CABOOL –– Texas County bragging rights are remaining in Houston.
Behind a rushing attack that pounded away at their rivals for 414 yards, the Tigers topped Cabool for the second straight season. Friday’s 40-36 victory snapped a nine-game losing skid that dated back to last year’s victory against the Bulldogs.
“There were a lot of tears on the field after the game,” HHS coach Billy O’Neil said.
Not just for the Tigers.
As his team celebrated, O’Neil said he noticed the reaction of the Cabool players. The Bulldogs remained winless as they lost their 15th consecutive game.
“I felt for the Cabool kids,” O’Neil said. “I understand what they’re going through. We’ve been there. “I’m rooting for them to get a win because I know how it feels.”
On a night of impressive offensive feats, the biggest HHS play was a defensive one.
Two plays after a Cabool interception stopped a Houston drive, Kolby Walker ripped the ball from the hands of Cabool running back Austin Coen and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown. The score –– and ensuing conversion run by Nathaniel Alkire –– put HHS ahead 32-28 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Houston (1-3, 1-1 South Central Association) never trailed again.
“That was a momentum changer,” O’Neil said. “The kids were really fired up after that.”
The Tigers controlled the game with their double wing rushing attack. They had 213 more total yards than Cabool and a 22-7 advantage in first downs.
Senior fullback Trevor Merckling led the charge with 18 carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Alkire added 136 yards and rushing scores of 1 and 56 yards.
Houston averaged 6.8 yards per carry and added 65 yards –– on screens to their wing backs –– through the air.
“The offensive line was doing a heck of a job opening up holes,” O’Neil said. “There were holes 5 to 7 yards wide. We were dominating the line and moving the ball at will.”
Cabool (0-4, 0-2 SCA) managed to stay close early with quick scoring strikes.
Two plays after Merckling’s 45-yard touchdown romp, Tanner Barnes hit Broderick Davis for a 48-yard score. After Alkire’s first score, Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a score. And two plays after Devin Coulter’s 15-yard touchdown run, Barnes scrambled 48 yards for a score of his own.
The Bulldogs answered Houston’s first three scores in 44, 13 and 25 seconds.
“We were working for ours,” O’Neil said, “and giving them theirs.”
The Tigers, who had been burnt by turnovers in their first three games, committed a costly one late in the second quarter. Davis picked off Alkire’s pass on a trick play and returned it 38 yards for a score to put Cabool in front 28-18.
But Houston responded with a three-play scoring drive. It concluded when Alkire took a double-handoff and raced 56 yards for a touchdown with 1:25 remaining in the first half.
“The kids didn’t drop their heads when we got behind. They had confidence,” O’Neil said. “They weren’t going to let this game slip away.”
Following Walker’s fumble return to put the Tigers ahead, the HHS defense stopped Cabool on downs just 18 yards away from the end zone. They forced a punt on the next possession and with 7:31 left in the game, got another fourth-down stop.
Four plays later, Merckling plowed into the end zone for his team-leading sixth rushing score of the season. Coulter ran in the conversion to make it 40-28 with 5:47 left.
The Tigers’ defense again stopped Cabool on downs following the score. The Bulldogs managed a touchdown against Houston’s prevent defense with 23 seconds left for their only points of the second half.
“I was very proud of the defensive effort by our guys,” O’Neil said. “Most of the points Cabool scored were not their fault, and they basically shut them down in the second half.”
HOUSTON 40, CABOOL 36
Houston 6 18 8 8 –– 40
Cabool 6 22 0 8 –– 36
HOU –– Merckling 45 run (run failed), 8:58.
CAB –– Davis 48 pass from Barnes (kick failed), 8:14.
HOU –– Alkire 1 run (run failed), 7:16.
CAB –– Davis 77 kick off return (Bay pass from Davis), 7:03.
HOU –– Coulter 15 run (pass failed), 3:38.
CAB –– Barnes 48 run (Bay pass from Barnes), 3:13.
CAB –– Davis 38 interception return (pass failed), 2:18.
HOU –– Alkire 56 run (pass failed), 1:25.
HOU –– Walker 11 fumble return (Alkire run), 8:00.
HOU –– Merckling 8 run (Coulter run), 5:47.
CAB –– Green 4 pass from Davis (Bay pass from Barnes), 0:23.
First downs 22 7
Total yards 478 265
Rushes-yards 61-414 12-66
Passing 65 199
Punt returns 34 0
Kickoff returns 35 138
Comp-att-int 6-10-2 16-40-0
Sacked-yards lost 0-0 2-2
Punts 1-15.0 3-39.3
Fumbles-lost 4-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 8-60 9-75
RUSHING –– Houston, Merckling 18-156, Alkire 14-136, Coulter 15-56, Hale 8-47, Smith 6-19. Cabool, Barnes 7-66, Davis 4-2, Coen 1-(minus-2).
PASSING –– Houston, Coulter 5-9-0 65, Alkire 0-1-1 0. Cabool, Barnes 15-39-0 185, Green 1-1-0 14.
RECEIVING –– Houston, Alkire 2-33, Merckling 3-20, Smith 1-12. Cabool, Davis 5-104, Green 4-49, Coen 3-18, Iott 2-16, Kozak 1-12.
Week 4 scores
Houston 40, Cabool 36
Mtn. Grove 42, Willow Springs 28
Thayer 23, Salem 6
Liberty 47, Ava 13
Week 5 games
Houston at Thayer
Cabool at Mountain Grove
Willow Springs at Liberty
Salem at Ava