The Neosho Wildcats and the Marshfield Blue Jays have had similar seasons since back-to-back losses for each team in Week 3 and Week 4.
Neosho fell 41-0 to Webb City and 49-7 to Carthage in consecutive weeks, teams ranked No. 1 in Class 4 (Webb City) and Class 5 (Carthage) with a combined 18-1 record this season.
Since then, the Wildcats have gone 5-1 with their only loss 20-6 against Class 6 Joplin. You might remember, in that game, Neosho held explosive Joplin scoreless in the entire first half.
Last week, Monett’s 20 points marked the first time an opponent’s offense had scored more than two TDs against Neosho’s defense in a game since that home loss to Carthage.
Meanwhile, since a 14-12 loss to Mount Vernon and a 41-20 loss to Springfield Catholic, the Blue Jays have won six consecutive games heading into Friday night’s Class 5, District 6 semifinal contest at Bob Anderson Stadium.
The Blue Jays are one of the more balanced offenses the Wildcats have played thus far, with Marshfield averaging 203 rushing and 158 passing yards per game.
Senior quarterback Brock Utecht has completed 102 of 156 passes for 1,550 yards, 17 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Utecht had his worst night of the season last week against Bolivar with a 4-11 effort good for 34 yards and one touchdown.
Junior running back Brennan Espy, listed at 5-foot-11, 140 pounds, leads the Blue Jays with 856 yards and nine touchdowns on 103 carries. Before last week’s 41 yards against Bolivar, Espy had rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games with 160 against Nevada, 136 against Reeds Spring, 113 against Aurora, and 139 against Logan-Rogersville. He’s found the end zone with a rushing TD in six straight games.
Daylon Kanengieter and Zach Cappel have combined for another 868 yards on 159 carries, Kanengeiter 460 yards on 91 carries and Cappel 408 yards on 68 carries.
The Blue Jays average 5.9 yards per carry.
Senior tight end Truett Gardner leads the receiving corps with 41 grabs for 655 yards and six TDs, while senior Austin Porter adds 21 receptions for 214 yards and five more scores.
Espy is truly the dynamic player for the Blue Jays, with 17 receptions for 429 yards and five TDs just another of the phases he’s excelled in this season.
All told, between a pair of kickoff returns for touchdown against Reeds Spring and Aurora, Espy has found the end zone 16 times this season.
He’s tallied 1,593 all-purpose yards split between 856 rushing, 429 receiving, and 308 kick return.
Then there’s Brennan’s twin brother Brooks, a star player in the Marshfield secondary with 76 tackles (63 solo, 13 assist), four tackles for loss, five interceptions, 12 pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and one blocked field goal.
Brennan wears No. 2 and Brooks No. 3.
Brandon Pogue leads Marshfield with 94 tackles and Clay Wilson and Garrison Foster are not far behind with 93 stops each. Ayden Rouse leads with seven quarterback sacks.
The Blue Jays have sacked the quarterback 19 times and came up with 16 interceptions.
Though Marshfield owns a better overall record than Neosho, strength of schedule with Neosho playing in the Class 5 heavy COC and Marshfield in the Class 3 heavy Big 8 a major advantage for the Wildcats in the district points system.
The Wildcats have found more ways to get more players involved within their offense in recent weeks, experimenting with Tre Letts at fullback and running the dual-quarterback system favored by Lamar last week with Gage Kelley and Quincey Willis out there for Neosho.
Last week, a Big 8 opponent (Monett) simply could not stand against the all-out relentless physicality of the Neosho smash mouth attack.
Donnie Fox, Cade Lyerla, and Kelley combined for over 300 yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats excelled in all three phases of the game, well, except for one deficiency area we’ll bring up in another paragraph or two.
Bret Camerer made the Cubs pay for the first time they kicked deep all game with a 89-yard kickoff return that pushed the Wildcats’ lead back out to two scores in the first half.
Elijah Green, Mason Ray, and Brody Franklin each came up with interceptions, as the Wildcats continue to be hawks on defense.
Last week, though, Monett burned Neosho on a pair of long touchdown passes and the Cubs scored all their TDs through the air.
The Wildcats must perform better in that regard Friday night against a Marshfield team far more capable of the big play than Monett.
With a win Friday night, Neosho would reach eight victories for the first time since the 2008 season.
SENECA (5-5) at CASSVILLE (10-0)
The unbeaten Wildcats host the Indians in a rematch of a game from Week 4 that favored Cassville 62-27, with the Wildcats dominant in the first half especially.
The game features two of the best ground attacks in the area.
Seneca relies heavily on senior quarterback Gavin Clouse and junior running backs Trey Wilson and Monty Mailes, who have combined for over 2,400 rushing yards this season. Clouse and Wilson each average around seven yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Anthony Tolbert, quarterback Shannon Haney, Bowen Preddy, and Zach Coenen provide a four-headed dragon for the Wildcats.
Wilson returned a pair of 90-plus yard kickoff returns for scores in the first meeting and that will undoubtedly will be a point of emphasis in Cassville’s preparation.
Anything can happen though in the postseason.
For example, Seneca entered the Class 3, District 6 playoffs last season with the best record (8-1 regular season) and the No. 1 seed.
Mount Vernon upended Seneca 37-8 in the district semis en route to a district title and a state runner-up finish.
Seneca had defeated Mount Vernon 19-7 in the regular season, and the Mountaineers entered the postseason with three straight losses.