Though the Mountain Grove Panthers football team entered last Friday night’s first round district match-up with Cassville as the higher seed, the coaching staff and players knew they would have to play their best in order to beat a Wildcats squad that was in the Final Four one season ago.
In spite of matching up with a good program and playing in chilly, rainy weather, the Panthers answered the challenge by taking the fight to Cassville and picking up a 21-7 victory.
With No. 7 seed Reeds Spring upsetting No. 2 Hollister in their Class 3, District 6 contest, the Panthers will now host the semifinals game against the Wolves at 7 p.m. on Nov. 5.
A win would move the Panthers into the district title game against the winner of Aurora and Seneca. Aurora had a bye last week as the No. 1 seed while Seneca crushed Buffalo, 40-16. The district title game would be played on Nov. 12.
In the first round battle with the Wildcats, Cassville opened the game with a 16-yard run.
Fortunately, the Panthers’ defense dug in their heals and forced the Wildcats to punt four plays later.
In running the ball, Cassville’s offense took some time off the clock in the first quarter. The Wildcats made a mistake early though as they tried a fake punt on fourth down from their own 30. Brendan Rogers made a diving tackle to keep the runner from getting a first down.
Though Mountain Grove’s coaches have not called on quarterback Tyson Elliott to rush the ball a lot this season, they were able to establish him early in the contest and it was the difference in the game.
He picked up a 22-yard gain and followed it one play later with a one yard plunge to put the Panthers in front. Hoyt Mathews’ kick gave Mountain Grove a 7-0 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Mountain Grove’s defense then forced a three-and-out.
The Wildcats began to put a nice drive together in the second quarter as they marched the ball to the Panthers’ 13. Cassville then had a poorly drawn up fourth down passing play that went incomplete to end the good drive.
Mountain Grove’s offense could not get much going on their next possession and a poor punt gave the Wildcats the ball on Mountain Grove’s 34. One play later, the Wildcats’ offense scored on a 34-yard touchdown pass. The successful kick tied the game at 7-7 entering halftime.
When it came to the offensive numbers, the Wildcats led the way in the first two quarters with 47 yards in the air and 71 on the ground for 118. Meanwhile, the Panthers offense had zero yards passing in the rainy weather and 42 yards on the ground for just 42 total yards of offense.
In getting the ball to start the second half, the Mountain Grove offense quickly took over the game.
Isiah Hellbusch had a big 13 yard gain. Elliott hit Hollen Glenn for 12 yards before Elliott had a 12-yard run. He later added a 17-yard run before Hellbusch scored on a four-yard scramble. Mathews’ kick gave Mountain Grove a 14-7 edge with 9:26 left in the third quarter.
On the kickoff, Cassville returned the kick into Panthers’ territory. The Wildcats would get the ball inside the 30 before an incomplete pass ended the drive.
The Panthers made the Wildcats pay as they started a seven play, 73-yard drive.
Trenton Bevan had a seven yard run. Elliott would hit Jace Dowden for a 10-yard passing play two plays before ending the drive with a 44-yard strike to Glenn for a touchdown. Mathews’ kick pushed the lead to 21-7.
The Wildcats appeared to get a needed break early in the fourth quarter when they blocked a Mountain Grove punt and recovered it on the Panthers’ 22.
The Wildcats did reach the 11 when a chop block pushed them back 15 yards.
Gaven Moore had a big hit on a second down play, forcing the pass to be incomplete.
Two plays later, the drive ended on the 28 after another incomplete pass.
A Mountain Grove fumble four plays later gave the Wildcats back the ball on the Panthers’ 45.
Mountain Grove’s defense responded two plays later when Carson Allen recovered a Wildcats’ fumble.
Victory formation would soon follow for the 14-point win.
Elliott led the Panthers with 17 carries for 61 yards and one touchdown. He also completed 6-of-9 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown.
Hellbusch had nine carries for 38 yards and one touchdown. Glenn had four catches for 55 yard and one touchdown. He also had six carries for 13 yards. Bevan had four carries for 14 yards.
Mountain Grove’s defense held Cassville to just 30 yards of total offense in the second half, all coming on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Panthers finished with 65 yards passing and 131 yards rushing for 196 total yards of offense, giving them the yardage win, 196-148.
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