Houston made enough positive plays to hang with a preseason state-ranked team in Class 3. But there were also just enough missed opportunities to keep the Tigers from winning.
“It’s a work in progress, and there are going to be some growing pains along with strides,” HHS coach Eric Sloan said. “Hopefully there will be more strides than growing pains.”
Playing in front of nearly packed stands for the 2015 homecoming, Houston competed with and outplayed Ava for most of Friday night’s game at Tiger Stadium. But a few dropped passes on pivotal plays and defensively allowing too many big plays added up to a 28-14 defeat.
“We had opportunities,” Sloan said. “We continue to say that it’s the little things. Everything we’re doing wrong is easily fixable. One of these days, everything will have to click for us.”
The Tigers had no lingering letdown from the previous week’s 57-point loss at Thayer. Instead, an offensive adjustment that put senior Ethan Kelley in the backfield for the first time this season and a stronger defensive effort put Houston in position for an upset victory.
HHS (3-3, 1-3 South Central Association) ran 20 more plays than Ava and had a 16-6 advantage in first downs. But the Tigers left points on the board as a first-half drive stalled on the Bears’ 11-yard line and another in the fourth quarter got as close as the 3-yard line before fading.
While Houston was churning out yards with long drives, Ava struck quickly with its speed.
The Bears (4-2, 2-2 SCA) had touchdown runs of 58, 51, 62 and 52 yards to account for their points. All four scoring drives were five plays or less, including Nate Bray’s 62 yard sprint on the first play of the third quarter to extend Ava’s advantage to 20-6.
“That’s kind of the story of the 2015 Tiger team,” Sloan said. “When we line up, we’re pretty good. When we don’t get lined up, something bad happens and we’re exposed.”
Houston had its most balanced offensive output of the season with 125 rushing yards and 109 in the passing game.
Sloan and offensive coordinator Vince McCrosky modified the Tigers’ base formation by putting Kelley in the backfield alongside Chance Hunter. The move paid off as Hunter rushed for 94 yards and a pair of scores and Kelley had 70 combined yards.
“There’s a lot of speed and hard-nosed running back there. Hopefully Ethan can take a little off Chance,” Sloan said. “We can run everything we already do out of that formation. It gives another option and another tool in the toolbox.”
Along with the ground attack, quarterback Nathan Poynter had his best game of the season. The senior connected on seven of his first 10 throws –– including five in a row during a second-quarter scoring drive.
The final numbers for Poynter, who finished 8-for-18 passing, were hurt by four dropped passes by teammates.
“I thought Nathan had a great game,” Sloan said. “It’s good to see him playing with confidence. Hopefully we can build on this.”
After four unsuccessful drives to start the game and trailing 13-0, the Tigers’ offense came to life late in the second quarter. Houston covered 58 yards in nine plays and scored its first points when Hunter barreled into the end zone 38 seconds before the half.
The Tigers were down 20-6 midway through the third when Poynter completed five straight passes to march HHS down the field. Senior Matt Knarr had two catches for 25 yards on the drive.
Two plays after Kelley’s 10-yard sweep around the left edge, Hunter leapt into the end zone from one yard away for his second touchdown and ninth of the season.
“I’ve had several coaches say that if he’s not the best back in the conference, he’s right there,” Sloan said. “He just won’t go down. Spinning, running –– his wheels are constantly turning.”
Ava answered with Bray’s 52-yard scamper on its next drive. Houston then moved the ball to the Ava 3 to open the fourth quarter before stalling and turned the ball over on downs.
“We had opportunities. We continue to say that it’s the little things,” Sloan said. “Eventually we’ll have to quit making excuses and have it all click.”
AVA – McFarlin 58 run (Johnson kick), 2:57.
AVA – Porter 51 run (kick failed), 4:19.
HOU – Hunter 4 run (kick failed), 0:38.
AVA – Bray 62 run (Johnson kick), 11:41.
HOU – Hunter 1 (Schock pass from Poynter, 3:03.
AVA – Bray 52 run (Porter run), 0:00.
RUSHING – Ava, Bray 19-170, Porter 6-64, McFarlin 1-58, Johnson 10-7, Maggard 1-4. Houston, Hunter 28-94, EKelley 8-32, Logan 4-12, Poynter 5-(minus 13).
PASSING – Ava, Johnson 4-6-2 81. Houston, Poynter 8-18-0 109.
RECEIVING – Ava, McFarlin 3-52, Porter 1-29. Houston, Logan 2-44, EKelley 3-38, Knarr 2-25, Hunter 1-1.
Week 6 scores
Ava 28, Houston 14
Thayer 43, Cabool 0
Liberty 28, Mountain Grove 12
Salem 40, Willow Springs 14
Week 7 games
Houston at Willow Springs
Thayer at Ava
Liberty at Cabool
Mountain Grove at Salem