WRIGHT CITY - The rain showers never really let up during Wright City’s season opener Friday night. And neither did the Wildcats’ defense, which was just as relentless as the weather.
The D held Winfield’s offense to a measly 100 total yards, racked up six sacks and forced two turnovers with a pair of interceptions.
Toss in a couple of safeties, a trio of rushing touchdowns from the offense and it all added up to a 23-0 victory, the first time Wright City has landed on the triumphant side of a shutout since 2015.
Of course, Wildcats Head Coach Jeff Sargent was quick to point out that it wasn’t just the D who dazzled during the downpour.
“We can talk about the defense all night, but I’ve got to give a big shout out to the special teams,” Sargent said. “Coach (Derek) Lowe does a great job with them. They blocked two punts and Michael Hicks did an unbelievable job with landing multiple punts inside the 20.”
Wright City’s special teamers set the tone early with a successful onside kick by Hicks to start the game that was recovered by senior Timmy Daniels. The unorthodox maneuver clearly caught unsuspecting Winfield off-guard.
But while the special teams unit and stout defense often had the offense in fantastic field position, the Wildcats struggled to punch the ball across the goal line.
The only score of the first half was a 2-yard touchdown run from Daniels late in the first quarter with John Burke knocking in the PAT.
Seniors Xavier Caffey and Shane Vehige produced back-to-back safeties in the third quarter to put the ‘Cats up 11-0. And Wright City added two more TDs on the ground before it was all said and done with a 7-yard scamper from senior Jonah Rodriguez and sophomore quarterback Hayden Beck finding paydirt from two yards out for his first career rushing TD in the fourth.
Still, Sargent had higher expectations than 173 total yards.
“We should have had more points,” Sargent said. “Our offense was inside the 10-yard line twice and didn’t score a touchdown that’s unacceptable.
“The weather did hurt our passing attack. We had two drops that probably would’ve resulted in touchdowns. Obviously, the stats don’t look great but we’ll see what we can do when it’s a little more dry out. And one of the things we have to clean up is getting our running back and O-line together on the same page.”
Daniels led all players in rushing with 63 yards on 13 carries. Rodriguez added 32 on seven totes.
Beck completed 11-of-21 passes for 76 yards and threw an interception. Jeremy Cundiff was the leading receiver with four catches for 32 yards.
Defensively, senior Christian Ebersohl was responsible for a trio of sacks with Caffey, Vehige and Austin Dorman adding one apiece.
George Pezold and Will Janowski each intercepted a Winfield pass.
Vehige posted a team-high 10 total tackles. Caffey and Baylee Ramey had nine, Janowski seven and Burke six.
Winfield, which hammered Wright City 43-0 last year en route to posting a program record seven victories, was a much less dynamic without longtime QB Collin Sutton under center. Sutton now plays for Truman State.
PINING TO PLAY THE PIONEERS
The Wildcats should face a stiffer test on defense in Week 2 when they head to St. Charles to play Duchesne.
The Pioneers have one of the most touted freshman players in the in the metro area in 5-foot-11, 200-pound bruising running back Antwon Hayden.
Hayden lied up to the hype in Week 1, rushing for 183 yards and a TD on 15 carries as Duchesne downed Clopton 20-7.
Returning quarterback Mitchell DeGuentz also had a nice game on the ground, finding the end zone twice while running for 101 yards on 11 carries.
Sargent said it does help that Wright City saw the Pioneers freshman phenom during the jamboree that Duchesne hosted two weeks ago. Though it was a majority of the Wildcats’ JV squad going against him.
“Hopefully our defense is excited and up to the task of shutting a big time running back down,” Sargent said. “I hope we can hold him to under 100 yards but we’ll have to see. Duchesne is a tough team that has a couple other talented freshmen as well so hopefully our experience is more of a factor than their youth.”
Wright City won last year’s meeting 20-14.