Neosho knocks off Willard in shootout

·4 min read

Aug. 27—Exhausting. Unbelievable.

Those are the words that first came to mind for Willard coach Frank Tristan and Neosho coach Brandon Taute to describe their season opener.

Those words can certainly describe Friday night's contest between the Tigers and the Wildcats at Bob Anderson Stadium in Neosho.

There were 151 total points scored and Neosho came out victors in a 79-72 final — the second-most combined points scored in an 11-man football game in MSHSAA history.

"I've been a part of some crazy games in my career but that's one I'll remember forever for sure. That one was nuts," Taute said. "Our kids, they played their tails off and I was extremely proud of them. ... It would have been easy to roll over and die a lot of times throughout the game but they kept fighting all game long. I can't express enough how proud I am of our kids."

"I almost thought the game was over in the third quarter," said Tristan. "The only thing I could think of was Texas Tech back in the day. Couldn't stop anything but kept scoring. ... It's fun to be a part of. and isn't that cool for high school football? It was back-and-forth, back-and-forth. That's encouraging for these young men because it shows they aren't going to quit."

With less than seven minutes remaining, Neosho started a drive from its own 30-yard line.

Quenton Hughes, who had seven touchdown passes on the night, led a game-winning drive.

Jared Siler picked up a third-down conversion on the first set of downs. Then Hughes connected with Isaiah Green, who caught three of Hughes' touchdown passes, for another third-down conversion on the second set of downs.

Neosho went on to march into the redzone behind the legs of Siler. With just over two minutes remaining, Hughes broke a tackle in the backfield and saw an empty field ahead of him to scamper in for a score from two yards out to put the Wildcats up for good.

Willard came out for its final drive with 2:07 on the clock.

Behind the legs of running back Owen Bushnell, the Tigers pushed the ball up near the 50-yard line.

But the drive would stall there. A short gain got them across the 50 and gave them a 3rd-and-5 look.

But Neosho's defense stood strong there and forced running back Gary Walker to backtrack and try to reverse field. The Wildcats swarmed him and brought Walker down for a loss of 10 on the play.

On 4th-and-15, Russell Roweton dropped back and threw a final heave downfield that went just beyond the reach of 6-2 receiver Eli Burgi and was almost picked off by Neosho's Cade Camerer.

Just one kneel down from the Wildcats would see the clock hit 0.

At halftime of the high-scoring COC contest, the two teams had already combined for 88 points.

Willard trailed by as many as 16 in both halves of the game. But eventually tied it at 72 a piece.

"Just keep playing," Tristan said. "Unfortunately I think (Taute) was telling his guys the same thing. At one point I thought we had them on the ropes. When we made it a two-point game I thought 'oh we've got them.'"

Neosho jumped out to a 14-0 lead early on and led 66-50 late in the third.

"I told them before the game 'whoever wants this game more is going to win this game.' Because we're two comparable teams and our kids absolutely wanted it more," Taute said. "I told them 'if you feel tired I can promise you, they're more tired than you because you've done all the preparation you could to be ready for this moment.'"

Willard's defense and special teams kept them in it in the first half. Two kick-return touchdowns from Clayton Scott and a scoop and score from Brady Griffin accounted for 20 of the Tigers' 36 first-half points.

Griffin picked up the fumble after Hughes and Siler bobbled around a transfer in the backfield and three different Tigers wound up in the backfield to disrupt it.

Neosho plays at Nixa next Friday.