Unable to handle power running game of Panthers Saturday (Nov. 30, 2019), Southwest Wildcats place second in state for second time. Finish season 11-2
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Defending 8-man high school football state champion Mound City/Craig used its power running attack and superior size to pound away and wear down the Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon Wildcats and post an 82-46 triumph at midday Saturday (Nov. 30, 2019).
Avenging a midseason home loss to the Ludlow-based Wildcats (11-2), MC/C’s Panthers (12-2) put the ball in the end zone 12 of the first 13 times it possessed the pigskin – all without ever throwing a pass.
The winners’ quarterback and two running backs all surpassed 100 yards rushing, led by outside threat Dylan George’s 223 yards and four scores on 17 carries. Fullback T.J. Hopkins amassed 139 yards and three scores on 21 attempts, and quarterback Landon Poppa 129 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries. With reserves losing six yards late, Mound City/Craig finished with an 8-man championship-game record 485 yards on the ground, while also establishing a new high for points scored.
Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon never led the game played on the artificial turf of Faurot Field in the University of Missouri's Memorial Stadium and, after surrendering an opening-drive touchdown and 2-points conversion, never were on even terms again. However, the Wildcats were still in the game until early in the second half before Mound City/Craig’s “ground-and-pound” approach with its larger players took its inevitable toll.
On senior quarterback Mack Anderson’s 5-yards scoring run, junior Patrick Warren’s 29-yards TD reception from Ma. Anderson, and the QB’s 64-yards bolt to the end zone, Southwest was within 28-20 27 seconds into the second period, but ominously had managed only one successful conversion to that juncture.
Still within two scores and with the ball with about 1-1/2 minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats began to lose their grip on contention.
As Ma. Anderson looked to try to pass on a fourth-and-7 from the Southwest 38, he could not find a receiver quickly and, as he tried to buy time, was hit, producing a lost fumble rather than only a sack. However, even a sack would have given the ball back to the Panthers in Wildcats territory with 52 seconds still to play.
In only two plays and 11 seconds, Mound City/Craig increased its margin to three scores – 50-26 – and held that advantage as the teams went to the locker room at halftime.
Had Southwest Livingston earned a first down on that possession which ended with the sack/fumble, it likely could have – at worst – run out the clock and come out for the second half receiving the kickoff and with a chance to pull back within eight. Had the Wildcats found a way to score in that last minute of the opening half and converted successfully, the pending possession to begin the third quarter would have provided a chance to pull even and perhaps change the dynamics of the game.
Instead, even with Ma. Anderson capping a 6-plays, 44-yards drive with a 9-yards scoring scramble to open the last half, when the conversion try was stopped, Mound City/Craig still led by three scores as its offense returned to the field.
When the Panthers not only scored another touchdown, but then recovered their onside kick and punched it in once more, instead of the tie-game scenario, Mound City/Craig had Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon more than doubled up – 66-32 – at the 5:11 mark of the third quarter and the outcome effectively had been determined.
Statistically, Ma. Anderson’s amazing football career for the co-op club ended with him rushing for 168 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries and completing 17 of 28 passes for 126 yards with one TD and one interception in the state-title game. The last of his 100-plus career touchdowns came on his carry that completed the Wildcats’ opening possession of the second half. The last of his carries in a career which amassed many thousands of yards uncharacteristically was stopped for a 3-yards loss on the Wildcats’ final possession.
Warren was Southwest’s busiest receiver, making eight receptions for 65 yards and the first-half TD. Classmate Chase Neptune caught five balls for 41 yards.
Defensively, senior Balazs Sturgeon had a team-best nine solo tackles and three assists with two of his stops for negative yardage. He also recovered an early fumble and returned it 28 yards to the MC/C 9 to set up the first Southwest touchdown.
Junior Jaeden Sears added seven solos and one assist for the Wildcats, Ma. Anderson six unassisted and three assists, and senior Dagun Bassett four solos and four assists.
Southwest Livingston/Hale/Tina-Avalon had three turnovers and only Sturgeon’s takeaway.
Saturday’s state-championship contest loss ended an 11-games winning streak for Southwest, a streak which included a 58-34 week four victory over Mound City/Craig, which was without a couple of top players that week.