The Tigers lost Friday night in Phelps County.

WILLOW SPRINGS –– Houston football coach Billy O’Neil thinks his team wasn’t mentally prepared to play Friday night. And it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the field.

Playing without starting quarterback Devin Coulter and with three members of the team effected by a death to a family member, the Tigers offered little resistance in a 61-16 loss at Willow Springs.

The first mental hit was the news three days before the game that Coulter, the team’s field general and third-leading rusher, would miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

“I think that impacted the team more than I thought it would,” O’Neil said. “Devin is a leader, and I think we missed his presence on the field.”

The second blow was the death last Wednesday of Doyle Merckling. He was the father of assistant coach Marty Merckling, grandfather of senior Trevor Merckling and father-in-law of assistant Dwayne Gale.

“This is just a game, and that’s real life,” O’Neil said. “I didn’t get the kids as ready to play as I could have because we were so shorthanded. If there’s any blame, that’s on me. There’s only so much you can do with only two coaches present.”

Willow Springs (4-3, 3-2 South Central Association) busted the game open with 35 second-quarter points and racked up 394 yards of total offense. The Bears averaged 8.2 yards per play.

Houston (1-6, 1-4 SCA) managed a season-low 145 total yards and just 131 on the ground. Merckling led the team with six carries for 49 yards and a score. Senior Austin Foster also had a touchdown –– the first of his varsity career –– to account for the Tigers’ other score.

With Coulter sidelined, O’Neil moved tight end Kolby Walker to quarterback. Sophomore Nathan Poynter also played two series at quarterback.

O’Neil said Poynter will get the nod this week against state-ranked Mountain Grove. Walker will return to tight end.

“Our offense not producing was not because of Kolby or Nathan,” O’Neil said. “I’m not moving Kolby back to tight end because he did a bad job. I’m moving him there because Mountain Grove has a very aggressive defensive end, and we need his size on the line.”

A fake punt set up the Bears’ first points. Facing fourth-and-5 on the 50-yard line, Lucas Combs took the direct snap and ran 22 yards for a first down. Two plays later, Dwayne Stanley sprinted into the end zone at the 6:07 mark of the first quarter.

Houston lost a fumble on its next possession, and Willow Springs scored two plays later on a Chris Stanley touchdown run.

Dwayne Stanley had touchdown runs of 31 and 26 yards in the second quarter. Combs had a 15-yard rushing score and touchdown passes of 39 and 13 yards as the Bears led 48-0 at the half.

Trailing 54-0, the Tigers got their first points when Merckling was apparently tackled, but quickly popped to his feet after hitting his knees on the ground and raced 33 yards for a score. Nathaniel Alkire ran in the two-point conversion.

Following a Willow Springs score, Foster capped a 58-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown.

Since beating Cabool in Week 4, HHS has been outscored 151-40 the past three games.

“I know people are frustrated. They are no more frustrated than I am,” O’Neil said. “If they are, then they need to come and sit in my shoes knowing that you’re trying to teach them the best way to play.”

Box score

WILLOW 61, HOUSTON 16

Houston 0 0 0 16 –– 16

Willow 13 35 6 7 –– 61

First Quarter

WS –– DStanley 28 run (run failed), 6:07.

WS –– CStanley 11 run (Self kick), 4:10.

Second Quarter

WS –– DStanley 31 run (kick failed), 11:07.

WS –– Combs 15 run (CStanley run), 7:58.

WS –– Dampier 39 pass from Combs (Heim pass from Combs), 7:45.

WS –– DStanley 26 run (kick failed), 3:22.

WS –– Clinton 13 pass from Combs (Self kick), 0:0.

Third Quarter

WS –– DStanley 10 run (Self kick), 8:21.

Fourth Quarter

HOU –– Merckling 33 run (Alkire run), 10:12.

WS –– Hoopes 41 run (Fine kick), 7:09.

HOU –– Foster 10 run (Hale run), 3:25.

––––––

HOU WS

First downs 5 11

Total yards 145 476

Rushes-yards 25-131 48-394

Passing 14 82

Punt returns 15 12

Kickoff returns 79 38

Comp-att-int 2-5-1 6-9-0

Sacked-yards lost 0-0 1-4

Punts 5-34.0 2-31.5

Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0

Penalties-yards 4-17 6-50

––––––

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING –– Houston, Merckling 6-49, Alkire 7-40 Walker 5-14, Foster 3-13, Hale 2-12, Smith 2-3. Willow Springs, DStanley 9-149, Combs 11-87, CStanley 13-74, Hoopes 5-66, Shanks 3-16, Heim 2-9, Chagolla 1-1, Dampier 1-0. Wake 3-(minus-8)

PASSING –– Houston, Walker 2-3-0 14, Poynter 0-2-1 0. Willow Springs, Combs 6-9-0 82.

RECEIVING –– Houston, Merckling 1-18, Smith 1-(minus-4). Willow springs, DStanley 1-31, Clinton 2-22, Cox 1-18, Heim 2-11.

Week 7 scores

Willow Springs 61, Houston 16

Mountain Grove 35, Salem 6

Liberty 59, Cabool 25

Thayer 8, Ava 0

Week 8 games

Mountain Grove at Houston

Salem at Liberty

Cabool at Ava

Willow Springs at Thayer

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