Wildcats co-op club (11-1) qualifies for second Missouri championship game ever with 74-68 triumph over Pattonsburg at home Saturday (Nov. 23 2019). Wildcats star Mack Anderson runs fo 374 yards, eight touchdowns. Pattonsburg QB Willhite throws for nearly 470 yards, six scores
LUDLOW, Mo. — A flying start and a gritty middle allowed the Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon Wildcats to survive a frantic finish Saturday (Nov. 23) and edge visiting Pattonsburg/Gilman City/North Harrison 74-68, qualifying Southwest for Missouri 8-man high school football’s state championship game for the first time since 1990.
“It was a heck of a game. Our kids played their tails off,” jubilant first-year head coach Oren Magruder of Southwest stated to the C-T as the celebration swirled around him.
Having sped to a 20-0 lead in the first 7:15 behind senior star Mack Anderson’s first three of eight touchdown runs, first-year head coach Oren Magruder’s Wildcats (11-1) never were caught, although the high-powered Panthers from the Pattonsburg area came mighty close before Ethan Hoerr (pronounced "hehr") sealed it for Southwest with a last-minute interception inside the Wildcats' 5.
Considered by many the likely state champs for much of the season, the Panthers (10-2) slashed what was a 28-points deficit after Ma. Anderson romped 41 yards to paydirt on the first offensive play of the second half to eight barely a minute into the fourth period of the semifinals clash played under sunny skies at the Southwest Livingston field just outside Ludlow, but the Wildcats wouldn’t wilt completely.
Twice – first on a fumble forced and recovered by Jaeden Sears of Hale and then on downs at the SLHS 15, the hosts’ defense stopped the potent Panthers to preserve the single-score margin before a prototypical wild 8-man finish.
Following the stop deep in their own territory with 4:57 remaining in regulation time, the Wildcats carved out two first downs to drain about half of the time from the clock before Ma. Anderson – without a touchdown run since that opening snap of the third quarter – shook off a low hit as he went around right end and galloped 33 yards to the end zone down the home team’s sideline. Although the 2-points conversion attempt failed, the underdog ’Cats led by 14 with only 152 seconds to go.
However, a mere 14 seconds later, their advantage was a mere six points after P/GC/NH star quarterback Steven Willhite gunned a 47-yards touchdown strike to top target Patrick Cowley on a right-to-left post pattern and the Panthers succeeded on their conversion.
When Southwest not only recovered the Panthers’ onside kickoff attempt at midfield and, two plays later, Anderson bolted off left tackle for a 41-yards score, the Wildcats again possessed a 2-scores lead. With a conversion pass from Ma. Anderson to Chase Neptune, they owned a 74-60 margin with exactly two minutes still on the clock.
When Southwest Livingston used the game’s only non-onside kickoff to produce a touchback, Pattonsburg took over at its own 15. In two plays and 29 seconds, they were back within six points as Willhite hit Brett Emig for a 60-yards score down the middle again.
However, by that juncture, the Panthers were down to one timeout, meaning all the home team had to do was recover one last onside kick – a key task they’d managed without fail until that time – to be able to run out the clock. However, as Pattonsburg’s soft tap of a kick dribbled slowly toward the midfield stripe it had to reach before the Panthers would be eligible to recover it, several yards short of there, the ball suddenly was propelled several more yards forward by what numerous observers saw as the ball hitting the lower leg of a P/GC/NH player. However, no flag for illegal touching of the free kick surfaced and, in the scramble for the ball, Pattonsburg’s Kaden Koch emerged with it, giving his team possession.
Behind by only six points with almost 90 seconds and a timeout to work with, what multiple times had looked like a finally-secured Southwest Livingston triumph suddenly was there for the visitors’ stealing at the last second.
Taking over at exactly midfield (40-yard line), Willhite twice connected on short passes that left the ball at the SLHS 25 as the clock moved under a minute. A run by Willhite to the right side finished out of bounds with the ball at the 19, easy striking distance for Pattonsburg to score from with still about 50 seconds left.
As fans of both teams held their collective breath, Willhite took the shotgun snap for the next play and, having had big success there of late, looked for a receiver he knew was supposed to run a left-to-right crossing route across the middle. Seeing teammate Carter Crone having a step or two on his defender, Willhite fired the ball on more or less a direct line toward the target’s path.
