For the first time since 1989 the Neosho Wildcats closed out the regular season winless after a 55-21 loss to Ozark on Friday in a Central Ozark Conference Large Division game.
That ’89 team, guided by current Owasso (Okla.) head coach Bill Patterson, finished the season 0-10, a mark the current 0-9 Wildcats can still avoid with a victory in the MSHSAA Class 5 District 5 playoffs at Kickapoo on Thursday. Before ‘89, the previous winless season came under the watch of Cal Lane (0-8-2) in 1949.
Back to Friday.
After a pair of early touchdowns gave the Tigers a 14-0 lead, the Wildcats punched back with a score of their own when Ryan Taylor bobbled a kickoff at the 10 yard line, scooped it up at the 12 and raced 88 yards through the heart of the Tigers’ coverage unit to make it 14-7.
The Tigers, however, would answer with scores on their next three possessions to take make it 35-7. Again, the Wildcats would respond — this time putting together arguably their best drive under the new flexbone offense with a six-play, 59 yard drive capped with a one-yard dive by Christian Lopez to make it 35-14.
Leading 42-14 at the half, Ozark’s seventh score had a bit of added local flavor as Clint Godfrey, son of former Neosho head coach and current Ozark assistant Ray, took the snap at quarterback and plunged in from three yards to make it 48-14.
The Wildcats wouldn’t answer again until Lopez bulldozed in from a yard out with eight seconds left in the game.
As designed, the Wildcats spread the ball around as Chris Goodwin, behind a 40 yard burst with under five minutes left in the game, led the team with 48 yards on 10 carries. Justin McKee had 41 yards, Lopez had 39, Taylor had 24 and McKee completed both of his pass attempts for 35 yards.
“A week ago (Ozark) was the number five team in class five,” Wildcats coach Jared Schoonover said. “(The Tigers) had a great defense and held a team like Webb City to 28 points. I felt like we were able to move the football on them and have some success. We mixed it up a little bit on run/pass and had some success throwing the football tonight that we haven’t had in the past leading up to tonight.”
Schoonover was ready to squash any inkling that the rebuilding Wildcats might consider switching back to the offense that they began the season with for the playoff push. The current system, he adamantly contends, is what remains best for the future of the program.
“For an offense that we put in a month ago, I feel like our kids from the front to the back (of the depth chart) know what’s going on,” Schoonover said. “That decision was based on the future of the program. We felt like it was going to give us a best chance at the end of the year to be successful, and, of course, next week we’ll have that opportunity in the playoffs. Whether we win, or whatever the scenario is, it’ll allow us to springboard with it. We’re pleased with how the kids have grasped the offense.
Page 2 of 2 - “Yes, we were moving the football with what we were doing before, but it was an offense where we were doing it more out of necessity and not a long-term focus.”
The focus next week turns to their district showdown at Kickapoo at 7 p.m. Thursday.