The Cardinals lose track of the football on the controversial on-side kick in the fourth quarter.
by Chris Mazzocco
For the second consecutive season, the Webb City Cardinals season comes to an end at the hands of the Republic Tigers. The Cardinals fell to fellow Central Ozark Conference member Republic 21-20 in the semifinal round of the MSHSAA Class 5 playoffs.
You would be hard pressed to find two more equally matched teams. Indicative of the one-point margin of victory, the stat sheets tell a similar story. The Cardinals rushed for 204 yards, the Tigers 203. Webb City gained 80 yards passing, Republic 90. A few key stats in the favor of the Tigers gave them a slight edge. Republic was 9 of 16 on third-down conversions. The Cardinals converted just one of 11. And the biggest stat may have been time of possession. Republic held possession of the ball for nearly twice as long as the Cardinals.
In a game so closely contested, it typically comes down to just a few plays. First-year head coach Ryan McFarland shared the same thoughts postgame. “We needed to make one or two more plays and we just didn’t get it done today.”
Season ending defeats are always hardest on senior players. “You hate this for our seniors.” says McFarland. “They have done everything we have asked. That’s why we got to this point this year.”
Republic’s keep-away strategy was evident from the opening possession. The Tigers returned the opening kickoff to their own 32-yard line and started an 18-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. The Tigers’ Wyatt Woods capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on 4th and goal. The drive consumed 10:48 of the game clock giving the home team a 7-0 lead after Mason Cole’s PAT kick. The Tigers converted three of four third-down attempts and were one-for-one on fourthth-down conversions on the sustained drive.
A failed on-side kick attempt by the Tigers gave the Cardinals great starting field position from the Republic 45-yard line. To the opposite of Republic’s time-consuming drive, the Cardinals scored in just one play when Gabe Johnson hit Jackson Lucas on a 45-yard touchdown pass. The Cardinals trailed Republic 7-6 after Alex Dunne’s PAT attempt missed wide right.
Lucas Jackson catches Gabe Johnson’s pass to score Webb City’s first touchdown.
Jace Jones stops Republic’s Caide White.
After a four-and-out forced by the Cardinals defense, Webb City was able to take the lead on Omari Jacksons 4-yard touchdown run. The 2-point conversion run attempt failed, leaving the Cardinals with a 12-6 lead. The drive began with a 35-yard pass completion from Johnson to Jackson. The Cardinals also converted a fourth down to sustain the drive.
Republic would answer before the end of the half on a five-play 74-yard scoring drive. After three consecutive runs the Tigers went up top as Woods hit James Rexroat on a 63-yard touchdown pass. The PAT gave Republic a 14-12 lead that would hold until halftime.
The Cardinals would regain the lead in the third quarter when Johnson raced 43 yards for the touchdown. The four-play drive also included runs by Johnson of 13 and 11 yards. Johnson led the Cardinals rushing attack with 151 yards on 15 carries. Johnson also ran in the 2-point conversion giving Webb City a 20-14 advantage.
A forced turnover on downs by the Webb City defense gave the Cardinals an opportunity to extend their lead with possession near midfield. A 24-yard run by Johnson gave the Cardinals a first down on the Tigers’ 24-yard line, but a series of untimely and uncharacteristic penalties pushed the Cardinals back into a 3rd-and-31 situation that they were not able to convert.
Republic capitalized on the momentum shift when Woods connected with Caide White for a 9-yard touchdown pass. The conversion kick was good, giving the Tigers the go-ahead score 21-20.
Make some noise!
Gabe Johnson outruns the Republic defense for Webb City’s second touchdown.
After much confusion and a lengthy delay for deliberation by the officials, the Tigers were awarded possession of the ensuing on-side kick attempt. The Tigers eventually fumbled the ball away giving the Cardinals new life but had chewed up valuable time off the clock.
Webb City would drive to the Republic 19-yard line, but Johnson’s pass was intercepted by Kaleb Norman. Republic was able to run out the last few minutes of the game.
The announcer noted Republic is going to the Show-Me Bowl for the first time. They’ll play Cardinal Ritter at 7 p.m. Friday at Columbia.
Adding to Johnson’s rushing totals, Omari Jackson and Slade Hurd rushed for 23 and 17 yards respectively. Johnson completed 2 of 5 pass attempts for 80 yards.
The Cardinals end the 2023 season with a 10-3 record and district championship in McFarland’s first season at the helm. McFarland joins Kurt Thompson and John Roderique as the third consecutive head coach to lead their teams to at least the state semifinals in their first season as head coach of the Cardinals. It was the 28th time Webb City has made it to the semifinal round.