Oct. 23—After the offense ran out onto the field following a timeout midway through the first quarter, Joplin quarterback Always Wright leaned into the huddle and looked to left tackle Dontrell Holt.
"Do not get big eyes out there," Wright said to Holt.
With 5:13 left to play in the first stanza, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound sophomore proved he could hang with the fleetest of feet. On third-and-2 at the goal line, Wright rolled to his right and pitched the ball left back to Holt, who broke through several tacklers for paydirt as the Eagles took a 14-0 lead over Neosho.
It was the big man's first career touchdown.
"I was thinking back to one of our former offensive lineman Alex Curry," Holt said. "He got a chance one time and dropped the pass. I was thinking in my mind, 'I can't drop it. I can't drop this pass.' I caught it, and I shot my knees out. I was like, 'Come on man. I got to get it in.'"
"We actually put the play in this week for this moment," Wright said. "It was a play we ran two seasons ago, and we thought we would bring it back for this occasion. Once Dontrell got (into the endzone), I was pretty happy. It was great."
The score was part of a 28-point first quarter surge by Joplin, which picked up a dominating 63-0 victory over Neosho on senior night at Junge Field.
The Eagles, ranked No. 5 in Class 6, finished out regular season play 8-1. MSHSAA is expected to release district pairings soon, which will include next week's opponent and location.
"We challenged them before the game," Joplin coach Curtis Jasper said. "We haven't always started off as fast as we wanted to. I told them we need to start a lot faster. I thought we accomplished that and did a good job. Outside of a few boneheaded penalties, I thought we played and executed really well tonight."
The Eagles put together perhaps their most well-rounded performance this season. Not only did 63 points mark a season-high, but Joplin's defense also pitched its first shutout.
Offensively, the Eagles scored on their first nine possessions. Wright, who completed 15 of 22 passes, tossed five touchdowns alone in the first half to pair with 212 yards through the air.
"That's just him," Holt said. "He has been playing just like himself. He has been going off this year."
His first touchdown pass went to Terrance Gibson, a 37-yarder that got Joplin on the board at the 9:39 mark in the first quarter.
And then Holt's touchdown happened just four minutes later.
"That's something Coach (Jacob) Hewitt drew up and we executed it," Jasper said. "I was just praying he did it (scored the touchdown) and didn't get hurt."
Then in the latter part of the first quarter, Wright connected with tight end Landen Atherton for a pair of touchdowns — one over the middle for 58 yards and the other 6 yards — as the Eagles built a 28-0 advantage.
The momentum continued in the second quarter as Jack Stanley hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Wright at the 7:17 mark to stretch Joplin's lead to 35-0.
Drew VanGilder added a 1-yard touchdown scamper to make the score 42-0 at the 3:52 mark in the second quarter. VanGilder and sophomore Quin Renfro combined for 160 yards on the ground in 17 attempts.
Atherton paced the receiving corps with eight catches for 92 yards. His third and final touchdown was an 8-yarder to cap a 49-point first half with 13 seconds on the clock.
Joplin's defense shined in the opening half as they held the Wildcats to only two first downs and forced a pair of turnovers on downs.
The Eagles, who had a running clock the entire second half, saw welcome contributions from their backups.
On the team's opening drive of the second half, running back Clayton Culie scored on a 4-yard run to hand Joplin a 56-0 lead. Sophomore quarterback Hobbs Gooch then connected with Jett Beal for a 22-yard touchdown strike to round out the rest of the scoring.
"It was good to see us come out and play to our ability," Jasper said. "We just got to continue that. Obviously, it's win or go home now. This group loves being around each other. Now our goal is to keep playing as long as possible."
Running back Jared Siler led Neosho (1-8) with 40 yards on 12 carries. The junior also caught four passes for 27 yards.
The Wildcats' quarterback Quenton Hughes completed 11 of 21 passes for 59 yards.