It was first-and-goal from the 5-yard-line as the Houston Tigers marched toward a touchdown on their opening drive Friday night.
As the ball snapped, one player ran the wrong direction. The pitch from quarterback Devin Coulter hit the player’s back, fell to the ground and was recovered by St. James. It was the first of four costly mistakes.
The Tigers racked up 396 yard on the ground for the team’s biggest rushing total since HHS went to the state semifinals in 2005. But four first-half fumbles –– two leading to easy touchdowns –– and eight penalties were too much to overcome as St. James beat the Tigers 39-20.
“There were a lot of good things that happened,” HHS coach Billy O’Neil said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot, too,”
The HHS offense had its best performance in several years. Eight different players carried the ball a total of 69 times for just under 400 yards. Nathaniel Alkire led the way with a career-best 133 yards and fullback Trevor Merckling, who had 99 rushing yards, scored three times.
But the offensive success was overshadowed by the miscues. The Tigers (0-2) dropped the ball on the ground eight times and lost four of them. Two of the fumbles gave St. James possession inside the HHS 10-yard line and were converted into quick scores.
O’Neil said two of the four lost fumbles happened without contact from a defender.
“We’re not securing the ball correctly,” O’Neil said. “Our hands aren’t covering the tips, and we’re not keeping it tight to the body.”
The most costly mistake came on the opening drive. Beginning on its 33-yard line, HHS drove to the St. James 5 with 10 consecutive running plays. But on 11th play, a mental mistake by the running back led to a lost fumble and the end of a scoring opportunity.
“Mental mistakes happen. They’re 15-18 year old kids. That’s part of the game,” O’Neil said. “Mistakes happen every play, and people don’t see it. This one just happened to be a highlight. If it was anyone else, we may have still walked into the end zone.”
St. James quarterback Brett Karnes completed 17 of his 26 passes for 296 yards and five touchdowns. Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers had four catches for 115 yards and two scores.
Behind 20-0 midway through the third quarter, HHS got its first points when Merckling bounced an inside run around the left corner from six yards out for his first career score.
He wasn’t finished.
With 11:11 to go in the game, Merckling broke loose up the middle for a 17-yard score. Alkire ran in the conversion to make it 26-14.
After Karnes connected with Hawkins-Sconiers for a 41-yard score, Merckling capped an eight-play drive with a three-yard scoring plunge.
St. James (2-0) scored with 1:57 left after O’Neil elected to go for it on fourth down from the HHS 11-yard line.
HHS out-gained St. James by 41 yards and had 21 first downs compared to nine for the visitors. The Tigers scored two of their three touchdowns with backup quarterback Nathan Poynter leading the offense after Coulter left in the third quarter with a leg injury and was unable to return.
“This is the type of offense this is, and this is the type of personnel we have,” O’Neil said. “I thought we left about 28 points on the field. I thought the score should have been 40-something to 20 for us.”
St. James 7 7 12 13 –– 39
Houston 0 0 6 14 –– 20
SJ –– Birkner 12 pass from Karnes (Hale kick), 1:35.
SJ –– Money 6 pass from Karnes (Hale Kick), 3:35.
SJ –– Birkner 17 pass from Karnes (kick failed), 7:55.
HOU –– Merckling 6 run (kick failed), 6:11.
SJ –– Hawkins-Sconiers 65 pass from Karnes (pass failed), 5:55.
HOU –– Merckling 17 run (Alkire run), 11:11.
SJ –– Hawkins-Sconiers 41 pass from Karnes (pass failed), 10:38.
HOU –– Merckling 3 run (kick failed), 6:14.
SJ –– Karnes 7 run (Hale kick), 1:57.
First downs 9 21
Total yards 376 417
Rushes-yards 22-80 69-396
Passing 296 21
Punt returns 17 0
Kickoff returns 38 84
Comp-att-int 17-26-0 2-8-0
Sacked-yards lost 1-3 0-0
Punts 3-27.0 2-36.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 8-4
Penalties-yards 8-80 5-40
RUSHING –– St. James, Hayes 11-62, Karnes 9-19, Ubben 1-2, Money 1-(minus 3), Houston, Alkire 16-133, Merckling 19-99, Coulter 14-75, Hale 7-43, Smith 9-40, Knarr 1-7, Walker 1-4, Poynter 2-(minus 5).
PASSING –– St. James, Karnes 17-26-2 296, Houston, Coulter 2-4-0 21, Poynter 0-4-0 0.
RECEIVING –– St. James, Hawkins-Sconiers 4-115, Birkner 7-89, Money 5-88, Conway 1-4, Houston, Alkire 2-21.
Week 2 scores
St. James 39, Houston 20
Mountain Grove 60, Hollister 18
Willow Springs 32, Springfield Central 18
Strafford 53, Cabool 12
Liberty 60, Springfield Catholic 7
Ava 40, Rogersville 3
Highland, Ark. 34, Thayer 0
Salem 22, Plattsburg 14
Week 3 games
Houston at Cuba
Ava at Mountain Grove
Liberty at Thayer
Cabool at Willow Springs
Salem at Owensville