Players cried. Parents hugged their sons. Coaches embraced.

It happened. The Houston Tigers defeated Mountain Grove.

HHS wiped away 16 years of futility Friday with a memorable performance on Senior Night. The Tigers were aggressive defensively, physical offensively and determined not to be denied.

The result was a 24-14 victory against the Panthers –– the team’s first in the series since the 2001 season.

“I’m going to remember this for a very long time,” HHS coach Eric Sloan said. “I think a lot of people are going to remember this for a long time.”

Beating Mountain Grove –– the preseason fourth-ranked team in Class 2 –– didn’t appear to be a possibility just a few weeks earlier. The Tigers were 1-5 and had been outscored 204-52 by their opponents.

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Houston senior Gavin Alston had 10 carries for a career-best 114 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to seal the victory.

But Houston had a breakout performance in Week 7 at Willow Springs that carried over into the matchup with the Panthers.

Just moments before the game, Sloan huddled his team around him and gave them a vision of beating the Panthers. He kept speaking it throughout the night –– “Remember the Senior Night when we beat Mountain Grove” –– and the players made it a reality.

“It was just a bunch of kids who weren’t going to be denied,” Sloan said.

Houston (3-5, 3-3 South Central Association) put the finishing touches on the night with a seven-minute, game-clinching drive that finalized the victory. Senior Gavin Alston sealed the win when he took a jet sweep 40 yards down the sideline and into the end zone with 20 seconds remaining.

Sloan leapt in the air and pumped his fists before sharing hugs with his coaching staff. Fans were waiting on the track as the game ended and brought a party atmosphere from the stands onto the field. Players and parents hugged. Many cried.

“It’s so emotional because you have so many people say, ‘You can’t beat those guys,’” Sloan said. “It’s special. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

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Eric Sloan is embraced by his wife, Kayla, as fans poured onto the field to celebrate the Tigers’ win against Mountain Grove. At the right is Kevin Reed.

Alston, who along with 12 other seniors was recognized prior to the game with family members, had the best performance of his career in his final home game. He had 10 carries for 114 yards –– highlighted by a 59-yarder to set up a third-quarter score and his 40-yard touchdown in the final moments.

Junior Paydon Dixon followed up the previous week’s 303-yard performance with 29 carries for 98 yards and two scores. He also hit senior Michael Clayton with a 13-yard shovel pass for a score.

Houston outgained the Panthers 341-226 to win its third SCA game –– the first time for the program since 2008. The Tigers have scored more points the past two games –– 64 in wins against Willow Springs and Mountain Grove –– than the 52 points the previous six weeks combined.

“If I could figure it out, I would pick some lottery numbers and retire,” Sloan said. “We knew there were more positive things in the locker room than what we were showing.”

Mountain Grove (3-5, 3-3 SCA) took an early lead when Gavin Veach returned an interception 45 yards for a score on the Tigers’ third play from scrimmage.

HHS answered with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Dixon’s 11-yard score.

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HHS senior Dalton James sacks Mountain Grove quarterback Rhett Wakefield during Friday’s game at Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers, who didn’t punt, took a 12-7 advantage into halftime after Clayton powered into the end zone after catching Dixon’s shovel pass.

The Panthers scored on their first drive of the second half on Will Gorley’s 10-yard run. But Houston again answered with a quick 70-yard drive that ended with Dixon leaping over his lineman from two yards away for an 18-14 HHS advantage.

Dixon’s touchdown was set up by Alston’s long run down the sidelines. With the Tigers facing a third-and-4, he darted around the left edge and sprinted 59 yards to the Mountain Grove 5-yard-line.

“I’m so happy for him. He’s a kid that has been told his whole life he is too little to play football,” Sloan said of his 5-foot-3, 142-pound slot receiver.

Trailing by four to begin the fourth quarter, Mountain Grove inserted senior quarterback Carter Otwell into the game for the first time. Otwell had missed the previous two games with an ankle injury.

Otwell led his team to a pair of first downs before the Tigers’ defense –– drastically improved in recent weeks since switching to a 3-3 look –– swarmed him in the backfield for a four-yard loss. Houston then forced two incomplete Otwell passes, leading to a punt.

Houston took possession on its own 23 with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining. The Tigers converted three third-down plays to drain the clock and move to the Mountain Grove 40. On the fourth third down of the drive, Alston squirted loose around the edge and scored from 40 yards out to ice the game.

The celebration began as he slid into the end zone and after one play by the Panthers, continued for half an hour on the field afterwards.

“No one wanted to leave the field,” Sloan said. “There were mommas and daddies hugging their babies. It was like a big family reunion down there.”

After a 16-year wait, it was a moment worth celebrating.

BOX SCORE

Grove  7  0  7  0  –  14

Houston  6  6  6  6  –  24

First Quarter

MG –– Gavin Veach 45 interception return (Lane kick), 9:22.

HOU –– Dixon 8 run (run failed), 5:44.

Second Quarter

HOU –– Clayton 13 pass from Dixon (pass failed), 3:02.

Third Quarter

MG –– Gourley 10 run (Lane kick), 7:19.

HOU ––Dixon 2 run (pass failed), 4:29.

Fourth Quarter

HOU –– Alston 40 run (run failed), 0:20.

––––––

                  MG         HOU

First downs11      15

Total yards226      341

Rushes-yards  26-151  53-3-5

Passing  75 36

Punt returns  0  0

Kickoff returns  75  18

Comp-att-int  8-16-0  5-8-1

Sacked-yards lost  1-8  0-0

Punts  2-47.5  0-0

Fumbles-lost  3-2  1-1

Penalties-yards  6-40   6-50

––––––

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING –– Mountain Grove, Gourley 13-72, Mahurin 4-8, Lane 2-7, Wakefield 5-6, Otwell 2-4. Houston, Alston 10-114, Dixon 29-98, Burchett  7-57, Richardson 3-24, Sawyer 4-12.

PASSING –– Mountain Grove, Wakefield 7-13-0 53, Otwell 1-3-0 22. Houston, Burchett 5-8-1 34, Dixon 1-1-0 13.

RECEIVING –– Mountain Grove, Lane 2-40, Thompson 3-28, Mahurin 1-4, Gourley 1-3. Houston, Clayton 3-31, Sawyer 1-10, Dixon 1-5, Lane 1-3.

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