REPUBLIC — 17.2 seconds.
That might not seem like a long time … just over a quarter of a minute.
For the Neosho Wildcats, though, 17.2 seconds are between them and a 2-4 record rather than a 0-6 record after two-thirds of the regular season in the books.
In Week 5, Nixa’s Sean Sample caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jack Sanders with 16 seconds remaining to give Nixa a 21-20 victory at Bob Anderson Stadium.
In Week 6, Republic’s Cam Flood broke into the great wide open for a 57-yard touchdown pass from Riley Watkins for a 20-19 win for the Tigers on their homecoming at Tiger Stadium. This score left 1.2 seconds on the clock for the Wildcats.
The fourth quarter certainly proved to be one for the ages.
The Wildcats entered the fourth down 14-0, but had started a promising drive to end the third. Neosho resumed its drive at the 30 to start the fourth and the Wildcats methodically moved the ball down the field against the Republic defense. Cade Lyerla found room for three first downs, Gavin Kelley broke free for an 8-yard run and a first down, and Jarvis Funk’s 3-yard run gave the Wildcats a first and goal at the Republic 10.
On the next play, James Renfro found the corner of the end zone down the Neosho sideline and put the Wildcats on the scoreboard with 8:26 remaining on the clock. Bret Camerer made the extra point for a 14-7 game.
Penalties had been Republic’s Achilles’ heel all night Friday against the Wildcats, calling back three different potential Republic touchdowns, all three on holding penalties.
However, on the very first play of their first drive with a 14-7 lead, Tigers quarterback Watkins fumbled the ball and Wildcats linebacker Tre Letts recovered the pigskin at the Republic 34. The Wildcats were back in business.
Three plays later, Renfro found the Republic sideline to his liking and scored on a 28-yard touchdown run for Neosho’s longest play of the night and a 14-13 score with 6:56 remaining.
Renfro and Republic defensive back Blake Hulland were jawing in the end zone after the touchdown, but Renfro was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Republic head coach Dustin Baldwin (Neosho’s former head coach) wanted the officials to access the 15-yard penalty on the extra point rather than the ensuing kickoff. This move gave the Wildcats the ball at the 18-yard line and Neosho head coach Leon Miller decided to go for two rather than try what amounted to an 35-yard extra point.
Republic’s Jordan Gold and Adam Batz brought down Kelley for a sack and the score remained 14-13.
Republic’s fourth quarter struggles continued on the Tigers’ second possession of the fourth, as a third-and-10 from Republic’s own 31 quickly turned into a third-and-20 from the Republic 21 after two penalties, a false start and an offsides. Watkins misfired on third down and Republic punted.
Facing a third-and-11 at their own 35, Wildcat quarterback Kelley broke loose for a 15-yard run and a first down to keep the drive alive. Then, on a second-and-9 at the Republic 23, Kelley hit his favorite target Friday night, Letts, for a 23-yard touchdown and a 19-14 lead with 42 seconds remaining. Neosho’s first passing TD of the season could not have come at a better time for the young Wildcats.
Just as it seemed Neosho had its first victory wrapped up, especially after Sean Moran sacked Watkins foothold style and put Republic 69 yards away, one big 57-yard play dashed Neosho’s dreams.
Renfro led the Wildcats with 84 yards and two scores on 13 carries, Kelley and Lyerla each rushed for 61 yards on 12 and 10 carries respectively, and Funk added 50 yards on 15 carries, as that quartet combined for most of Neosho’s 315 total yards.
Kelley completed 4 of 7 passes for 54 yards and one touchdown.
Watkins hit 9 of 16 passes for 211 yards and two scores. Just after his 30-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty at the 21, Skyler Owen scored on a 31-yard touchdown run for the only points of the first half.
Republic’s second score of the contest came one play after Landin Sigman recovered Renfro’s fumble at the 32 and Watkins and Flood connected on a 32-yard strike with 6:52 left in the third.
Neosho dropped to 0-6 overall and 0-6 Central Ozark Conference Large. The Wildcats return home in Week 7 for their Homecoming contest and step outside conference play to face COC Small school Logan-Rogersville, a fellow Wildcat school.
The Wildcats of Logan-Rogersville — a Class 3 school — own a 4-2 record and have won two straight games, 24-23 in overtime against Bolivar in Week 6 and 27-7 against Marshfield in Week 5.
Logan-Rogersville’s losses have come against Monett and Reeds Spring, two more Class 3 schools.
Republic improved to 2-4 overall and 1-4 COC Large.
Friday night’s game between Neosho and Republic not only counted in the COC Large standings, but both teams are in Class 5, District 5.
Republic stayed in the No. 4 spot with 24.33 points, while Neosho remained at the bottom of the six-team district with 17.83 points. The Wildcats have one district opponent (Carthage) remaining on their regular season schedule and have already lost against conference and district foes Nixa, Willard, and Republic. If the seeds stayed the same after nine weeks, Neosho would face Willard for the right to play Carthage in the district semifinals.
Carthage and Nixa battle in Week 7 and this game will go a long way toward determining the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 17.2 seconds separate Neosho from 2-4
REPUBLIC — 17.2 seconds.