A group of players who have led the Houston football team’s turnaround –– already winning more games than the previous five years combined –– was honored Friday in likely their final home appearance.
Sixteen seniors were recognized alongside their families prior to the Tigers’ matchup with state-ranked Mountain Grove. Although Houston lost 34-7, it didn’t take away from a memorable night dedicated to the players.
“It’s such a special group,” HHS coach Eric Sloan said. “I hope they’ve laid the foundation for the future.”
Sloan credited his seniors –– the largest group he has ever coached –– with leading the way into the 2015 season. He said they were committed during the offseason and held their teammates accountable.
The result is a 4-4 record –– and now 2-4 in the South Central Association –– for a program that was 3-47 the five previous seasons.
“They are ready, willing and able to do everything we’ve asked,” Sloan said of his seniors. “It started Jan. 22. They’ve had high expectations for themselves and their teammates.”
The much-improved but still developing Tigers ran into a program that has been traditionally strong in their regular-season home finale. Mountain Grove –– the fifth-ranked team in Class 3 –– steadily wore down HHS with its rushing game and limited the Tigers’ effectiveness on offense.
The Panthers (7-1, 5-1 SCA) pounded out 330 yards on the ground and had a 425 to 170 advantage in total yards. Houston managed just 43 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
“I thought our kids competed and played hard. They’re just bigger, faster and stronger than we are,” Sloan said. “It’s not an effort thing. They’re just better than we are.”
Senior Ethan Kelley provided Houston’s lone points when he turned a short pass from fellow senior Nathan Poynter into a 58-yard score near the end of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers’ other highlight was a leaping second-quarter interception by senior Steven Logan.
The plays Houston needed to pull off an upset never materialized. The Tigers were 0-for-2 in the red zone and gave up four fourth-down conversions to the Mountain Grove offense.
The key moment of the game came late in the first half when Houston’s 10-play drive stalled on the Panthers’ 12-yard line. After running two plays and moving the ball to the 30, Mountain Grove called timeout with six seconds remaining. The Panthers then put the ball into the hands of Trystan Short, who sprinted 70 yards for a score with no time remaining in the half.
The series of plays all but decided the game’s outcome.
“A perfect situation, it’s 14-7 at the half,” Sloan said.
Short, who missed the entire second half with an injury, led Mountain Grove with nine carries for 122 yards. Quarterback Carter Otwell ran for 116 yards and two scores and also threw for another 95 yards and two more scores.
Poynter was 7-of-17 passing for 127 yards to lead the HHS offense. Chance Hunter was limited to 15 carries for 32 yards.
Mountain Grove had a 16-6 advantage in first downs and ran 30 more plays than the Tigers.
“A key to winning was to keep the defense off the field,” Sloan said. “If you kept time of possession, I think it would be ugly.”
Houston concludes the regular season Friday night at unbeaten and state-ranked Mountain View-Liberty. The Tigers will then complete in district play.
Houston slid to fifth place in the eight-team district following the loss to Mountain Grove. The Tigers would need to finish in the top four to host their first game. As it stands, they would travel to Ash Grove.
No matter where HHS finishes, Sloan is hopeful the team can continue building on the momentum from this season’s group of seniors.
“I hope we have many more games to come because I’m definitely going to miss this group,” Sloan said.
MG –– Otwell 14 run (kick failed), 1:58.
MG –– Barbe 42 pass from Otwell (Short run), 9:15.
MG –– Short 70 run (Halford kick), 0:00.
MG –– Otwell 3 run (Halford kick), 11:13.
HOU –– EKelley 58 pass from Poynter (LKelley kick), 4:40.
MG –– Barbe 16 pass from Otwell (kick failed), 1:12.
RUSHING –– Mountain Grove, Short 9-122, Otwell 24-116, Barbe 11-45, Allen 6-29, Halford 11-18. Houston, Hunter 15-32, EKelley 1-6, Logan 2-4, Adkison 1-4, Richardson 1-0, Poynter 2-(minus 4).
PASSING –– Mountain Grove, Otwell 5-8-1 95. Houston, Poynter 7-17-1 127.
RECEIVING –– Mountain Grove, Barbe 3-83, Allen 2-12. Houston, EKelley 1-58, Knarr 2-46, Logan 3-17, Schock 1-6.
These 16 seniors, who were honored Friday on Senior Night, have led the football team’s turnaround in 2016:
- Justice Wraught, WR/DB
- Nathan Poynter, QB/FS
- Steven Logan, SB/CB
- Caleb Adkison, WR/DB
- Whitley Welch, TE/LB
- Ethan Kelley, SB/DB
- Austin Schock, TE/LB
- Stetson Welch, FB/LB
- Matt Knarr, WR/CB
- Seth Goff, OL/DL
- Jon Bressie, OL/DT
- Austin Warner, OL/DL
- Keegan Spurlin, OL/LB
- Matt Wheeler, OL/NG
- Ross Wells, OL/DL
- Kyle Wilson, TE/DE
Week 8 scores
Mountain Grove 34, Houston 7
Liberty 47, Salem 13
Ava 41, Cabool 13
Thayer 54, Willow Springs 8
Week 9 games
Houston at Liberty
Salem at Cabool
Ava at Willow Springs
Thayer at Mountain Grove