The 2012 football season came to a close for the Neosho Wildcats on a cold, wet Thursday as they fell to the Kickapoo Chiefs 43-16 in the Class 5, District 5 playoffs at Kickapoo High School.

The 2012 football season came to a close for the Neosho Wildcats on a cold, wet Thursday as they fell to the Kickapoo Chiefs 43-16 in the Class 5, District 5 playoffs at Kickapoo High School.

The loss left the Wildcats as the first team since 1989 to finish a season winless. Like that team, the Wildcats finished 0-10. The ‘89 season left the Wildcats on a 15-game losing streak after the ‘88 team began 5-0 and closed the season on a five game losing streak.

Back to Thursday.

Mistakes plagued the Wildcats all evening. After stopping the Chiefs’ first drive, they let them off the hook by fumbling on their first two plays from scrimmage. Neosho recovered the first, but lost the second as Chiefs defensive back Keenan Bates scooped up the loose ball and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.

The Wildcats again shot themselves in the foot by jumping offsides on the point after attempt. That penalty persuaded the Chiefs to bring its offense back on the field and attempt a conversion, and John Fuchs ran it in to make it 8-0.

A fumble at Kickapoo’s 19 on Neosho’s second possession set up an 81 yard drive, capped on a one-yard run by Fuchs, to make it 15-0.

“It’s one of those deals where we can’t turn the football over and put ourselves in bad situations,” Wildcats coach Jared Schoonover said. “There was multiple opportunities there to get it done and we didn’t get it done.”

The Chiefs limped into the game after losing a 16-point lead and the game to Joplin in the regular season finale. They still appeared snake-bitten on defense as the Wildcats moved the ball well on offense. But again, those mistakes, and the momentum shifts brought with them, kept things in Kickapoo’s favor all evening.

“We left points on the board in that first quarter by not capitalizing on plays that we need to capitalize on,” Schoonover said.

Down 15-0, the Wildcats continued to fight. A bruising 13-yard touchdown run by Christian Lopez, one in which he battered a host of defensive backs on the way to the end zone, followed with a conversion run by Ryan Taylor, set up the Wildcats’ only score of the game with 10:04 remaining in the second quarter.

From that point on it was all Chiefs. After the Wildcats defense stymied them in the early going, the Chiefs scored on their next four possessions to stretch the score to 43-8 before Ryan Taylor broke free on a 27-yard sprint against the Kickapoo reserves with 7:10 left in the contest to close the scoring. The Wildcats, Schoonover said, may have worn down a bit as the game wore along.

“They relied heavy on the counter, had some success on the counter there in the second and third quarter,” he said. “It was a scenario where you see a team, something that we won’t have in the future that we have a lot of right now, is that we have some two-way players. Anytime you put yourself in a situation where it’s a grind, and you don’t have the momentum with the grind … over time (the Chiefs) punched it, and punched it, and punched it and you’re going to wear down, and that’s what happened there that you saw as the game progressed.” 

Credit the will of the Wildcats for never going into give-up mode. They moved the ball down the field in large part due to a 37-yard strike from sophomore Austin Hailey to Taylor to help set up Taylor’s run. They again moved the ball into enemy territory within the final minute, but the season came to a close on an interception deep in Chiefs territory.

“There was some opportunities there to make some plays on both sides of the football and we didn’t make those plays,” Schoonover said.

The senior Taylor closed out his prep career leading the team with 83 yards rushing and 54 receiving to go along with his touchdown and two-point conversion in the game. Lopez, also a senior, ran for 24 yards before exiting in the fourth quarter with an injury. They are just two of a key group of seniors that the Wildcats will be missing next season.

“As far as tonight, when it’s over it’s about the seniors that we have,” Schoonover said. “I’m proud that those seniors were a part of this football program. They’re good boys, they’re hard workers and it’s something that I’m glad that we’ll have the memories that we’ll have. They’re high-character young men, but they’re definitely what we want representing our football program.”

Schoonover said the program is in good hands with what projects to be a larger group of kids next season and that those numbers alone should help make the program better.

“First of all, in our football program we are going to have kids that are sold out to the mission that we have as a football team,” Schoonover said. “The kids that we have coming back, as far as the kids that are a part of our football team, are sold out to that. We had good numbers with our freshman class this year, and our eighth grade class has big numbers, so our numbers will continue go grow.

“This senior class, when they were freshmen, and this was before I was the head football coach, they didn’t have a freshman team. That’s what translates when they’re seniors. So when you come out with a team that was small to begin with, by the time they’re seniors you’re going to have a pretty small group. That’s not the case with our classes that are coming up the pike.”