It sure looked like the Carthage Tigers were in the spoiling mood on Friday night. They stepped off the bus at Bob Anderson Stadium and stepped on the gas, burning rubber on Neosho’s homecoming festivities with a 69-22 Central Ozark Conference Large Division victory.
Carthage’s performance slowed, temporarily at least, the progress the Wildcats had made the previous week against a good Branson Pirates team.
This one was never really close.
The Tigers scored on their first nine drives — 10 of 11 overall. Coming off two losses in which they’d allowed more than 60 points in each, the Tigers were no longer in the giving mood.
The victory moved the Tigers to 3-2 overall and marked their first Central Ozark Conference Large Division win (1-2).
The Wildcats were missing a pair of starting linemen, including last week’s top performer Aaron Clardy, and the Tigers took advantage. Carthage dominated the point of attack on both sides of the football. Offensively they opened up huge running lanes for tailback’s Seth Beckner and Cameron Priester to gash the Wildcats for big yardage.
Once the running game got going, Carthage took to the air. Quarterback Jordan Musser had several big hookups with wideout E.J. Morgan. Musser, a senior, connected with Morgan, a junior, four times for 105 yards and three scores.
Musser completed seven passes for 249 yards and four scores in total.
But it was an improved defense that keyed the Tigers.
Neosho burned the Tigers on a few big passing plays. Austin Hailey hit Justin McKee on a 68-yard bomb to make it 29-7 midway through the second quarter. McKee later threw a touchdown to Ryan Taylor from 55 yards out on Neosho’s last score.
Aside from those two blemishes, the Tigers were markedly better on defense. Their offense did more than enough to erase those mistakes, too.
“We’re very pleased and happy with our defensive effort,” Tigers coach Jon Guidie said. “The kids have been working really hard on that side of the ball. Aside from a few big plays, I think our defense played really well tonight.”
Wildcats coach Jared Schoonover said after the game that Beckner might be one of the best overall football players in the entire COC conference. He showed why as he juked the Wildcats defense for 172 yards on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns. He also hauled in two catches for 104 yards, including a 70 yard score off a screen pass just before halftime.
Priester also had a good night carrying the ball. He racked up 87 yards on five touches, scoring twice.
“We played good up front,” Guidie said. “Those guys made it easy for our backs tonight. All the way across, all five of those (linemen) played a great game tonight.”
Page 2 of 2 - The Wildcats entered the game with some momentum, despite being 0-4 on the season. They’d slugged it out with a good Willard team and went to the wire against Branson in week four. The Tigers took that momentum away early.
“You’ve got to give (the Tigers) a lot of credit,” Schoonover said. “Their quarterback threw the ball well, their receivers caught the ball well. The Beckner kid is a phenomenal athlete. They made plays.”
A week after rushing 37 times for 257 yards against Branson, McKee saw his workload lightened — he rushed 13 times for 62 yards and a score — in large part due to the Tigers’ building a 29-0 lead in the second quarter.
Wildcats receiver Ryan Taylor was, however, a thorn for the Tigers. Taylor struck for three big catches, accounting for 129 yards and a touchdown.
“They didn’t quit fighting,” Taylor said of his teammates. “We had some adversity coming into this game (missing players), but they kept fighting and they didn’t give up. We had a lot of sophomores in, some guys coming off of injuries that hadn’t played this year, and they came in and played really well and fought their butts off.
“We made a few plays, but we needed to make a few more.”
The Wildcats (0-5, 0-3 conference) are at Nixa next week.