When Calvin Coon hauled in a pass from quarterback Austin Hailey in front of Neosho’s bench and sprinted towards the north end zone with no one around him, a silent, yet undeniable sound of a bell ringing could be heard inside of Bob Anderson Stadium.
Having lost 12-straight dating back to last season, the Wildcats and their faithful were itching to ring the bell at the south end of the end zone. Coon scored easily on the play to give the Wildcats a 25-13 lead with 8:06 to play. Those dings fell silent, however, when the Monett Cubs stormed back with two touchdowns in the next 5:12 to stun the Wildcats 28-25 and extend their streak to 13 games.
Perhaps the most frustrating part for the Wildcats was that, for three quarters and some change, they’d flat-out dominated the Cubs. It represented the sign of progress the Wildcats had hoped to see this season, yet the sting of another loss still cuts deep.
“Give Monett credit,” Wildcats coach Dustin Baldwin said. “(The Cubs) did what they needed to do to win. That’s the difference between a program that knows how to win and a program that’s trying to learn how to win, and we’re trying to learn how to win. Hopefully we’ll get there.”
Coon’s touchdown seemed to wake the Cubs (2-0), as they quickly marched 77 yards on six plays and scored on a seven-yard run by quarterback Zack Hammond. A two-point conversion then made it 25-20 with 6:51 remaining in the game. The Wildcats quickly pushed the ball up to Monett’s 44-yard line, but were forced to punt at that spot.
After a return set them up at their own 21, Hammond found receiver Jorge Meza wide open down the seam on the second play of the drive for 72 yards to give the Cubs a 26-25 lead. The duo hooked up again on the two-point conversion and the Cubs led 28-25 with 2:56 left.
The Wildcats still had two possessions left, but they fumbled the first one away just two plays into the drive, and the last drive stalled at their own 37 after a 12-yard sack on second down.
“In a game this close, we just didn’t do enough things to win,” Baldwin said. “It was a game we certainly could have won. (The Cubs) don’t throw the ball much, but we made them do that, and we wanted them to do that. But we gave up one big play, really, and a blown coverage is all that was.”
Monett came out of the gates with a vengeance. After Neosho fumbled the opening kick, the Cubs scored on the second play from scrimmage when Hammond found Wesley Abramovitz from 27 yards out to make it 7-0. Quincy Jackson scored on a two-yard run on their second drive to make it 13-0 at the 6:30 mark in the first quarter.
Page 2 of 2 - “We came out with our pants down,” Wildcats coach Dustin Baldwin said. “That was an awful start, just a worst case scenario. We’ve got guys that are seniors that aren’t making plays for this team that they need to be making, and until we get leadership and accountability from them … that’s where it starts.”
Despite the early wobbles, it was the defense of the Wildcats that bailed them out for the next three quarters. Monett suddenly couldn’t do much right, and Neosho’s offense took full advantage of its shortcomings.
On their third possession, the Wildcats scored on a one-yard run by senior Justin McKee to make it 13-7. He’d later draw the game to a 13-13 tie when he bowled over two Cubs defenders on his way to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hailey with 9:12 left in the half.
With the Cubs threatening on the next drive, sophomore Zac Grant thwarted the effort when he stepped in front of a Hammond pass at the eight-yard line and returned it to Neosho’s 15. The Wildcats ended up punting, but the interception loomed large when Hailey pounced on a Cubs fumble at the Monett 22 and proceeded to hook up with freshman Bryce Murphy on a 22-yard touchdown pass two plays later to give the Wildcats a 19-13 advantage with 1:15 left before the half.
Despite the success through the air, however, its shortcomings running the ball against Monett kept Neosho from chewing up the clock and shortening the game in the second half. Hailey completed 12 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. McKee had 47 yards receiving and one score, while Coon had six catches for 76 and a touchdown and Murphy had four grabs for 64 yards. McKee also led the team in rushing, however, with 14 yards on seven tries with a TD while Hailey had 11 on 11.
“The defense from mid-first (quarter) to mid-fourth played great,” Baldwin said. “Monett’s a good offensive team and (it) didn’t do much at all there. But offensively, until we start running the football we’re really going to struggle.
“We’re not good enough to throw the ball 30 times a game right now, and we’re not protecting good enough to do that. We’ve got to establish a run game, so we’re going to have to make a concerted effort as a team and coaching staff to get better up front this week.”
The Wildcats get set to take on Willard in their first COC large division conference game of the season this week. Brock Roweton’s Tigers come to town sporting a 2-0 record after topping Marshfield 30-16 in Week 1 and Nevada 42-14 on Friday.