WILLOW SPRINGS –– Incredible.
That’s the only way Houston coach Eric Sloan knew how to describe what had taken place.
The adjective was for junior Paydon Dixon, who carried the Tigers to victory Friday night with one of the top individual performances in program history.
Dixon amassed 303 rushing yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns to lead Houston to a 40-29 road victory at Willow Springs.
“I’m not an English teacher or have journalism words,” Sloan said. “It’s just impressive.” Indeed. One week after being sidelined with a knee injury, Dixon returned to the field with a remarkable performance. He had touchdown runs of 83, 12 and 35 yards and also added a two-point conversion run.
“It’s rare on Saturday mornings to see a kid got into the 200s, let alone the 300s,” Sloan said. “For him to do that, it speaks volumes of the offensive line. Dixon stayed patient, stayed behind the line and kept his feet going. He was patient until it opened up.”
Dixon’s memorable night practically came from nowhere. He started the season as the team’s quarterback and moved to running back out of necessity as the offense struggled. He had 74 carries for 103 yards –– a total hurt by quarterback sacks –– coming into the game.
“He grinned a few times,” Sloan said, “and said, ‘Man, it’s good to be back.’
Houston’s 40 rushes for 362 yards were the program’s most since amassing 414 in 2013 against Cabool. The Tigers had a season-high 395 total yards.
Senior Gavin Alston had three carries for 24 yards –– highlighted by a 17-yard score on the Tigers’ first drive. John Lane had a six-yard touchdown reception from sophomore Dakota Burchett.
Aiden Saywer returned a fumble 25 yards for a score for the HHS defense, which got interceptions from Dixon and Michael Clayton.
“A lot of kids did a lot of positive things,” Sloan said. “It was a great team effort.”
Willow Springs had 362 total yards but was burned by three turnovers that led to 20 Houston points. Sophomore quarterback Tryton Henley threw for 144 yards and rushed for another 132.
The Bears (1-6, 1-4 South Central Association) lost one of their top offensive weapons in the second quarter when Dakota McDaniel was ejected after tackling Dixon.
Houston’s offensive outburst came after consecutive shutouts against Thayer and Ava. The Tigers (2-5, 2-3 SCA) had 52 total points through the first six games.
“It’s fun to see what we’re capable of,” Sloan said. “It was a whole lot of fun to see the kids execute the way I know we’re capable.
“It’s been so frustrating. I’m sure people sitting in the stands are thinking, ‘What is going on?’ when I know and the coaches what we’re capable of doing.”
Houston received the opening kickoff and quickly marched down the field. Dixon carried the ball six straight plays before Alston took a speed option handoff 17 yards to paydirt. Dixon ran in the conversion for a quick 8-0 lead.
After the Tigers forced a punt, Dixon burst through the middle and down the left sideline for an 83-yard score.
Henley had a 16-yard score to make it 14-7 early in the second. Houston answered with a 10-play scoring drive that concluded with five straight Dixon runs –– the last for 12 yards into the end zone.
Sloan said he kept calling the same play for Dixon. Over and over and over.
“We came out in our trey set and they struggled to adjust,” he said. “We scripted some plays to see how they would adjust, but we kept getting seven and eight yards at a time. We ran that play a lot.”
Clayton’s interception at the Houston 36-yard line gave the Tigers another first-half scoring opportunity. After Dixon converted a short fourth-down run, Burchett connected with Lane on a quick slant with 5.2 seconds left in the half.
Houston led 26-7.
“In the first half we were able to see what we see in practice,” Sloan said. “It was frustrating it takes until Week 7 to see some of that.”
A pair of 15-yard personal fouls aided the Bears’ 77-yard scoring drive to start the second half. It was 26-15 when Dixon scored from 35 yards away at the 11:28 mark of the fourth quarter.
The first play after the ensuing kickoff, Sawyer ripped the ball from a Willow Springs player and returned it 25 yards for a score to make it 40-15.
The Bears scored twice in the final 5 minutes, 37 seconds, including a touchdown with 12 seconds left.