Houston quarterback Devin Coulter scrambles in the fourth quarter as he is chased by Thayer’s Matt Griffith and William Tillman (46).

THAYER –– A glance at the scoreboard doesn’t look promising for the Houston football team. But coach Billy O’Neil sees a silver lining in his team’s performance.

Despite a 42-16 loss Friday at Thayer, O’Neil is optimistic his team is moving in the right direction. He pointed out the team’s offensive success and the few key plays that made what he believes should have been a close game a lopsided one.

“I do think we’re closing the gap –– even if it might not seem like it by the score,” O’Neil said. “If you heard the score, you’d think it was a blowout. But if you were actually at the game, they could see we competed with them.”

Evidence in O’Neil’s favor is the Tigers’ offensive success in 2013. Houston (1-4, 1-2 South Central Association) has in half the season already eclipsed last year’s rushing yards and total points.

The minor mistakes –– a missed tackle, bad snap and failed fourth-down conversions –– are the only differences between the Tigers competing in and winning more games.

“The proof is there. The kids just have to start believing in themselves,” O’Neil said. “It’s hard to build confidence in kids when you’ve been on a losing streak. But I keep pointing out the positives and the progress they’re making.”

Senior fullback Trevor Merckling had 13 carries for 53 yards and his team-leading seventh and eighth rushing touchdowns. Nathaniel Alkire had 52 yards on the ground and Devin Coulter added 45 for HHS, which gained 208 rushing yards on 48 attempts.

Coulter was 4-for-7 passing for 91 yards and one interception. Merckling had three receptions for 74 yards.

Despite twice failing to convert scoring opportunities –– one pass that slipped through Alkire’s hands and a long drive that stalled on Thayer’s 13-yard line –– the Tigers only trailed 15-0 with under a minute left in the first half. But things quickly unraveled.

With 28 seconds left in the second quarter, Thayer’s Mitch Webber shed a tackle around the 20-yard line, cut across the field and scored. The extra point made it 22-0.

Houston quickly moved the ball near midfield and after calling timeout, set up to run one play with 2.8 seconds remaining. The snap sailed past Coulter and after it was knocked backwards several yards, was scooped up by Thayer’s Braydon Pender and returned 23 yards for a score with no time left in the half.

O’Neil pointed to Webber’s score as a major breakdown. Webber was able to spin out of a tackle from Stuart Lybyer and run through the HHS defense.

“All the other defensive players stopped,” O’Neil said. “That’s on us for not hustling to the ball and playing through the whistle.”

Webber had rushing scores of 9, 20 and 1 yard for the Bobcats (3-2, 2-1 SCA). Shelby Barton had a game-high 156 rushing yards, highlighted by an 84-yard scamper 16 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Tigers trailed 42-0 when Merckling followed a wedge five yards into the end zone with 5:57 remaining in the game. Coulter ran in the conversion.

After stopping Thayer on four plays, Merckling again rumbled into the end zone from three yards away with 22 seconds left. Coulter ran in the conversion.

Houston only punted once. Two drives ended with turnovers and led to Thayer touchdowns. Two stalled in the red zone –– once at the 13 in the second quarter and at the 17 at the end of the third quarter.

The Bobcats didn’t punt or commit a turnover.

“We continually leave points on the field instead of putting them on the scoreboard,” O’Neil said. “We’ve got to get hungry for the end zone when it’s right there within our grasp. We should probably have 50-60 more points than what we have scored this season.

“Somehow, it’s my responsibility to teach these kids how to do that. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but we’re trying.”

Box score

THAYER 42, HOUSTON 16

Houston 0 0 0 16 –– 16

Thayer 7 21 7 7 –– 42

First Quarter

THA –– Steed 9 pass from Henry (Tyler kick), 7:19.

Second Quarter

THA –– Webber 9 run (Barton run), 11:21.

THA –– Webber 20 run (Tyler kick), 0:28.

THA –– Pender 23 fumble return (kick failed), 0:00.

Third Quarter

THA –– Webber 1 run (Tyler kick), 8:35.

Fourth Quarter

THA –– Barton 84 run (Tyler kick), 11:44.

HOU –– Merckling 5 run (Coulter run), 5:57.

HOU –– Merckling 3 run (Coulter run), 0:22.

––––––

HOU THA

First downs 15 13

Total yards 299 357

Rushes-yards 46-284 38-322

Passing 91 35

Punt returns 0 0

Kickoff returns 105 22

Comp-att-int 4-7-1 3-5-0

Sacked-yards lost 0-0 0-0

Punts 1-40.0 0-0

Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0

Penalties-yards 2-20 2-17

––––––

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING –– Houston, Merckling 13-53, Alkire 10-52, Coulter 12-45, Hale 5-30, Smith 8-28. Thayer, Barton 10-156, Webber 18-128, Henry 5-38, Griffith 2-2, Pender 1-0, Langley 2-(minus 2).

PASSING –– Houston, Coulter 4-7-1 91. Thayer, Henry 3-5-0 35.

RECEIVING –– Houston, Merckling 3-74, Alkire 1-17. Thayer, Risner 1-16, Barton 1-10, Steed 1-9.

Week 5 scores

Thayer 42, Houston 16

Mountain Grove 55, Cabool 0

Liberty 70, Willow Springs 0

Ava 44, Salem 7

Week 6 games

Ava at Houston

Liberty at Mountain Grove

Thayer at Cabool

Willow Springs at Salem

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