Defense was the determining factor for Big 8 Conference teams in state semifinal football games Saturday as the defending Class 3A state champion Cassville Wildcats won 23-7 but the Lamar Tigers lost 21-7 in Class 2A.
Cassville, trying to become the first Big 8 team to win back-to-back state titles and join Monett and Aurora with two crowns, pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat Kansas City O'Hara at Cassville.
The home team took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 15-run touchdown run by Joseph Gouvion and Matt Angel's extra point.
O'Hara tied the game in the second stanza on a 31-yard run by Rafael Spencer and Julian Gidley's extra point.
With time winding down in the first half, the Wildcats got the ball in good field position. Angel booted a 32-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give Cassville a 10-7 lead at intermission.
Both teams employed good defense in the third quarter and the game remained very much in doubt until Cassville scored twice in the fourth quarter.
Gouvion upped Cassville's lead to 16-7 with a 33-yard TD run. Quarterback Trevor Tanner got the final score on an eight-yard touchdown run. Angel added the extra point after Tanner's score.
Cassville, 13-1 this year, will meet undefeated Bowling Green on Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis in the state championship game.
Lamar's late season run came to a halt in the semifinal contest at Lamar. The Tigers, 1-6 entering district play, had reeled off six straight wins entering the game against Maryville.
It was Maryville's defense that enabled the visitors to take a 13-0 lead. Tyler Peve intercepted a Lamar pass and returned the ball 39 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Jason Davis added the extra point to give Maryville a 7-0 lead.
Maryville increased the score to 13-0 in the third quarter when Tyler Walter recovered a Lamar fumble and returned the ball 25 yards for the score.
Lamar tried to come back late. Markell White got the Tigers on the board with a 16-yard TD run. Chaz Blackwell added the extra point to cut Maryville's lead to 13-7.
Maryville iced the game late in the last quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Marcus Grudzinski and a two-point conversion pass from Anthony Groumoutis to Grudzinski.
Lamar finished the year with a 7-7 record.