It would have been easy to understand had the Cave City Cavemen been a bit distracted on the evening of Nov. 5.
However, that was not the case.
Taking advantage of a huge second-quarter effort, Cave City rolled to an impressive 28-8 3-3A Conference victory over a powerful squad of Earle Bulldogs.
That was an Earle team that had been rolling out 43 points a game through the first nine weeks of the season.
And while the Cavemen had been super stingy on defense, giving up just a shade over eight points per contest during that same span, to hold the high-flying Bulldogs to just one score was remarkable, indeed.
"I can't say enough about our defense," said Cave City Head Coach Jon Bradley. "I don't think anybody thought we'd shut out their offense."
Cave City kept Earle's "Mike (Wilson) & Mike (Bowles) Show" in check, holding the Bulldogs to just 118 yards rushing.
The win over Earle (7-3, 4-3) gives the Cavemen (9-1, 6-1) a share of the conference crown with the Rivercrest Colts and Harrisburg Hornets. Rivercrest gets the 3-3A's top spot in the playoffs, thanks to the points system, while Harrisburg is a two-seed, Cave City a three and Earle a four.
Cave City opens the Class 3A playoffs with a trip to Yellville-Summit Nov. 13, for a second meeting with the Panthers (6-3, 5-2) this year.
That Cave City could work its way to the top of a loaded conference like the 3-3A in just the school's fourth year of varsity football is quite a feat.
That the Cavemen could overlook all the potential distractions and focus on the Earle Bulldogs may have been even a bigger feat.
After all, not only was it senior night at Caveman Stadium, but Randy Rainwater and Drivetime Sports was there to broadcast its weekly Sonic Blast from Cave City, featuring the Caveman/Bulldog clash as its spotlight game of the evening.
To add to that, Cave City was also missing a couple of key lineman on both sides of the football, due to injury, along with wingback Tyler Engleman, who had rushed for well over 1,000 yards this year, before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ACL injury.
And to top things off, a camera crew from CBS Sports was also there to film a spot on Thamail Morgan, a segment scheduled to be aired during the network's Super Bowl Sunday coverage.
And boy, did CBS pick the right night for a feature on the dynamic Morgan.
The big and speedy senior linebacker/wingback had drawn national attention earlier in the year when he took a knee against Yellville-Summit, keeping from padding his own stats with a TD in a game against a mentally-depleted opponent.
But against Earle, Morgan had his way, especially in the second quarter, where he scored three touchdowns -- two on defense, one on offense.
After a scoreless first 12 minutes of play, Cave City quarterback Dalton Carpenter rolled out and hit Nick Townsend with a 24-yard TD pass at the 10:22 mark of the second quarter. William Boyd's PAT gave Cave City a 7-0 lead.
On Earle's next possession, Cave City's famed defense stood tall as Morgan picked off a Dorbin McKenzie pass and scampered 45 yards through a host of Bulldogs for a touchdown. Boyd's extra-point gave the home team a 14-0 lead with 9:08 left until the half.
The next time the Bulldogs got the football they drove it to the Cave City 25-yard line. But on fourth-and-4 from the 25, Morgan slammed into Anthony Maples, snuffing out the Earle threat.
That stop on fourth down led to a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Cavemen. The march ended when Carpenter hit Morgan with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 39 ticks left on the second-quarter clock. Boyd's extra-point extended Cave City's advantage to 21-zip.
Earle got things rolling and pushed the football all the way to the Caveman 20-yard line right before the half.
But on what turned out to be the last play of the first half, things went from bad to worse for the Bulldogs. McKenzie fumbled the football at the Cave City 20 and Morgan scooped up the pigskin and jetted 72 yards down the left sideline for his third TD of the frame, this one coming with no time left on the clock. Boyd's extra-point gave Cave City a commanding 28-0 lead and also took the remaining fight right out of Earle.
"He (Morgan) made three huge plays in the first half," Bradley said. "And that fumble he picked up right before the half was a dagger. It really put them in a hole."
The Bulldogs managed to break open the shutout with a touchdown late in the third quarter. Roy Lee Jones picked up a Cave City fumble and ran it back 89 yards for Earle's only touchdown of the night. Michael Bowles ran in the 2-point conversion for Earle, but Cave City claimed the 28-8 victory.
After the game, Bradley received the customary Gatorade bath, courtesy of a happy bunch of Cavemen.
"These kids have really played hard and the coaches have done a great job," Bradley said. "A 9-1 record and second trip to the playoffs in school history ... that's a big, big deal."