After Willow Springs marched down the field for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, Houston coach David Williams was concerned.
“It didn’t look good,” Williams said.
The Tigers didn’t fold, though.
Houston limited the early damage and nearly rallied from a 16-point deficit. The Tigers fell just short — a 16-13 loss that was the team’s 18th consecutive defeat — in Friday’s district opener, but Williams was hardly disappointed.
“I was proud of the players because it would have been really easy to say, ‘Here we go again,'” Williams said. “We didn’t do that. We hung in there.”
The matchup between two winless teams was a tight one. Willow Springs scored the game’s first two touchdowns. The Tigers scored the final two.
The difference was the four plays following those touchdowns.
The Bears (1-7, 1-5 South Central Association) followed both their scores with two-point conversions. Houston kicked extra points after its two touchdowns and made one.
Williams said Monday afternoon that he believed his team would need three scores to win the game. He also pointed out that the Tigers (0-8, 0-6 SCA) haven’t gone for two this season.
“I don’t like chasing two points,” Williams said. “That will get you in trouble.”
Willow Springs gained 238 of its 281 yards on the ground. Travis Wake accounted for 139 of those rushing yards on 24 carries.
Houston never got its rushing game going. The Tigers were held to 30 yards on 22 attempts. Instead, HHS moved the ball through the air. Quarterback Weston Walker threw for 156 yards.
Behind 16-0 following two Wake rushing scores, Houston got its first points when junior Drake Bell scored from two yards out at the 6:36 mark of the second quarter. The touchdown was set up by a 50-yard strike from Walker to Dakota Stigall on the previous play.
Rodney Preheim drilled the PAT to make it 16-7.
The game remained that way until Walker pounded it in from one yard away — his team-best fifth rushing touchdown of the season — with 1:01 remaining in the game.
Willow Springs, which was clinging to a three-point advantage, recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock for its first victory of 2011.
Instead of conversions and PATs, Williams was focused on the Tigers’ drive just before halftime that stalled on the Bears’ 12-yard line. On fourth-and-5, Walker was flushed out of the pocket, and his pass intended for Bell in the flat fell incomplete.
“We had a play we hadn’t used all year, and it was open,” Williams said. “It just didn’t work out.”
HHS senior Jacob Kelley had career highs of six catches for 79 yards. Walker was 10-of-29 passing and had two interceptions.
Bell had 15 carries for 30 yards to lead the Tigers.
“I thought we could move the ball on the ground against those guys,” Williams said, “and we just never did at all.”
Williams praised the Tigers’ defense, which had give up 40 or more points in six of the previous seven games. Houston stopped the Bears five yards away from the end zone in the fourth quarter to stay within striking distance.
The Tigers nearly kept Willow Springs out of the end zone on their second touchdown drive as well. The Bears had to convert three fourth downs on the possession, including from the 8 yard line on fourth-and-goal. Wake scored on a double handoff that Williams said the coaching staff had not seen on tape.
“I was proud of the defense,” Williams said. “That was by far the best we’ve played all year. After the first quarter, they didn’t do much.”
WS — Wake 20 run (Wake run), 8:11.
WS — Wake 8 run (Heim pass from Gale), 7:01.
HOU — Bell 2 run (Preheim kick), 6:36.
HOU — WWalker 1 run (kick failed), 1:01.
RUSHING — Willow Springs, Wake 24-139, Heim 13-53, David 10-33, Chagolla 4-21, Gale 6-(minus-8). Houston, Bell 15-30, WWalker 7-0.
PASSING — Willow Springs, Gale 4-8-0 43. Houston, WWalker 10-29-2 156.
RECEIVING — Willow Springs, Smith 1-22, Wake 3-21. Houston, Kelley 6-79, Stigall 1-50, Bell 2-21, Barker 1-6.