Midway through the fourth quarter on Friday it seemed Harrisonville, the third-ranked team in Missouri Class 4, would leave Tiger Stadium in Excelsior Springs with a competitive, but comfortable, win against the previously undefeated Tigers.
Fast forward 8 minutes, and Harrisonville’s Wildcats felt anything but comfortable until a fourth-down Hail Mary pass by Excelsior Springs quarterback Alex Vanfossan from the 50-yard line was knocked down and Harrisonville escaped with a 33-27 win.
The Wildcats, 4-1, overcame a furious rally in which the Tigers scored 13 consecutive points in the final 3 minutes, 21 seconds and had a shot at a potential game-winning drive in the final seconds.
“We’ll claim the victory, but it sure got out of hand in a hurry,” Harrisonville coach Chuck Lliteras said.
First, Excelsior Springs’ Nick Masoner caught a 45-yard pass from Vanfossan and cut Harrisonville’s 19-point lead to 33-20. Then, after the Wildcats fumbled on the first play of its next possession, Excelsior Springs, 4-1, drove 40 yards in 45 seconds and closed to 33-27 on Austin Lewis’ 2-yard run and Masoner’s extra point.
But it proved to be too little, too late, as the Tigers couldn’t advance beyond midfield after getting the ball with 44 seconds left at their 15.
Harrisonville’s Wyatt Schenker’s 3-yard run with 8:14 left in the fourth proved to be the difference — a drive that began with an Excelsior Springs fumbled handoff at its own 25.
Harrisonville quarterback Zach Davidson, who ran for 111 yards in 20 rushes, scored his team’s other four TDs — on runs of 3, 1, 8 and 18 yards.
With Davidson’s help Harrisonville had a 20-14 halftime lead.
“This has proven we need to finish games more,” Davidson said. “Offensively, we kind of pulled it back (too early in the fourth quarter). But give credit to their defense, they stopped us.”
Masoner, meanwhile, did everything he could to keep Excelsior Springs in the game. He opened the scoring with a 45-yard punt return 2:10 into the game. He then tied the game at 14-14 midway through the second when he pulled in Vanfossan’s underthrown 35-plus yard pass and ran to the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown.
Masoner, a junior who caught seven passes for 201 yards, also converted three extra points.
“He is one of the most underrated players in the metro area,” Tigers coach Andy Sims said. “He just proved tonight why he’s such an important football player for us.”
That the game was even this close was a testament to how far Excelsior Springs has come, Sims said. They won just three games the last two seasons and lost 42-7 to the playoff-bound Wildcats last year.
“We’re not into moral victories around here, but I am unbelievably proud of these guys for how far we’ve come in three years,” Sims said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this three years ago.”