The Neosho Wildcats close out their regular season Friday night with a Central Ozark Conference Large clash against the Carthage Tigers at David Haffner Stadium.
Carthage, receiving votes in Class 5 in the latest Missouri media rankings, enters the finale 5-3 on the season, while Neosho enters 1-7 on the season and winless in COC Large competition.
Carthage comes off a 48-7 home annihilation of Republic, while Neosho lost 49-12 to Class 4 No. 1 Webb City in the Wildcats’ home finale at Bob Anderson.
The Tigers have found success this season both in the passing and running attacks.
For example, senior wide receiver Arkell Smith has come on strong in his last three games, all 100-yard receiving performances. Last week, he gashed Republic for 162 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Overall, this season, Smith has 35 catches for 725 yards and six touchdowns. The Wildcats have struggled at times giving up the big play through the air.
Running back Clay Newman leads the Tigers on the ground and needs another solid night — 111 yards — to reach 1,000 yards on the season. He rushed for 142 yards and three scores last week against Republic.
Zeke Sappington has passed for more than 1,300 yards this season.
The Republic win was one of Carthage’s best nights.
“I felt like everything was working tonight,” Carthage head coach Jon Guidie told Brennan Stebbins of the Carthage Press. “We stayed pretty basic but we ran the ball well, we threw the ball well in the intermediate range, and I can’t say enough about our defense. That’s a tough offense to defend. They put up 56 points last week and to hold those dudes to seven … our defense did a great job. That was the best they’ve played.”
Meanwhile, Neosho ran into the juggernaut known as Webb City last week, but the Wildcats did make it a 28-12 game early in the second half after a methodical scoring drive to close out the second half and then a 76-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Kelley to Jarvis Funk after the Wildcats recovered a Webb City fumble.
“I thought we played well and did some good things here and there,” Neosho head coach Leon Miller said after the Webb City game. “But they’re a heckuva football team. We just were overmatched in a lot of areas.
“They’ll show up and play hard (against Carthage). They’ll practice hard and work hard. They’re all big (games). We’re going to go out and play the best we can.”
The Wildcats have been a run-heavy team this season, but have made strides in their passing game in recent weeks — tight end Tre Letts has been a favored target of quarterback Kelley and Funk’s long touchdown reception only continued his stellar play of recent weeks. (Funk rushed for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in Neosho’s 41-6 win over Logan-Rogersville.)
The Wildcats, if they can get their running game established, can control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Carthage big play threats Smith and Newman. At least, theoretically.
Three of Neosho’s losses this season have been by three points or less — Branson 17-14 in the season opener and Nixa 21-20 and Republic 20-19 in consecutive weeks.
Over this decade, Carthage has dominated Neosho — winning 35-21 last season, 20-19 and 33-14 in 2015, 42-14 in 2014, 48-17 in 2013, 69-22 in 2012, 49-7 in 2011, and 42-7 in 2010.
Carthage defeated Neosho both times in 2009 — 27-25 in the regular season and then 39-36 in the playoffs on a touchdown in the final two seconds of regulation.
Neosho’s win against Carthage in the 2008 playoffs ended a six-game skid for the Wildcats against the Tigers.
That means, Carthage has won 16 of the last 17 games overall and 10 straight against Neosho.
TIGERS (7-0) at INDIANS (8-0)
The Big 8 Conference title will be determined in the final game of the regular season — with No. 1 in Class 2 Lamar taking on No. 4 in Class 3 Seneca at Earl Campbell Stadium.
Lamar enters the contest on a 42-game winning streak that dates back to the 2014 season and the Tigers are the six-time defending Class 2 state champions.
Defense, defense, defense.
Both teams have been very, very strong defensively this season.
Seneca allowed 88 points over its first eight games, or 11 points a game. Nevada scored 20 points in the season opener against the Indians and that’s the most all season — seven against Osage, 13 against McDonald County, seven against Mount Vernon, six against East Newton, 14 against Aurora, 14 against Cassville, and seven against Monett.
Lamar’s been even stingier this season than Seneca, with the eight points generated by McDonald County in Week 6 the most scored against the Tigers’ defense all season.
All told, Lamar outscored its first seven opponents — yes, seven, because who, aside from Valle Catholic, wants a nonconference game against Lamar — by a combined 325-27. Ridiculous.
