The sting of last season still resonates with many Houston football players. Following a long offseason, the time is here to do something about it.
The Tigers open their 2007 campaign Friday night when they travel to perennial Class 1 power Marionville. It will be Houston’s first game under the direction of new coach Chris Edwards, and the first time the Tigers will take the field since a lopsided loss to Cabool ended a winless season.
“It was a long season,” senior Kirk Pierce said of the 2006 campaign. “I’ve never gone through anything like that. Football is football and you have fun, but winning is everything.
“You walk off the field a heck of a lot happier if you win a game or two.”
Just two years removed from consecutive state semifinal appearances, Houston begins what the Tigers hope is a rebuilding process with one of the toughest teams on their schedule.
Despite losing record-setting running back Lee Flood and all-state linebacker Kelby Parks, Marionville returns many important pieces from last season’s team that went 13-1 to reach the Class 1 championship game. It was the second year in a row for the Comets in the title contest.
Without Flood, who set single-season and career state rushing marks, and former coach Rick Schoulten, Marionville will play a different style of football than the one than blanked Houston 47-0 in last year’s opener. But the Comets are still expected to contend for a postseason berth. They have eight starters returning on offense and seven more defensively.
“One thing you’re facing is tradition,” Edwards said. “I know they had a good lineman and great running back that they lost, but those kids expect to win. They’re going to be tough.”
Senior Layton Metcalf has the dubious distinction of replacing Flood, who rushed for 263 yards per game last season. But he won’t be asked to carry the offensive load by himself.
The Marionville offense will likely take to the air more frequently this season with quarterback Brandon Verfurth and three of his top targets back. Verfurth only averaged 84 yards per game passing as a sophomore because most of his time was devoted to handing the ball off to Flood.
Although the Comets lost their top two players and coach, Flannigan said expectations haven’t changed.
“One of the reasons I looked here at Marionville was the rich tradition and the expectations the kids have and the community has,” he said. “We know there are going to be some knock-down, drag-outs. We won’t have blowouts they had last year.”
One of those blowouts was in the season opener against Houston. Although he hasn’t seen the Tigers this year because their jamboree was cancelled due to inclement weather, Flannigan has heard that the going may not be as easy this time around.
“(Other coaches) always said how physical they are,” Flannigan said of Houston. “When it comes time, you go and hit them in the mouth and they hit you right back, and they’re going to get after you that much more. I know we’ll have a physical ballgame.”
The Houston offense, which averaged just 3.3 yards per play last year, will have a vastly different look under Edwards. The Tigers lined up in many shotgun and multiple receiver formations in their team scrimmage.
Houston returns nearly all of its skill players, led by quarterback David Weybright, tailback Kirk Pierce and wide receiver Ty Scheets.
Edwards said he’s ready for the season opener. He’s about to find out if his team is ready.
“First year on the job, I haven’t seen our kids in a game-type situation,” he said. “The kids have practiced hard and worked hard, and they’re excited about it. We all know it’s going to be a tough contest, but hopefully we can come out and get some things done right.”