CUBA, Mo. –– Miscues continue to haunt the Houston High School football team.
Despite another outstanding performance with their rushing game, the Tigers again couldn’t overcome their mistakes. They lost two fumbles deep in their territory that led to Cuba touchdowns and another time gave the ball away six yards from the end zone. The result was a 32-24 road loss that left HHS winless in 2013.
“Until we have better discipline and are mentally sharp, that first win is going to be hard to get,” Tigers coach Billy O’Neil said.
Fumbles and penalties have defined the Tigers –– and overshadowed the resurgence of the team’s rushing attack. HHS has turned the ball over 10 times through three games, leading to 42 points by its opponents. That doesn’t count the points the Tigers have left on the field when long drives have ended with turnovers and flags have wiped away touchdown runs.
HHS (0-3) has 28 more first downs than its opponents and just 17 less total yards. But no victories.
“None of the three teams have stopped us,” O’Neil said of losses to Salem, St. James and Cuba. “We’ve stopped ourselves every time. Good teams do not make those mistakes over and over again. Right now, we’re not there yet. “
The Tigers’ double wing produced 284 rushing yards as the team is posting offensive numbers comparable to the 2005 state semifinal team. Quarterback Devin Coulter led the ground attack with 14 carries for 116 yards and two scores. Nathaniel Alkire had 74 rushing yards and Trevor Merckling, who also had a touchdown reception, ran for 71 yards and a score.
“Offensively, we’re right there with the other teams,” O’Neil said. “But mentally we aren’t.”
Coulter, who missed part of the previous game with a foot injury, gave the Tigers their first lead of the season when he scooped up a low snap and ran 19 yards into the end zone midway through the first quarter.
After a pair of touchdowns by the Wildcats (1-2), Merckling tied the game when he rumbled 37 yards for his fourth rushing score in two weeks.
Cuba led 18-12 following Austin Burlage’s 11-yard score with 37 seconds left in the first half. But HHS, which lost the ball on the Cuba 6-yard line the previous drive, again pulled even when Coulter raced 30 yards into the end zone with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
The touchdown run was a double handoff to Coulter, who burnt Cuba with the play O’Neil discovered last summer while scouting a Kansas team that also runs the double win.
“It’s not that I don’t want to pass,” O’Neil said. “If you can drive it down their throat, it’s demoralizing. It can break you down when you know that you can’t stop them.”
There was still plenty of time left when Cuba quarterback Nicholas Lemons, who had 182 yards on 34 carries, scored from 19 yards away with 8:08 left. But the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by HHS. Cuba recovered and Lemons ran the ball on five of the next six plays as the Wildcats went ahead 32-16.
“That really hurts morale,” O’Neil said of the late turnover. “If you’re not a really good team and really confident, that can bring your morale down pretty quickly.”
Houston got another score when Coulter hit Merckling for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 left. But Cuba recovered the Tigers’ onside kick and ran the ball four times to end the game.
The loss snapped the Wildcat’s eight game losing skid. HHS dropped its ninth consecutive game.
“I think they wanted the game more in the fourth quarter,”O’Neil said. “They could feel the win, and we were hanging our heads.”
CUBA 32, HOUSTON 24
Houston 6 6 6 6 –– 24
Cuba 0 18 0 14 –– 32
HOU –– Coulter 19 run (run failed), 4:08.
CUB –– Lea 1 run (run failed), 11:57.
CUB –– Lea 26 pass from Leon (pass failed), 10:11.
HOU –– Merckling 37 run (run failed), 3:38.
CUB –– Burlage 11 run (run failed), 0:37.
HOU –– Coulter 30 run (run failed), 3:54.
CUB –– Lemon 19 run (run failed), 8:08.
CUB –– Lemon 9 run (Moore fumble recovery), 5:26.
HOU –– Merckling 6 pass from Coulter (run failed), 1:03.
First downs 14 14
Total yards 346 302
Rushes-yards 46-284 55-267
Passing 62 35
Punt returns 0 31
Kickoff returns 4 25
Comp-att-int 4-8-0 2-5-0
Sacked-yards lost 2-19 0-0
Punts 2-39.5 2-35.0
Fumbles-lost 4-3 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-51 7-72
RUSHING –– Houston, Coulter 14-116, Alkire 13-74, Merckling 7-71, Smith 8-16, Foster 3-6, Walker 1-1. Cuba, Lemons 34-182, Burlage 4-35, Lea 11-19, Wagner 2-18, Killeen 4-13.
PASSING –– Houston, Coulter 4-8-0 62. Cuba, Lemons 2-5-0 35.
RECEIVING –– Houston, ASchock 1-34, Alkire 1-15, Keeney 1-7, Merckling 1-6. Cuba, Lea 1-26, Burlage 1-9.
Week 3 scores
Cuba 32, Houston 24
Willow Springs 31, Cabool 12
Mountain Grove 33, Ava 20
Liberty 53, Thayer 14
Salem 30, Owensville 13
Week 4 games
Houston at Cabool
Mountain Grove at Willow Springs
Ava at Liberty
Thayer at Salem