids gave tremendous effort, they’ve always done that but we just didn’t play well. I’ve got to take responsibility for not having them prepared to play this game the way they’re capable of playing so it’s on me, 100 percent. Next week will be different.”
Beachler said it was an emotional night for Nevada on what would have been linebackers coach Will Downing’s 50th birthday. He passed away on the first day of practice and had spent four years with the program.
“I’m very proud of JD Downing,” he said. “His dad passed away the first day of practice and he’s stepped up and played well all year. It’s been an emotional year for him and he’s played well under the circumstances.”
Sanderson was also close with Downing and Beachler said he knew he’d have a big game.
“It was an emotional night for him and we knew he’d come out and play well on both sides,” he said. “I was kind of shocked that he had four touchdowns. I don’t really try to do things like that, just call plays we think are going to be there, but he had a big night and we knew he’d have a big night because this was a big deal to him.”