Seneca last won against Lamar in the 2012 season — 13-6 in Week 2 at Lamar. Even in the Indians’ great state playoff run season of 2013, Lamar defeated Seneca 56-21 at Earl Campbell.
In that 2012 game, Lamar racked up 409 yards of total offense against the Indians, but the Tigers only found the end zone once.
Meanwhile, Seneca only generated four first downs in the contest, but the Indians, most importantly, struck on a pair of big scoring plays, a pair of 50-yard touchdown passes (accounting for half of the Indians’ 200 yards of total offense) from Payton Rawlins to Jalen Skaggs and Braxton Graham, respectively.
Mother Nature played a role in the game, with rainy weather creating a wet, muddy field which made ball security even more important than usual.
MUSTANGS (5-3) at HOUN’ DAWGS (4-4)
Right behind the Seneca Indians, the story of the McDonald County Mustangs this season is one of the best stories out there.
Under new head coach Kellen Hoover, the Mustangs have won as many games as they have the previous four seasons combined. The Mustangs won three games both in 2010 and 2012, their previous highest win total this decade.
Senior running back Israel DeSantiago, who mostly disappeared last season under former head coach John Diehl’s pass-delirious offense, has surpassed the potential he showed during his sophomore season and last week against winless East Newton on Senior Night, DeSantiago rushed for five touchdowns in the first half alone.
The Houn’ Dawgs have also been one of the better stories this season and Aurora’s accomplishments this season include a 33-14 win in the Bell Bowl over then state-ranked Mount Vernon and a 15-14 loss to No. 4-ranked Seneca, the Indians’ closest score so far this season.
Aurora took a 34-13 loss last week to Cassville, a team the Mustangs defeated earlier this season on the Wildcats’ Homecoming. That was another big performance by DeSantiago.
Aurora, like McDonald County, has a new head coach in Craig Weldy and the Houn’ Dawgs have featured the big play capabilities of senior J.D. Lee and junior Logan Lauffer. Aurora, like Seneca, runs the split veer offense and, like the Indians, the Houn’ Dawgs have also been successful through the air this season.
McDonald County, winless last season, already owns five wins this season against teams it lost to last season and the Mustangs have the opportunity to make it six against Aurora.
The Mustangs, for the first time in a long time, will be higher than the No. 8 seed in the district playoffs and that means no opening matchup against top seed Webb City (or, in the case of last season, top seed Carl Junction).
However, McDonald County holds a .54 lead over Bolivar for the No. 6 seed in the Class 4, District 5 playoffs. Bolivar plays Class 5 Ozark and that means advantage Bolivar in the strength of schedule and district points. The Mustangs need a big win over Aurora and Bolivar to lose big to Ozark.
CUBS (2-6) at PATRIOTS (0-8)
Something will have to give in the regular season finale at Don Johnston Stadium when East Newton welcomes defending Class 3 state champion Monett.
The Patriots remain looking for their first win under new head coach Broc Wolfe and the Cubs look to end a six-game skid since they began Big 8 Conference play.
Monett’s two wins came outside the Big 8 against opponents California and Logan-Rogersville.
After some progress made near the middle of the season, the last three weeks especially proved brutal on East Newton, outscored a combined 154-0 by Mount Vernon (54-0), El Dorado Springs (46-0), and McDonald County (54-0). That’s 12 straight quarters of scoreless football.
Monett, at least, pushed Mount Vernon to 25-20 and McDonald County 21-18, the latter game after falling well behind in the first half and then punching in a couple scores after halftime.
East Newton owns a 10-game losing streak, with its last win in Week 8 last season against McDonald County. A loss to Monett started the Patriots on their current skid.
Monett and East Newton are both solidly in the No. 6 and No. 8 positions, respectively, in Class 3, District 4.
WILDCATS (0-8) at WHIRLWINDS (5-3)
Like East Newton, the Diamond Wildcats look for their first win of the season in their regular season finale under new head coach Curtis Horton. The Wildcats — defending Spring River Valley Conference champions — own a nine-game losing streak.
Archie enters Week 9 on a three-game winning streak — 51-14 over Oswego, 28-6 over Appleton City, and 50-14 over Rich Hill.
Diamond and Archie have one common opponent this season — Lockwood. Both teams lost to the Tigers — Archie 34-0 in Week 4 and Diamond 49-25 in Week 5.
Last season, Diamond rolled 43-7 over Archie.