The Neosho Wildcats and the Webb City Cardinals are both playing their best football entering Friday night's Class 4, District 6 championship game at Cardinal Stadium.
The Wildcats, 8-3 overall, have won five straight games since a 21-6 loss to Joplin and just missed their second shutout of the season in last week's 35-7 semifinal win over Marshfield. Since a 49-7 loss at home to Carthage in Week 4, the Wildcats' defense has surrendered more than two offensive touchdowns in a game just once, their 49-20 victory two weeks ago over Monett.
The Cardinals, 11-0 and the defending Class 4 state champions, have outscored their opponents 471-114 this season and have been at their most dominant in the past six weeks with victories over Willard (41-0), Republic (51-12), Ozark (42-0), Nixa (55-14), McDonald County (55-13), and Carl Junction (54-7).
Over the last six weeks, Webb City whooped its opponents 298-46. That amounts to an average final score of 50-7.
— Neosho features several ball-carrying threats with junior quarterback Gage Kelley the point guard distributing the ball to senior running backs Cade Lyerla and Donnie Fox, as well as Bret Camerer, Drayke Perry, Tre Letts, and Quincey Willis all in the mix.
The Wildcats have added various wrinkles in recent weeks like Letts playing fullback and Willis playing alongside Kelley in a scheme reminscent of the Lamar Tigers.
Never mind that Kelley has been effective on keepers and scrambles all season, and he rushed for three scores last week against Marshfield.
The Wildcats have been more effective in recent weeks throwing the football, highlighted by last week's 54-yard touchdown pass from Kelley to Letts.
Letts returned a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Ozark and returned an interception 17 yards for a score against Carl Junction (that one featured a Carl Junction player attempting to rip off Letts' jersey around the 15-yard line). He's made various big plays throughout his senior campaign, like a momentum changing interception against Nixa.
Before the season, Neosho's coaching staff adorned themselves in T-shirts that read "Lineman Lead the Way."
Neosho's linemen both offensively and defensively have definitely lead the way during the Wildcats' 8-3 season and if they are to defeat Webb City for a district title on the Cardinals' home field, Neosho's linemen will have to lead the way.
Neosho must avoid the pratfalls that normally befall Webb City opponents, like the six turnovers committed last week by Carl Junction.
The Cardinals have been dominant in the first three quarters of games this season, outscoring their opponents 152-33 in the first, 191-33 in the second, and 86-13 in the third. That's what happened to Neosho against Webb City in their first meeting.
Neosho must have a better start Friday night to stand any chance against a Webb City team on a 26-game winning streak.
The Cardinals are vying for their 19th consecutive district title.
— Webb City's two main big play threats offensively are running backs Durand Henderson (senior) and Devrin Weathers (sophomore).
Henderson rushed for 1,142 yards and 20 touchdowns on 131 carries his first 11 games with his best work this season coming in the district playoff wins over McDonald County and Carl Junction, a combined 323 yards and seven touchdowns on 21 carries. He averaged 15.4 yards per carry and one TD every third carry against Mac County and CJ, ridiculous numbers that point out it's not ironic that Henderson wears No. 7.
Weathers has been a nice secondary threat this season, with nearly 1,000 yards on the season and 12 touchdowns overall. He tallied most of his yards in victories over Ozark (185), Branson (175), Joplin (154), and Nixa (106).
Senior quarterback Cade Beason has been efficient behind center, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry and completing nearly 73 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and just one interception. That interception came in the season opener against Carl Junction and so he's gone eight straight games without an interception.
Beason did not play in the first contest against Neosho.
Terrell Kabala is capable of the big play at receiver, with 14 catches for 289 yards (20.6 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Kabala rushed for a 5-yard score against Neosho, his other offensive TD.
Senior receiver and defensive back Alex Gaskill is yet another big play threat. He's caught 19 passes for 325 yards and six touchdowns, he's thrown a 65-yard TD pass against Willard, and he's made 51 tackles with four interceptions on defense.
These players will be the challenges for Neosho's defense.
— In the earlier game between Neosho and Webb City, poor field position helped do in the Wildcats as they struggled getting out of the shadow of their end zone all first half.
Meanwhile, Webb City took over possession deep in Neosho territory seemingly every time during that 27-0 first half.
Please consider that Webb City possessed the football all of 13 minutes, 7 seconds in the 48-minute contest, and produced 310 yards and 41 points on 38 offensive plays.
Neosho's first first down of the night came on a 29-yard pass from Kelley to Letts.
Kelley rushed for 55 yards on 13 carries, while Perry, Fox, and Lyerla all managed roughly about the same with 28, 24, and 23 yards, respectively, on nine carries each.
Senior punter Mason Ray had the roughest night of his season, tackled twice for losses of 22 yards after bad snaps. Ray averaged 16 yards on his five punts.
Five different Webb City players found the end zone.
The game entered turbo clock mode in the third quarter.
— Neosho last defeated Webb City in the 1999 season, 28-13, and that was a victory at Cardinal Stadium.
This is the only Neosho win against Webb City head coach John Roderique during a tenure that began in 1997 and includes 11 state championships (1997, 2000-01, 2006, 2008, 2010-14, 2017) for the Cardinals.
Neosho pushed Webb City to a 28-21 score in the 2009 regular season.