As the ball headed downfield, it seemed likely to hit Crone in stride inside the Southwest 5-yard line and, if caught, be run into the end zone for a touchdown that would have crushed the home team’s and crowd’s spirit. But, in an apparently-instinctive move, Wildcats junior left cornerback Hoerr – assigned deep outside coverage – kept one eye on the quarterback and saw the ball begin its flight. Reacting quickly, he darted toward the middle of the field and, cutting between the would-be receiver and the ball, leaped and speared Willhite’s throw for a game-saving interception inside the 10-yard line.
“One of the best plays I’ve seen in my life,” gushed Magruder. “That was phenomenal.”
With Pattonsburg out of timeouts and only 44 seconds on the clock, all Southwest had to do was execute one snap cleanly and take a knee to get the remaining time run off, which it did, setting off a jubilant celebration for the blue-and-white faithful.
When the last second disappeared, Southwest Livingston was bound for the University of Missouri’s Memorial Stadium and Faurot Field at Columbia, where next Saturday they’ll face – for a second time this season – defending 8-man state champion Mound City for the state title.
“We had to hold on there at the end,” Magruder acknowledged.
Among the 11 consecutive triumphs the 2019 Wildcats now have recorded was a 58-34 triumph at Mound City in the season’s fourth week. Mound City (11-2) was without one of its better players that week, but it did lose subsequently to the East Atchison (Tarkio/Fairfax) team which handed Southwest Livingston its only loss.
For Southwest, after losing in the state semifinals three times earlier this decade, next Saturday’s contest will be its second-ever appearance in the 8-man title contest. In 1990, in one of the very early years of an 8-man state-title game sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, the Wildcats’ 10-man squad lost in the finals to host North Andrew.
By hanging on to win Saturday’s game at home, Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon – with players from all three schools contributing to the triumph – avenged an 82-28 road hammering by Pattonsburg/Gilman City/North Harrison in last year’s district-championship/state quarterfinals game.
Unofficial statistics kept by the C-T Saturday showed SLHS’ Ma. Anderson rushing for 374 yards on 40 carries – he would have had more and Southwest might have sewn the win up earlier, but cramping muscles in his legs forced him from the game defensively for a time in the third quarter and caused Magruder to limit his rushing attempts for the next two or three possessions.
Ma. Anderson was able to complete a 24-yards touchdown pass to Chase Neptune during that time when he was not fully healthy and, eventually, as he got some electrolytes back in his system and rolling massage relieved the cramping in the leg muscles, he was able to return to normal use late in the fourth quarter, just in time to make the two touchdown runs that helped keep the Wildcats in front.
“It came down to we gave him the ball and let our guys go block for him and they came through,” Magruder said of his quarterback’s and blockers’ critical late revival.
For the day, the SLHS quarterback hit on 11 of 18 throw for 159 yards with two TD connections with Neptune – they hooked up for a 26-yards score in the second period. Ma. Anderson was intercepted twice and he lost a pair of fumbles.
Fellow star quarterback Willhite ended up with 62 passes thrown, unofficially, hitting on 39 for 469 yards and six scores. An unofficial tweet indicated the Panthers’ quarterback broke a national record for touchdown passes in a season with those six, putting him right around 100. He also ran 19 times for 133 yards, giving up just over 600 yards of offense from scrimmage.
Wildcat Neptune had six of the 11 receptions for his team, totaling 105 yards. Patrick Warren had another 51 receiving yards on three snares. Pattonsburg’s Cowley latched onto 23 passes for 252 yards and four scores. Emig unofficially had 10 receptions for 159 yards.
While Southwest’s offense lost the ball five times – “too many mistakes. We’re going to have to clean that up next week,” declared Magruder, its defense made three takeaways, including Ja. Sears swiping of the ball right out of Willhite’s hands on what was shaping up as a long gainer for the P/GC/NH star in the fourth quarter, Hoerr’s last-minute pickoff, and a Neptune interception deep in SLHS territory in the first half.
“Jaeden’s a heck of a football player. He gives it everything he’s got every play,” praised the Southwest head coach. “He saw the ball – their quarterback was kind of holding it out there a little bit – and he just went and got it. That was huge for us.”