With the rain falling steadily and their team trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Neosho faithful that made the trek to Republic High School on Friday night decided to turn up the heat.
With the rowdy crowd at its back, Neosho’s defense stopped Republic on five consecutive drives and clawed back from a 14-0 deficit to close within 20-14 following a 6-yard pass from Austin Hailey to freshman receiver Bryce Murphy with 2:40 left in the third. But after failing to cash in on a Tigers fumble, the Wildcats punted it back and paid the price when James Desjardins broke free on a 28-yard touchdown scamper. A two-point conversion pass from Zach Hall to Jace DuVall made it 28-14 and quieted the crowd. The Tigers quickly parlayed the momentum into another score and a 35-21 victory.
The Wildcats entered the game with intent on running the football, and the poor conditions made it even more of an emphasis. Problem was, the Tigers had the same intentions. It came down to execution, and the Tigers were simply better at it with the game on the line.
“We came out and we had a gameplan to run the football,” Wildats coach Dustin Baldwin said. “It comes down to execution. The weather is this, the weather is that, but we dropped six or seven passes and we didn’t block. That’s what it comes down to — blocking. It’s executing the play. Our kids know that. We didn’t block well enough and that’s ultimately what it came down to.”
The Wildcats (0-8) did run the ball well. It became clear in the early stages that they’d be utilizing the talents of senior wideout Justin McKee in the running game, and he led the team with 14 carries for 62 yards. Senior tailback Davin Bentz also had an efficient night with 60 yards on eight carries.
Perhaps senior night festivities gave the Tigers a little hop in their step in the early stages as they built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. They scored their first touchdown on a 4-yard run by Colton Peltz to make it 6-0 after the conversion failed. Peltz added another score on their next drive, this one from 3-yards out. His conversion run made it 14-0 with 5:02 left in the first.
The Wildcats would get on the board on the ensuing drive, as they marched 65 yards on 10 plays before cutting it to 14-7 on a 1-yard sneak by Hailey to make it 14-7. The teams continued trading punches as DuVall scored on a 19-yard run on Republic’s next drive to make it 20-7.
Execution (bad luck?) bit the Wildcats again just before half as they missed a prime opportunity to trim the deficit with just under a minute to go in the half. On first down at their own 31, Hailey threw a screen pass to Murphy, who then fired a deep salvo to a wide open McKee in front of the Wildcats’ bench. After hauling in the pass, the receiver attempted to turn up field but lost his footing in the wet terrain and slipped down without a defender in sight at the Republic 36 for a 33-yard gain. A pass interference penalty followed on the next play to give the Wildcats first-and-10 at the 21, but three incompletions later the Wildcats went to the locker room with no additional points.
Page 2 of 2 - Down two scores, the Wildcats began a march with 7:45 left in the game and made it to their own 47 before turning it over on downs. Two plays later, the Tigers put it away when DuVall popped a 47-yarder for his second score to make it 35-14.
Neosho added another touchdown on a 2-yard run by Hailey, his second score of the game, with four seconds left.
“It’s not the weather we wanted, but we can’t blame it all on the weather,” Baldwin said. “There’s going to be nights like this. We’ve got to be able to run the football and block just like (the Tigers) do. We just didn’t get it done.”
Desjardins finished with 17 carries for 161 yards for the Tigers. Duvall turned in 86 yards and two TDs on seven totes.
The Wildcats entertain Ozark at 7 p.m. Friday at Bob Anderson Stadium in the regular season finale.