Big plays were the name of the game for the Neosho Wildcats during their 49-20 win Friday night over the Monett Cubs in the Class 4, District 6 playoffs at Bob Anderson Stadium.
Junior quarterback Gage Kelley and senior running backs Donnie Fox and Cade Lyerla combined for over 300 yards and five touchdowns.
Bret Camerer made the Cubs pay dearly for the first time they kicked deep with a 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Elijah Green, Mason Ray, and Brady Franklin each came through with interceptions.
Neosho has won at least one district playoff game four consecutive seasons.
“We were able to control the line of scrimmage and control time of possession,” Neosho head coach Leon Miller told Josh King of neoshowildcatsports.com during their postgame interview. ‘We knew Monett’s a good football team and I’m sure their kids play hard, and they’ll play hard for four quarters. We knew that we had to come out, be ready to go and be willing to grind it out. We got some help from our special teams, a big kickoff return, and we had some turnovers from our defense that gave us some short field situations. That helped us, and we were able to capitalize on those.”
Neosho (7-3) returns home for a district semifinal contest Friday against Marshfield (8-2). Marshfield defeated Bolivar 24-20 in their district opener.
Former rivals in the Central Ozark Conference Small, Marshfield had not defeated Bolivar since 2003 and Marshfield’s eight wins are their most victories since 1999.
Ayden Rouse’s 90-yard interception return for a touchdown sparked Marshfield in the second half and Brennan Espy’s 8-yard run with 8 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in regulation gave the Blue Jays the lead for good.
Back to Neosho and Monett.
The Wildcats won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. On its opening possession, Fox’s 8-yard first down run put the Wildcats at midfield and six plays later, Drayke Perry scored on a 1-yard run.
Two possessions later, again with good field position, Perry rushed for 13 yards and a first down, Wildcat quarterback Quincey Willis gained 20 yards for a first down, and on the next play after Willis’ gain, Kelley scored on a 8-yard run only 39 seconds into the second quarter.
Monett scored the first of its three passing touchdowns on the night when Karter Brink and Dale Slater hooked up on a 41-yard touchdown pass.
However, on the subsequent Neosho possession, the Wildcats answered like they would all night with a Fox 50-yard touchdown run.
Brink and Slater came up with their second TD play of the night on third down, with Slater’s acrobatic 15-yard catch in the end zone.
With a 21-14 score only 2 minutes, 7 seconds before halftime, that’s when Camerer delivered the 89-yard kickoff return.
That’s what they call a momentum changer, although Monett might call it something else.
“They had a big play on a pass play,” Miller said, “and had the momentum … 10-15 seconds and we were able to take it back on a kickoff return and put it in the end zone right before the half, was able to get a big play to widen the gap.”
Lyerla broke a 50-yard touchdown run and Kelley scored on a conversion run that had Monett fooled, producing a 35-14 halftime lead for the Wildcats.
In the final 2:18 of the first half, by the way a period that seemed as long to play as the entire first quarter, Neosho scored two touchdowns, Monett scored one, Slater intercepted a pass, and Neosho recovered a fumble on a hook-and-ladder. The game would end in similar fashion with a rapid succession of turnovers.
Lyerla and Fox each scored on 3-yard touchdown runs, and the Cubs had one more big pass play in them with a 74-yard TD connection from Brink to Jamie Guinn.
“Our offensive line, for the most part, did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage and giving them (Fox, Lyerla, Camerer, et cetera) seams,” Miller said. “We’ve been trying to get some kids in there to stay a little fresher in there. A lot of our kids play on both sides of the ball. For the most part, I thought we got some production out of it.”
Monett found success with big passing plays, and Marshfield will present a far more balanced offense than the usual Big 8 Conference opponent with averages of 202 rushing and 172 passing yards per game. The Blue Jays averaged 15.6 yards per reception and recorded 17 passing touchdowns before their game against Bolivar.
“They’ve got some speed on that team (Monett),” Miller said. “They’ve got a few kids that can run pretty good. For the most part, I thought we kept them in check. They did a nice job of taking advantage of some of our aggressiveness on the back, and that’s something we’ll work on and we’ll fix.”
Miller said that he had no preference one way or the other to play Marshfield or Bolivar in the semis, and Webb City (10-0) and Carl Junction (5-5) play in the other semifinal.