In the most important game of the season, the Houston football team played its worst game of the season.
“It was one of the most frustrating games I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here,” first-year Tigers coach Chris Edwards said following Houston’s 39-7 loss Friday night to Willow Springs in the district opener for both teams.
The Bears applied another painful blow in an already difficult season. Quarterback Justin Johnson burnt the Houston secondary for 434 yards and five scores, and Willow Springs’ stout defense almost completely shut down the Tigers as they dropped the program’s 19th consecutive game.
Houston (0-8, 0-4 SCA) appeared to be building momentum toward district play with three consecutive close losses to St. James, Salem and El Dorado Springs and an impressive first-half showing against Mountain Grove. Instead, the Tigers played one of their worst games of the season as they dropped the program’s 19th consecutive game.
The lopsided loss, coupled with Cabool’s 47-12 victory over Mountain View-Liberty, all but eliminated Houston from contending for the Class 2 District 9 title. The Tigers face Liberty on the road Friday night before closing out the season against much-improved Cabool.
“It’s Week 8,” Edwards said. “We can’t use excuses anymore.”
Houston only trailed 14-7 when junior Ty Scheets leapt in the air above Willow Springs’ John White for a nifty catch, then scooted into the end zone for a 29-yard score. But the Bears tacked on another touchdown – Johnson’s third touchdown pass of the half – for a 21-7 advantage that continued to expand in the second half.
Johnson picked apart the Tigers with high-arching passes that were often jump balls. The Bears won a majority of them. Johnson completed 20 of his 33 pass attempts for 443 yards and had touchdown tosses of 21, 9, 49, 58 and 24 yards
Derek Chapman was on the receiving end of several big plays, grabbing seven passes for 147 yards and two scores. Brick Wilce had three catches for 125 yards and two scores as Willow Springs (3-5, 1-3 SCA) earned its first conference victory and extended the Tigers’ losing skid.
“Our (pass) coverage was pretty decent,” Edwards said. “We just didn’t make a play on the ball.”
Houston struggled to generate much offense as the Tigers’ passing game was slowed with a steady pass rush. Quarterback David Weybright misfired on 19 of his 32 passes and finished with 96 yards. Scheets had eight catches for 90 yards and his team-leading fifth touchdown.
The Tigers were out-gained 523-149 and converted only one of their 11 third downs.
“We knew they were a stout defense,” Edwards said. “They proved it.”
Johnson connected with Wilce down the middle of the field and Lebeau on a short slant for a pair of fouth-down touchdowns to put the Bears ahead 14-0.
Even when things went right for the Tigers, they had problems. Houston was forced to burn a timeout after Scheets’ touchdown reception to find the kicking tee for the extra point.
Johnson found Chapman for a 49-yard score late in the second quarter to put Willow Springs in front 21-7.
The Houston defense recorded a season-high six sacks, but was broken down by big plays.
“One of the frustrating things was we had 11 tackles for losses and four more plays where we stopped them for no yards,” Edwards said. “We would do some good things, but we just couldn’t sustain it.”