Sloan says team must fight to improve

Houston High school coach Eric Sloan says football is similar to life. If so, the Tigers’ season opener provides an opportunity to learn to bounce back from disappointment.

“When you’re wife gets mad at you, what are you going to do? Are you going to shut down and fold the towel?” Sloan said Friday after the Tigers’ 35-0 home loss to Ash Grove. “So much of football is perseverance and how you handle situations. Things are going to happen. Your dog will get ran over. Your kids will get sick. Your pay will get cut or you’ll lose your job.

“You’ve got to keep fighting for those around you and those you care about. We preach that.”

Houston’s inexperienced roster — with just one offensive and two defensive starters returning — was no match for a veteran Ash Grove team. The Tigers were outgained 446-108 and shut out for the first time in 28 games.

Sloan said he and his coaching staff keep preaching patience with a young team led by a sophomore quarterback and completely new offensive and defensive lines.

“Our youth and inexperience really showed,” Sloan said. “You look out there at times and there are three, four or five sophomores on the field. That’s something we never had to do last year.”

HHS (0-1) managed to stay within striking distance with an impressive goal line stand to end the first half. The Tigers stopped quarterback Chase White on three straight runs inside the 5-yard-line, including a sneak attempt from the 2 as time expired, and only trailed 14-0.

But it could have easily been closer. Houston twice had the ball inside the red zone in the first half and failed to score.

Sloan believes the team’s offseason was the culprit. He said participation in the weight room was half what it was the previous summer.

“We told them at half-time, ‘We didn’t have a very good summer, and it’s evident,'” he said.

Led by Spencer Eagleburger, Ash Grove ran the ball 41 times for 395 yards in the victory. Eagleburger did the most damage as he gained 216 yards on just 12 carries and had touchdown runs of 75 and 55 yards.

White, who had a 24-yard touchdown run to start the Pirates’ scoring, and Paul Chavez had 89 and 85 rushing yards.

Houston had offensive issues against an Ash Grove defense that returned several starters from its conference’s top defense in 2015. The Tigers managed just 45 rushing yards on 34 attempts. Senior Chance Hunter led HHS with 17 carries for 64 yards.

Sophomore Paydon Dixon was 8-of-13 passing for 63 yards. Evan Richardson had three receptions for 33 yards.

Houston was burnt by big plays as Ash Grove scored four times on plays of 19 yards or more.

“We got in some bad situations defensively,” Sloan said. “We had to blitz a lot and when you get kids moving in the wrong direction, all of the sudden you’re exposed. A blitz is either really good or it exposes you. We’re so young that it helps to get our kids moving a little pre-snap. Sometimes it bites you.”

Trailing 14-0, Houston got its first scoring chance when Hunter had a 29-yard scamper and Dixon hit Connor Clifton for an 11-yard gain to move the ball to the Ash Grove 10. But the Tigers never got closer to the end zone and turned the ball over on downs.

Another opportunity came four plays later when HHS senior Cameron Root picked off a White screen pass in the flat. But the Tigers, who started on the 17, moved backward with two penalties and never got closer to the end zone.

“It’s a growing process. We have to keep fighting every day.” Sloan said. “I’m excited about the future. We have to hold each other accountable, make each other go harder in practice and keep believing.”

GMENOTES

FRIDAY’S GAME: Houston travels to St. James to play on the Tigers’ turf field for the second time. HHS played the first-ever game on the surface two years ago. …Friday’s weather forecast is partly sunny and humid during the day with a thunderstorm possible. The high is 82. That night, it will continue to be humid with a low of 70. Storms are possible late.

GAME NOTES

ABOUT THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT: St. James opened its season last week with a 34-12 victory at Cuba. …St. James only won two games last year, but both were at home. The Tigers were 2-2 on their home turf compared to 0-6 on the road. …One of St. James road defeats last season was a 36-35 loss at Houston. HHS erased a 22-point deficit and scored the go-ahead points with 28.4 second remaining. …In the win at Cuba, new quarterback Ryan Harlan was 13-of-23 passing for 169 yards. Gunnar Seams led the team with seven carries for 105 yards, highlighted by a 51-yard touchdown.

TIGER TIDBITS: Houston’s loss to Ash Grove was the first time the Tigers failed to score since a 66-0 defeat on Oct. 25, 2013, to Liberty. …Three players — Chance Hunter, CJ Lee and Michael Clayton — led the team with seven tackles apiece in Week 1. …Senior Lucas Kelley missed the opening game with a shoulder injury. He returned to practice Monday and is expected to play at St. James.

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