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Southwest Livingston seeks to write new chapter in its football history

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Senior Chase Neptune of the 2020 Southwest Livingston High School football Wildcats strides into the South Holt/Nodaway-Holt end  zone after catching a long pass in the fourth quarter of SLHS' 70-38 home triumph on Sept. 4. The 2019 All-State receiver and defensive back, who has missed several late-season and postseason games with a nagging injury, returned to play briefly in last Friday's 52-22 state semifinals win over Drexel/Amoret: Miami and hopes to be available for this Saturday's state-title game against North Andrew.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Southwest Livingston High School’s Wildcats have played North Andrew’s Cardinals in 8-man football quite a few times since the SLHS program began in the 1980s, including several times in the state playoffs.

While they never developed a real regular-season rivalry, because, for much of the time they shared membership in the old Platte Valley Conference in the 1990s and 2000s, the Rosendale/Bolckow area school’s team routed the Wildcats in their gridiron meetings, the postseason is a different story.

Even when the Ludlow-based program – through cooperative agreements with, initially, Breckenridge and, more recently, Hale and Tina-Avalon – began its turnaround just over a decade ago – first for a year under Ken Boatwright and then led by SLHS alumnus Tyler Anderson into full flower before current head coach Oren Magruder took the reins two years ago, the regular-season losses to North Andrew kept stacking up.

Even as the Wildcats blossomed into a regional and state program of consequence the past 11 seasons, they claimed only one of nine meetings with the Cardinals – a 4-points win in 2011 in a .500 year for NAHS right before it went to 5-straight state-title games (winning three). In the other eight, North Andrew won by an average of about 25 points and, in the programs’ three most-recent meetings in 2014 and ’15 before NAHS joined the expanding Grand River Conference and the PVC expired, the spreads were 40, 26, and 44 points.

So, long-time Southwest Livingston fans are looking for some substantial payback when the Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the state, square off with the top-ranked Cardinals this Saturday at 1 p.m. with the 2020 8-man state championship up for grabs at Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II.

For Southwest Livingston, nearly 40 years after its program was begun (1983) amid some controversy, it’s a third chance – and second in as many years – to capture a first-ever state crown in football. Conversely, North Andrew hopes to add a seventh to its collection.

The Wildcats and Cardinals have met in the brief (2-rounds) 8-man state playoffs a few times, most recently in 2014 when North Andrew followed a 44-points regular-season decision with a 54-28 verdict at Ludlow in the state semifinals.

While that followed a 50-6 NAHS win in the 2012 state semis, Southwest is not without precedent for state-playoffs success against the Rosendale/Bolckow school, however.

Thirty years ago, the Wildcats’ “mighty 10” rolled into Bolckow to face the also-then-No. 1-ranked Cardinals in the third year of 8-man state playoffs and, behind four touchdowns from junior Andy Neptune – uncle of current Wildcats senior All-Stater Chase Neptune, outgunned them 40-34 to earn the right to play for the state title. With one of their only 10 players injured, the ’Cats played that game with only nine against a NAHS squad with more than twice that many, according to accounts from the time.

The following week, at Northwest Missouri State University’s Rickenbrode (now Bearcat) Stadium in Maryville, SLHS – coached by Micah Uptegrove and with that bare-bones roster which also included the father (Mark) of another current ’Cat Morgan Anderson – lost to Nodaway-Holt 49-12.

The game was tied 6-6 at halftime, thanks to Wildcats junior Cade Thompson 6-yards run late in the second stanza, but a pair of quick TDs to start the third period propelled Nodaway-Holt to a dominant second half which saw Southwest Livingston manage to add only a 63-yards scoring run by A. Neptune as time expired in the third quarter. It was the first of the three 8-man title games to that time not to be halted prematurely, due to a lopsided score.

Four years later, Southwest and North Andrew squared off in the state semifinals a second time – again at Bolckow.

Having bested the Cardinals 33-20 during the regular season, Lyle Laffoon’s Wildcats made the trip as the favorite, but – in a contest starkly contrasting their shootout of 1990 – the hosts came away 14-8 victors.

Nearly two decades elapsed before the programs squared off in state play again with NAHS taking the lead in the postseason “series” with its 2012 and 2014 victories.

Saturday, with the state championship hanging in the balance between them for the first time, Southwest Livingston hopes to tip the scales its way.