Tigers Roar in District Championship and Prepare for State Quarterfinals

Monday, November 13, 2023
Above: Tiger defenders Luke Andersen (54) and Paden Dennison (73) stop the Bulldog runner on their way to a Nevada victory.
Photos courtesy of Bill Wynn | Special to the Daily Mail

By Kevin McKinley Daily Mail

Logan Field-Nevada MO ­— Sweet Autumn. The smell of burning leaves, the pop and crackle of firewood and Friday night playoff football at Logan Field. Underneath a November sky, Nevada played host to the Carl Junction Bulldogs. The Tigers were attempting, for the third year in a row to capture a, so far elusive, MSHSAA District Championship.

Nevada was coming off a 43-0 victory over Grandview while Carl Junction defeated Harrisonville on the road, 17-7. Carl Junction had won 4 out of the last 6 meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers. The last game played between Carl Junction and Nevada was in 2009, a 38-14 Bulldog victory. The last time the Nevada Tiger football team won a District Championship was 25 years ago in 1998.

Nevada came into the contest giving up 15 points a game on defense while averaging 41 points on offense.  By comparison, Carl Junction was averaging 18 points a game offensively while giving up just over 29 points per contest on defense.

Nevada won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. It didn’t take the Tigers long to make a statement. Tiger Ayden Pryor stripped the Bulldog returner of the ball and Nevada’s Kason Clark recovered the fumble at the CJ 29-yard line. Six plays later, with 9:41 to go in the opening frame, Nevada junior running back Jack Cheaney scored on a 1-yard run. The 2-point PAT run failed and Nevada held a 6-0 advantage.

On the succeeding drive, the Bulldogs would push the ball into Nevada territory, before Brice Budd would force a 2nd Carl Junction turnover on pitch wide left towards the Nevada sideline. A Kellen Braden pass to Grady Stewart on a 3rd and long set up a 4th and three from the CJ 35-yard line, Cheaney would gain the first down in easy fashion. Then runs by Dez Robinson and Jack Cheaney would push the ball to the Bulldog 13-yard line as the 1st quarter came to an end.

Then with 9:44 to go in the 2nd frame, junior running back Jack Cheaney scored on a 3-yard run. Again, the Nevada 2-point PAT run would fail and Nevada advanced their lead to 12-0.

On the next Carl Junction possession, the Bulldog’s offense started to find their rhythm. The option play to the outside started to exploit the Tiger defense. CJ would push the ball deep into Nevada territory to the 9-yard line. Then lightning struck again, as Nevada senior linebacker Tyler Longobardi shot through the right side of the Bulldog offensive line to jump on a 3rd Carl Junction fumble.

Nevada would push the ball down field on a time-consuming drive highlighted by two 27 yard runs by senior running back Dezmon Robinson. Then with 42 seconds to go in the 1st half, junior running back Jack Cheaney scored on an 11-yard run. The PAT kick by Kellen Braden was good and Nevada led 19-0.

The Bulldogs would respond going 70 yards in 36 seconds before Bulldog senior quarterback Dexter Merrell scored on a 7-yard touchdown run. The PAT kick by junior Gavin Cowger was good and the first half would end with Nevada leading 19-7. Would this dramatic drive by Carl Junction prove to be a momentum changer heading in to the second half.

The two teams would trade possessions in the 3rd quarter before CJ attempted a fake punt from their own 12 yard. The pass by the Bulldog punter would fall incomplete and Nevada took over with exceptional field position. Then with 4 seconds gone in the 4th quarter, Cheaney would score his 4th touchdown on the night on a 4-yard run. The PAT kick by Kellen Braden was good and the Tigers pushed their lead to Nevada 26-7. This series of events late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th would prove to be a back breaker for the Bulldogs.

Nevada linebacker Tyler Longobardi would continue his excellent night when with 8:49 to go in the contest, he would recover another CJ fumble. It was Longobardi’s second fumble recovery of the evening and the 4th Bulldog turnover.

Nevada would take over on their own 35-yard line and would consume time pushing the ball toward the Carl Junction goal line. Then with 3:34 to go in the game, quarterback Kellen Braden connected on a 3-yard TD pass to end Tyler Longobardi. The PAT kick by Kellen Braden was good and Nevada led, 33-7.

Carl Junction would counter. With 2:26 seconds to go in the contest, Bulldog quarterback Dexter Merrell completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Tony Stewart. The 2-point PAT attempt failed.

Nevada wins by a final score of 33-13 and improves to 9-2 on the season.

Head Coach Wes Beachler reflected on his team, their accomplishments and the sacrifices made by many throughout his tenure at Nevada: We have a group of young men, (both) past and present, that have worked hard to reach this point. The coaches, their wives and families, parents of players, the community support, our awesome student section and their encouragement (during the toughest of times). (The losses of) John McNeley, Will Downing, and the (past) players who have laid the ground work. A lot of people have sacrificed and worked to reach this level. Three straight District Championship games, (and) this year we won it. Great job by all who had a hand in this program over the years. Special congrats to the young men on this team for their work ethic, commitment and sacrifice!

Beachler continued: “We played a determined and well coached CJ team. We did not play our best game, but we always play hard and we play the right way. To help each other and as a team. That’s the beauty of watching a good football team play. Eleven players, playing together. Every player, every play, snap to whistle, for 48 minutes. That is Nevada football, win or lose.”

Offensively, the Tigers out-performed the Bulldogs 373 yards to 272. Junior running back Jack Cheaney scored 4 touchdowns on the ground on 192 yards rushing. Jack set, what is recognized, the single season rushing record at 2015 yards. Cheaney surpassed the old record of 1851 yards held by Nevada High School’s all-time leading career rusher, Avious Steadman. In addition, Jack Cheaney has rushed for 31 touchdowns this season. Simply amazing. Amazing not only for Cheaney but also his entire offensive line and backfield lead blockers.

Now the Tigers will travel north to Kearney High School for a Saturday 1:00 PM state quarterfinal contest. Kearney comes into the contest 10-2 having defeated former top state ranked Smithville 29-13. The Bulldogs average 36 points a game while giving up 14 points defensively. Kearney is riding a nine-game winning streak.

Coach Beachler said the following about Saturday’s opponent: Kearney is the real deal. They had a lot of injury issues early in the year. Now, they’re healthy and hitting their stride. They have a tremendous offense and a physical, hardnosed, defense. It will take a tremendous team effort or advance past this game. We do have the right kind of players to do that.

Our Tigers will not be intimidated. Nevada plays in one of the very toughest conferences in the entire state of Missouri with the likes of 2023 powers, Lamar & Seneca. As my 92-year-old dad and former head Nevada Football Coach John McKinley says when confronted with a tough task, “Bow your neck.”

The last time the tigers made it to the state quarterfinals was 1975. As I walked out of Logan Field, looking at a still illuminated scoreboard showing a final of 33-13, I could almost sense in the autumn wind the Tiger ghosts of the past, from our last quarterfinal team in 1975, greeting and encouraging our young heroes of today...

• Jim Rice Throws an arm around Jack Cheaney

• Alan Wallace embraces Brice Budd

• Jack McAdoo gives a nod of respect to Henry Campbell

• John Nichols salutes Talan Chandler

• And the late Shane Cavanah smiles down upon Wes Beachler.

Enjoy this. Parents, fans, the student body and the community.....embrace our young men and coaches. To the players, savor every minute…of your district championship, your week at practice and next Saturday. Crimson and Gray nation could not be prouder.

And remember, bow your neck!

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