The district playoffs start tonight and in a Class 5, District 5 bout, the Neosho Wildcats return to the site of their heartbreaking defeat earlier this season against the Republic Tigers.

In that Week 6 contest, Republic led 14-0 entering the fourth quarter, but Neosho rattled off 19 unanswered points to take a late lead and then Republic struck for a long touchdown pass with 1.2 seconds remaining for the 20-19 Homecoming win. Heartbreak for Neosho, who came off a 21-20 loss the week before against Nixa.

Back-to-back one-point losses, but the Wildcats regrouped in Week 7 for a 41-6 win over Logan-Rogersville — their first and so far only win of the season — before having their moments the last two weeks of the regular season against Webb City and Carthage in 49-12 and 45-25 losses. For example, Neosho outplayed Carthage in the middle quarters, but the Wildcats were outscored 29-0 in the first and fourth.

Meanwhile, it’s been no picnic either for Republic since its one-point win over Neosho. Like the Wildcats, Republic came out the week after Neosho with a win, rolling 56-35 over Branson. Again, like the Wildcats, Republic took losses in the final two games of the regular season, a 48-7 blowout against Carthage and a 26-25 heartbreaker against Willard on a blocked extra point late that could have sent the game into overtime.

That loss made Republic the No. 4 seed, Willard No. 3, and earned the Tigers of Republic a return match against a Neosho team surely to be fired up to play against their former head coach (Dustin Baldwin), as well as former defensive coordinator (Zac Nelson), and a team who beat the Wildcats by a single point.

What must be encouraging for the Wildcats is the fact they have played competitive games against four teams in their district — 19-7 loss to Willard, those one-point losses against Nixa and Republic, and last week’s loss to Carthage.

In the first meeting this season, penalties hurt both teams.

Republic had three separate touchdowns called back on penalties — the Tigers scored a TD on the play immediately following one of those penalties — and a pair of penalties on a drive late in the game helped Neosho take possession and then gain the lead.

Neosho’s big penalty was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed on the extra point rather than the ensuing kickoff by a savvy Baldwin. Neosho, rather than kick what amounted to a 35-yard extra point, tried for two and failed. At that point, Republic led 14-13.

The Wildcats later went ahead 19-13, leaving the door open for Republic.

It looked as if the door had shut on Republic, when Neosho’s Sean Moran dropped Republic quarterback Riley Watkins for a sack and a loss that gave Republic 69 yards to go.

Two plays later, however, Watkins found Cam Flood over the middle and Flood broke into the great wide open for the winning 57-yard touchdown.

In that contest, unofficially, Neosho tallied 315 yards of total offense. Gavin Kelley and Cade Lyerla each rushed for 61 yards on 12 and 10 carries, respectively, while Jarvis Funk added 50 yards on 15 carries. Kelley hit Tre Letts on a 23-yard touchdown pass, a great time for Neosho’s first touchdown pass of the season since it gave Neosho its six-point lead.

Letts recovered a key Republic fumble to help Neosho on its comeback trail.

Watkins passed for 211 yards and two scores on 9 of 16 accuracy. Running back Skyler Owen’s 31-yard touchdown run produced the only points of the first half.

Until that loss, Neosho had won three straight contests against Republic, including last season’s district opener at Bob Anderson Stadium.

The Wildcats have won back-to-back district openers, but those were played at Bob Anderson.

Top seed Carthage awaits the winner of Neosho and Republic in the semifinals next Friday.

PATRIOTS (0-9) at INDIANS (8-1)
Like Neosho and Republic, Seneca and East Newton played each other during the regular season in a conference game — Week 5 rather than Neosho and Republic in Week 6.
That’s where the similarities end, because Seneca rolled to a 36-6 win at Earl Campbell Stadium over its conference and Newton County rival.
The Indians come off their first loss of the season, a 42-13 defeat against Big 8 unbeaten and the six-time defending Class 2 state champion Lamar, who’s outscored opponents by a good 300 points this season with a defense surrendering 40 points in eight games (five points per game).
East Newton finished winless in the first regular season under head coach Broc Wolfe and the Patriots’ six points last week against Monett ended a string of consecutive scoreless games against Mount Vernon (54-0), El Dorado Springs (46-0), and McDonald County (54-0).
The Patriots only generated 44 points in the regular season — 25 against Aurora in Week 4 — and were blanked five times in nine games.
Expect more of the same and no letdown for top seed Seneca in this Class 3, District 4 contest.

MUSTANGS (5-4) at BULLDOGS (8-1)
McDonald County was just a win over Aurora in the regular season finale removed from earning the No. 3 seed in Class 4, District 5 and an opener against 7-2 West Plains rather than 8-1 Carl Junction.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 in Class 4, have won eight straight games since a 27-12 loss in the season opener to unbeaten, No. 1 ranked, and top district seed Webb City.
Carl Junction’s defense has been outstanding — not quite Lamar or Webb City outstanding, but still outstanding — by surrendering a single touchdown or less in six games with Webb City, Ozark, and Pittsburg (Kansas) the lone exceptions.
McDonald County had its season ended in Carl Junction last season and to avoid that this time, the Mustangs would have to sustain drives (behind running back Issrael DeSantiago and an improved offensive line), produce points, and avoid turnovers.
Signal caller Joe Kennedy and running back Rayquion Weston lead Carl Junction’s potent offense.

WILDCATS (0-9) at BEARS (9-0)
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Ava Bears and the Diamond Wildcats, and now they meet in the Class 2, District 3 playoffs.
The Bears have won every game this season — including a 26-12 win over Class 4 Marshfield in Week 1 — en route to securing a No. 4 ranking in Class 2 and the top district seed.
The Wildcats, who lost a ton of players after consecutive winning seasons under previous head coach Ben Glidewell, have been outscored 427-103 and finished 0-9 in the regular season.
Ava’s pitched four shutouts and held every opponent under 20 points this season.
The Bears are led offensively by backs Stephen Copeland and Quincey McDonald with 24 rushing touchdowns between them, and Caleb Johnson the point guard at quarterback.
Ava looks to break the run of district titles by Liberty/Mountain View, who have won eight of the last nine titles in this district.