CABOOL –– Houston finally got off to a fast start and quickly put away its Texas County rivals.
The Tigers converted their first two drives Friday night into touchdowns and cruised to a 21-7 road victory against Cabool.
When Chance Hunter scooted into the end zone 7 minutes, 10 seconds into the contest, it was the first time in 2015 HHS scored in the first quarter. He nearly added another but his second rushing score missed the mark by nine seconds.
Still, it was a much-improved beginning to the game for the Tigers, who had been outscored 42-14 in the first half of the first three games.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t played well in the first half,” Tigers coach Eric Sloan said. “We got something figured out, and hopefully that’s a sign of what’s to come.”
The strong start cemented the Tigers’ first 3-1 start to the season since 2008. Houston (1-1 South Central Association) also snapped a 12-game conference losing skid dating back to a victory against Cabool in September 2013.
The winning ways are welcomed by a program that was a combined 3-47 the previous five years.
“We’ve got to keep grinding and working. Eventually the tide is going to turn,” Sloan said. “We’ve got to be the next Mountain View-Liberty.”
Hunter carried the ball 25 times for 126 yards and two scores as he topped the 100-yard mark for the third time in four games. Senior Ethan Kelley also had a rushing touchdown.
The HHS defense –– led by a 15-tackle effort from senior Keegan Spurlin –– held Cabool to 54 rushing yards on 41 attempts. The Bulldogs (0-4, 0-2 SCA) managed to score with 51 seconds left in the game.
Sloan said he was encouraged by the way his team bounced back following the previous week’s 14-7 loss to Salem.
“There were no excuses and people were holding each other accountable. That’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s the process. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll keep taking baby steps and hopefully keep creeping the right direction.”
After forcing Cabool to punt on the game’s opening possession, the Tigers covered 80 yards in nine plays for their first points. Quarterback Nathan Poynter, who was 6-of-10 passing for 73 yards, connected with Kelley for 17 yards on a key third-down play to keep the drive alive.
After Hunter scored from 12 yards out, Poynter hit Austin Schock on the two-point conversion attempt to make it 8-0 with 4:50 left in the opening quarter.
The Tigers forced another punt and again found paydirt. The second drive, which began on their own 47-yard line, concluded on the first play of the second quarter as Hunter kept his balance to bounce off a tackler en route to a 10-yard score.
Ahead 14-0 at the half, Houston recovered an onside kick attempt and marched 52 yards on seven plays to start the third quarter. Kelley concluded the drive by taking a jet sweep around the left side for seven yards into the end zone.
“It comes down to our offensive line being accountable,” Sloan said.
The game at “The Pit” was a homecoming for Sloan, a Cabool High School graduate and former head coach of the football program, as well as three of his assistant coaches. It was also the first game for Hunter against his former team after transferring to Houston.
Sloan said he did his best to stay hidden before kickoff and felt uneasy leading up to the game.
“My stomach was a torn up mess,” he said. “I couldn’t eat lunch. I just felt bad. I’m glad it’s over.”
HOU –– Hunter 12 run (Schock pass from Poynter), 4:50.
HOU –– Hunter 10 run (run failed), 11:51.
HOU –– EKelley 7 run (CLee kick), 9:37.
CAB –– Manning 2 run (Green kick), 0:51.
RUSHING –– Houston, Hunter 25-126, EKelley 5-26, Logan 2-23, Knarr 1-(minus 3), Poynter 8-(minus 28). Cabool, Barnes 20-44, Manning 10-21, Bryant 7-8, Carder 4-(minus 19).
PASSING –– Houston, Poynter 6-10-1 73. Cabool, Barnes 10-21-1 108. Miller 1-1-0 13. Carder 1-2-0 5. Bryant 1-1-0 1.
RECEIVING –– Houston, EKelley 2-26, Schock 1-20, Knarr 1-17, Logan 2-10. Cabool, Hensley 7-18, Barnes 2-14, Bryant 1-12, Carder 1-10, Green 1-5, Manning 1-5.
Week 4 scores
Houston 21, Cabool 7
Mountain Grove 40, Willow Springs 6
Liberty 40, Ava 25
Thayer 29, Salem 14
Week 5 games
Houston at Thayer
Salem at Ava
Cabool at Mountain Grove
Willow Springs at Liberty