Neosho scored its first points under the new flexbone offense, but it wasn’t enough to stave Republic as the Tigers rolled to a 33-15 victory in a Central Ozark Conference Large Division game on Senior Night at Bob Anderson Stadium on Friday.
Some big, timely plays helped the Tigers (4-4, 2-4) jump out to an 18-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Wildcats (0-8, 0-6) nearly capitalized on the Tigers’ first drive when Justin McKee came close to picking off Republic quarterback Zach Hall deep in Neosho territory. The Tigers instead retained possession and converted a third-and-10 on the next play when Hall connected with tailback T.K. Brigance on a screen for 22 yards down to the Wildcats’ six. Senior tailback Kerik Crouse would score the first points of the game on a two-yard run three plays later to make it 6-0.
The Tigers had trouble running the ball on the Wildcats, especially in the first half, but Brigance broke loose on a three-yard touchdown run with 8:34 left in the second quarter to give them a 12-0 lead. Hall would go on to hit senior receiver Garrett Metscher on an 11 yard pass to make it 18-0.
Then, with six minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats started to claw back. On third-and-nine from the Tigers’ 40, McKee, who’d carried the ball on the previous five plays of the drive, dropped back to pass, rolled left, and took off running. In a true showing of physical fitness, the junior, already winded from his previous runs, sprinted back across the field while covering the 40 necessary yards to the end zone.
Like that, the Wildcats were on the board.
Neosho’s defense would go on to allow only one more score the remainder of the way. After a penalty backed the Tigers up to Neosho’s 27 on a first-and-22, Hall found Metscher again on a 25 yard strike to give Republic a goal-to-go situation. Crouse scored from a yard out three plays later to make it 25-7.
“Defensively, I thought we turned around and played much better in the second half than we did in the first half,” Wildcats coach Jared Schoonover said. “It’s just a matter of (limiting) big plays and making plays. There were times that we did (make plays), but we didn’t make enough of them.”
The Wildcats’ defense wouldn’t allow another score, so the Tigers’ defense created one of their own. After missing a field goal, the Tigers were on their heels as Neosho drove it to Republic’s 30 and threatened to steal the momentum.
But on fourth down McKee was sacked and fumbled on the play. The ball squirted away from players on both teams before Republic’s Darion Hall scooped up the loose ball and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.
Page 2 of 2 - In resilient fashion, the Wildcats drove the ball down the field again on their next possession, making it as far as the Republic 21, but Metscher picked off McKee to end the threat.
The Wildcats still weren’t done, however. Their next drive consisted of three plays before Davin Bentz broke free around the right side and sprinted 45 yards for the Wildcats’ second score. Ryan Taylor added a two-point conversion run.
“In the first half we were missing reads that we were hitting in the second half, but we were just running out of time,” Schoonover said. “(The Tigers) played the same guys and it was the exact same look as it was in the first half, we were just (making) our reads (in the second half).”
As evidenced by their turnovers, Schoonover said his Wildcats must eliminate long-yardage situations.
“In this offense you have to continually put yourself in second-and-six, third-and-three (situations),” Schoonover said. “You can’t put yourself in third-and-eight, good things will not happen in this offense if you’re (in long yardage).
“There were times when we had a fullback fall down on midline, or we had a botched this or a botched that. There were some drive killers there, but there were some positive things that happened as far as moving the ball.”
McKee led all rushers with 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Bentz had 63 yards on three totes with a score.
Crouse paced the Tigers with 87 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and 40 more through the air. Hall completed 10 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. Metscher had 71 yards receiving and Beau Allen turned in 47. Brigance had 40 yards on the ground.
The Wildcats conclude the regular season at Ozark next Friday.