CARL JUNCTION — On their first possession of the second half Friday night against conference and district rival Carl Junction, the Neosho Wildcats put together their best drive of the season.
Five first downs.
Nearly a quarter of possession.
Unfortunately, at the end of the drive, Carl Junction stopped Neosho on a fourth-and-goal at the Carl Junction 5, as senior quarterback Gage Kelley could not connect with fellow senior Sam Cook amidst a thicket of Carl Junction defenders at the goal line.
Carl Junction later denied Neosho on a fourth down play in the red zone and the Bulldogs ran out the clock to claim a 17-6 victory at Bulldog Stadium.
It was a night of missed opportunities from the very start for the Wildcats.
Bret Camerer returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, down the Neosho sideline, but a penalty brought it back and canceled an early 6-0 lead for the Wildcats. Slow starts have been a hallmark for the Wildcats during their five-game losing streak.
Carl Junction’s first possession ended when Camerer intercepted Drew Patterson, as the Carl Junction quarterback threw into double coverage over the deep middle. Patterson underthrew his intended target and Camerer made the leaping grab instead.
Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, three plays later a bad shotgun snap to Kelley would be recovered by the Bulldogs at the Neosho 18.
Neosho stuffed Carl Junction’s Brady Sims for a 2-yard loss on the first play, but Cole Stewart busted a 20-yard TD run on the next play.
The Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a 7-yard TD pass from Patterson to Noah Southern.
The Wildcats answered on their third offensive possession with a 8-play, 50-yard scoring drive. On a third-and-10 at the Carl Junction 19, a scrambling Kelley avoided a pair of Carl Junction defenders — one coming straight for him, one in his rear view — and hit senior Weston Durman for a 19-yard touchdown strike only 7 seconds into the second quarter. Durman’s first career touchdown.
(Three of Neosho’s last four touchdowns have been through the air.)
Carl Junction’s Reese Vogel closed out the scoring with a 34-yard field goal at halftime.
There were only five possessions after halftime — Carl Junction three, Neosho two — and the Wildcats dominated time of possession. The Bulldogs did manage to run off the 4:21, as Patterson made a pair of reads and first-down runs.
Neosho dropped to 1-6 overall and Central Ozark Conference, and the Wildcats play their home finale in Week 8 against Willard. The Tigers enter Week 8 2-5 overall and COC, with a three-game losing streak after their 35-14 loss in Week 7 against Carthage.
Neosho and Willard marks another game with implications for Class 4, District 6.
After Week 7, Neosho stands in seventh in the district with 25.86 points, as the Wildcats switched spots with former No. 7 Hillcrest. Hillcrest earned a 27-14 victory Friday night over Class 5 Parkview and the Hornets have consecutive victories against Class 5 schools.
Willard and Carl Junction are in fourth and fifth in the district.
Webb City holds the No. 1 seed at 50.62 points, followed by West Plains (49.71) and Bolivar (47.88) with the top three teams owning a combined 19-2 record. Meanwhile, the other six teams are a combined 10-27.
If the season ended today, Neosho would face a three-hour odyssey to West Plains.
— Former Neosho High and Pittsburg State sophomore receiver Bryce Murphy caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight game with his 6-yard TD catch Saturday against Northwest Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.
Murphy finished with four grabs for 59 yards and one TD with a long gain of 28 yards.
On the season, Murphy has caught 20 passes for 259 yards and four TDs. His best career game came the previous week against Lincoln with seven receptions for 114 yards and one TD.
Pitt State saw Northwest Missouri score 28 unanswered points for a 28-7 lead and eventual 38-17 victory in the battle of unbeaten teams.
The Gorillas return to action in Week 7 for Homecoming against Fort Hays.