STRAFFORD –– When the final horn sounded in the district opener, Houston still hadn’t won a postseason game since 2005. But this one was much different.
Continuing to build on the momentum of a strong finish to the regular season, the Tigers nearly pulled off an upset in Friday’s opening game in Class 2 District 3. They rallied from a 14-0 deficit and were even with No. 3 Strafford at the half and entering the fourth quarter.
HHS had 140 more total yards and double the first downs. Junior Paydon Dixon continued his impressive stretch as he rushed for 240 yards and four touchdowns.
The only thing missing was the final score: Strafford 35, Houston 27.
“I’m very pleased with the performance, attitude and effort,” Tigers coach Eric Sloan said. “We continued to fight. We just ran out of time.”
The sixth-seeded Tigers (3-7) carried the momentum of the latter part of the season –– highlighted by wins against Willow Springs and Mountain Grove –– into districts. They pulled even at 14-all on Dixon’s 6-yard run with 12.7 seconds to go in the first half. It was tied at 21 after Dixon’s score midway through the third and 28-27 after he broke loose for a 72-yard score with 10 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the game.
Then the momentum shifted in the next few moments.
With a strong northern wind blowing against his team, Sloan elected to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the PAT. The run was stopped.
On the ensuing kickoff, Strafford’s Mason Foley sprinted 86 yards untouched to put the Indians (8-2) ahead by eight points.
HHS never recovered.
“Ultimately that was the ballgame,” Sloan said.
Houston out-gained Strafford 424-284 and had 20 first downs compared to nine for the Indians.
Led by Dixon, the Tigers had 313 rushing yards on 53 attempts. Sophomore Dakota Burchett was 10-of-18 passing for a career-best 111 yards.
Strafford’s Drew Stoll had 151 rushing yards –– the majority coming on touchdown runs of 33 and 80 yards. The Indians, who advanced to play Mountain Grove in the district semifinals, won their eighth straight game.
HHS trailed 14-0 when Dixon scored from 20 yards away at the 6:06 mark of the second quarter. The Tigers pulled even in the waning moments of the half when Dixon took a handoff to the right, cut back to the left and cruised into the end zone.
“We didn’t even know if we’d have him tonight,” Sloan said of Dixon, who has battled hip and shoulder injuries. “He got released from the doctor Wednesday afternoon and put together a performance like this.”
Dixon, who played quarterback the first three games of the year, had 703 yards and 10 touchdowns the final four games of the season to lead the Tigers’ strong finish.
“It makes me really second guess starting the year with him at quarterback,” Sloan said.
Although Houston graduates four of its five starting linemen, the Tigers are eligible to return Dixon and Burchett as key pieces on offense as well as the team’s top three tacklers in juniors CJ Lee and Dixon as well as freshman Daniel Hutcheson.
“Hopefully we’re close and will do the necessary things in the offseason,” Sloan said.