It had been a long time coming for the Neosho Wildcats in district soccer.

The Wildcats’ boys soccer program had last won a district tournament in 2004 and before that it had been 1986.

Neosho ended years of frustration Thursday night with a 3-1 win over Webb City at Bob Anderson Stadium, with all four goals in the match scored in the first half.

After years of travel for district tournaments all over Southwest Missouri — Joplin, Willard, Springfield, Carthage, Carl Junction, you name it — playing districts at Neosho for the first time definitely helped the Wildcats’ spirit.

Neosho started out Thursday’s match slowly and Webb City opened the scoring on a goal by senior Cody Schultz only 4 minutes, 21 seconds in.
The Wildcats’ speedy Bryan Perez just missed a chance for the first goal only a couple minutes before Webb City’s goal, shooting wide left after Webb City senior goalkeeper Collin Keats left the goal wide open.

“We didn’t come out ready,” Neosho head coach Steve Schnackenberg said. “We didn’t come out in warmup and we didn’t come out ready for the game. We thought we were and we found out real quick that we weren’t. They (Webb City) did a great job capitalizing and it opened our eyes.”

Neosho senior Hunter Gilliam made it a tie match on a penalty kick past Keats in the 13th minute and then spark plug Perez — Mr. Energy no doubt — scored two more goals for all the scoring in the match. Perez was assisted on the first of his two goals by Jared Scribner and on the second by Uriel Nava.

“Going into this, we knew how hard Webb City was going to come out and we didn’t match that,” Schnackenberg said. “I think that once that (Webb City) goal went in, everybody realized that we’ve got to step it up another notch. As a team, we create the chance for the PK with a great ball in and to get that opportunity. It just got us going and the momentum went our way.

“The thing we were saying before the game is that nobody gets outworked and we did, we got outworked in the first 10 minutes. Except for Bryan. Bryan didn’t get outworked tonight. Bryan hardly ever gets outworked. He did a lot more with the ball tonight than he’s been doing and made some great turns, had some great vision and found people. You can’t say enough about him.”

Perez earned the start Thursday night, whereas on Tuesday — like most of the season — he came off the bench against McDonald County. Either way, the results were the same — two Perez goals in each match and two Neosho wins, the most important thing for the Wildcats.

“He is a spark,” Schnackenberg said of Perez. “You put the ball in his direction and you know he’s going to go battle for it every time. The boys have a lot of confidence in him and he starts finding the ball. His distribution tonight created the space for him to score the goals. Early on, he was giving it up and then he was getting it back.”

The Wildcats also fed off the rowdy cheering section in the stands at Bob Anderson — chanting students, banging drums, et cetera. The students charged the field in celebration of a district title.

“At Bob Anderson Stadium for the first time in a district tournament,” Schnackenberg said. “In Neosho period. To get to do it here at Bob Anderson Stadium, lots of room for the crowd. It made it special. People drove by on the Boulevard and drove in, I think, just to see the game. It’s a first for us.”

Like the girls in the spring, the boys broke on through for a district title after years of close calls, disappointments, and heartbreaks.

“We’ve been fighting for that for years,” Schnackenberg said. “We’ve made it to the final game year after year and we put things together this year. We had a group of seniors and we had a group of boys following them that they were determined this was going to happen. That’s what it was. We just had that determination through it. Going forward, we’re looking forward to see who ends up winning that Carthage-Republic game to see where we’re going.”

It will be District 11 champion Republic against District 12 champion Neosho in the sectionals on Halloween night at 6 p.m. in Republic. Republic improved to 21-4 with a 3-2 double overtime win over Carthage on Thursday; Republic ended Carthage’s district title run at nine straight seasons.

In the regular season, Republic defeated Neosho 7-1 with five goals from Dylan Brown, who already had a hat trick only 11 minutes into the match. Perez scored Neosho’s only goal.

Neosho — 10-12 overall — started the season 1-8 and the Wildcats have been 9-4 over their last 13 to get to their current overall record.

Great Thursday night in '04
Thursday, November 4, 2004 was a milestone night in Neosho High sports history.

In Springfield that night, Neosho boys soccer won its second district title in program history with a 2-1 victory over Parkview. In the semis earlier that week, Neosho won a 2-1 double overtime match against Kickapoo.

In Anderson the same night as the district final, Neosho’s Phillip Main established a state record for interceptions in a game with five against rival McDonald County. The Wildcats earned a 26-13 win.

Lucas Merino and Matt Holloway — Holloway assisted by Mike Sides — scored the goals for the Wildcats in their win over Parkview, both goals coming in the dramatic final seven minutes.

“These kids just have a lot of heart and determination,” former Neosho head coach Roger Sides said in the Daily News. “They just will not quit and they have the attitude that if they are within a goal, they believe they can win.”

Meanwhile, Main had one memorable final high school game.

“He had the kind of night a senior wants to end his career with,” former Neosho head coach Ray Godfrey said in the Daily News. “You want to finish the season with that kind of effort.”

Not only did Main have five interceptions, which would have been enough, but he caught a pair of touchdown passes.

Hat trick for Schnackenberg
Current Neosho head coach Steve Schnackenberg is the link to all three boys soccer district titles, as well as the girls’ only district title.

Schnackenberg played on the 1986 district title winner, served as an assistant coach to Sides on the 2004 squad, and the head coach for the girls and the boys in 2017.