NIXA — Judging by the first 46 seconds of the Neosho Wildcats’ Central Ozark Conference game Friday night against the Nixa Eagles, it unfortunately looked nothing different than the previous two weeks against Webb City (a 41-0 loss) and Carthage (a 49-7 loss) for the Wildcats.
Neosho senior Cade Lyerla fumbled the opening kickoff, Nixa recovered the football at the Neosho 29, and two plays later, Nixa quarterback Hunter Crabtree found Jared Spence in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass and 6-0 Nixa lead only 46 seconds in.
However, Neosho eventually righted the ship and took almost complete control of the course of the game, with a defense that stifled the Eagles and an offensive attack that dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession en route to a 21-6 victory for the Wildcats.
Neosho improved to 3-2 overall and COC, and the Wildcats return home in Week 6 for a clash against Class 6 Joplin.
Neosho remains solidly in second place in the Class 4, District 6 standings with 44.6 points. Webb City leads at 55.25 and Carl Junction comes in third at 35.
“That’s a pretty good observation of it,” Neosho head coach Leon Miller said of Friday night’s strong performance after a shaky start. “Our defense did a good job, stayed home and did their assignments and went and made plays. Offensively, you’re right, we wore them down. Our big guys upfront wore them down and we were able to use that to our advantage second half.
“We’re confident in what we do. We are what we are and we’re confident. I mean, Nixa’s a good ballclub. Last week, they were 14-7 at half (against Ozark) and blew up in the third quarter. We knew we had to come out and establish, especially defensively, and get our offense rolling. We were able to do that.
“We knew we had to contain him (Nixa senior running back Sean Sample) and we did. Our guys did a great job. Again, our defensive live was a huge part of that. Everybody fit their spots, everybody did their job. It was good team football in all three areas: offense, defense, and special teams.”
Now, in the spirit of Joe Friday, here’s “Just the facts”:
— Neosho scored in the first half for the first time since Branson in Week 2, when Lyerla scored on a 6-yard run at 10:19 in the second quarter. The Wildcats had gone 14 straight possessions in the first half without producing any points.
— Nixa did not have a first down in the second half until the 3:30 mark of the fourth quarter when Crabtree connected with Braydon Leggett on a 15-yard pass-and-catch.
— Neosho ran 14 plays on its opening drive of the second half, one that devoured over 6 minutes off the clock and ended in a turnover on downs. By comparison, Nixa ran just over 20 offensive plays the entire second half.
— Sample gashed Ozark for 163 yards and four touchdowns last week on a mere 10 carries. Neosho helped nix any possible Nixa Homecoming celebration by limiting Sample to a season-low 18 yards on eight carries. That’s just over two yards per carry.
— Neosho pass rushers were even more persistent than the mist that fell at Eagle Stadium most of the night, sacking Crabtree five times and making his life miserable. The Wildcats truly rendered Nixa no-dimensional offensively most of the night.
— Tre Letts’ interception at the Nixa 38 late in the first quarter changed momentum. The Wildcats returned to the positive side of field position after having that against them in the two previous games.
— Lyerla finished with 198 yards and one TD on 31 carries and like the rest of the Wildcats, he proved strongest in the second half with 133 of those yards coming on 20 carries.
— Sophomore back Drayke Perry scored his first varsity touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 3:43 remaining on the clock.
— Neosho junior kicker Bret Camerer made all three extra points.
— Neosho defeated Nixa for the first time since 2015.