Neosho quarterback Gage Kelley spun away from a pile of defenders and into the end zone on the last play of the game, giving Neosho a 34-28 win over Republic Friday. Three lost fumbles, including one that resulted directly in a Neosho touchdown, sank Republic on Senior Night.
When the game opened, it looked like it might turn into a dominating Republic performance. The Tiger defense stopped Neosho on three plays, forcing a punt, then marched up the field without much resistance. But their first drive ended suddenly inside the Neosho 30 yard line when Riley Sigman fumbled and Neosho’s Tristan Linders scooped up the ball and ran 73 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats on top. From that point on, Republic never seemed to regain its edge.
Later in the game, another Republic fumble happened inside the 10 yard line as Lucas Hayes made his way toward the goal line. The ball came loose and rolled into the end zone, where Linders jumped on it, ending the Republic scoring threat.
Republic fumbled the ball three other times, as well, but recovered. It was an atypical night for the Tigers, who have avoided turnovers for most of the season.
“That’s pretty uncharacteristic of us. We haven’t done that all year,” said coach Dustin Baldwin. “It’s unfortunate, obviously, them getting six points off the first one when we three-and-out them to start the game, then we’re driving, and then out of nowhere, we dropped the ball and they picked it up, and we don’t make a tackle and they run it 70 yards for a touchdown.”
Republic’s first touchdown came at the end of an eight-play drive, when Riley Sigman scored from five yards out to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
Neosho took a 13-7 lead with an eight-play, 66-yard drive, but Republic responded with a 69-yard drive of its own, ending with another five-yard run by Sigman. That made the score 14-13 Republic.
Neosho regained the lead on the next possession, driving 76 yards in four plays and scoring on a 36-yard run by Kelley. The two-point conversion made it 21-14.
The first half ended with some controversy after Republic blocked a Neosho field goal attempt. An official blew his whistle to end the play, but Riley Sigman picked the ball up and ran to the other end of the field, thinking he had scored a touchdown. After a conference, the referee announced that the whistle had been “inadvertant,” forcing the teams to replay the previous down. Republic managed to stop Neosho from scoring, and should not have scored a touchdown on the return anyway, because the ball had crossed the goal line after the kick was blocked. By rule, without the inadvertent whistle, Republic would have gotten the ball on the 20-yard line with only a few seconds remaining in the half.
Republic scored on its first possession of the second half to tie the game 21-21. A 14-yard touchdown run by Lucas Hayes evened the score with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The game stayed tied until Neosho scored with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter on a three-yard touchdown run by Drayke Perry to make the score 28-21. Their go-ahead touchdown came immediately after Hayes’ had fumbled the ball into the end zone at the other end of the field.
Republic tied the score with a 69-yard drive over six plays, ending with a two-yard touchdown run by Hayes. That set up Neosho’s game-winning drive.
The Wildcats started on their own 37-yard line after Republic’s kickoff traveled along the ground and hit one of the Neosho up men. The Wildcats ran the final 4:45 off the clock before scoring on the last play of the game. Republic’s defense appeared to have Kelley stopped, but he somehow stayed upright and rolled around the pile of defenders and into the end zone.
Republic had 399 total yards compared to Neosho’s 384. Hayes ended the night with 7-of-11 passes for 104 yards. He rushed the ball 20 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Sigman scored two touchdowns on 18 carries and 126 yards. He also caught one pass for 28 yards. Josh Sterling had four catches and four carries for a total of 90 yards, in addition to several good kick returns.
“I thought all night we kept fighting,” said Baldwin. “We have just got to step up and make plays on defense when the time needs it. We did right there before half.
“But it’s been a year like that. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Football’s a game of dealing with adversity and we have some more, and we’re going to see what kid of fight we have and what kind of character we have.”
Baldwin said despite the Tigers’ 2-7 record, he’s proud that his players haven’t engaged in finger-pointing about who’s to blame. “We are a close-knit group. I’m proud of our kids for that,” he said. “The kids have stuck together through the adversity and through the mishaps and close losses. So I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. We didn’t get it done. We’ve got to coach better, and hopefully we can play a little bit better, too.”
Republic will travel to Branson for a Week 10 game against the Pirates next Friday.