The “big play” has always been a point of interest at all levels of football, and a prime example helped lead to the Houston High School squad’s 30-13 loss to Sarcoxie in the season-opener Friday in Tiger Stadium.
When Houston senior running back Bailey Hurst topped off a 70-yard drive with a rushing touchdown from 2 yards out with 9:11 remaining in the second quarter, the Tigers trailed 12-6.
But the visiting Bears immediately got the 6 points back and led 18-6 when senior Terio Asterio returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards for a touchdown.
After the Tigers turned the ball over with a fumble at the Sarcoxie 20-yard line with about 5 minutes to go in the first half, the Bears quickly moved the ball on the ground and then struck again with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Drake Acheson with 3:52 left.
After Sarcoxie led 24-6 at the break, the two teams each scored once in the second half.
Houston’s second TD came after sophomore defensive back John Kimrey recovered a fumble with about 24 seconds left in the contest to give the Tigers one last possession at the Sarcoxie 40-yard line. On the next play, Hurst went the distance into the end zone. Kimrey then converted a point-after kick and the final score was set (it was the game’s only successful points after a touchdown).
Houston appeared to have scored first in the game, as junior Dakota James returned a punt 65 yards into the end zone at the 10:17 mark of the first quarter, but the play was called back on a penalty.
The Tigers’ offense also came up empty with the ball inside the Bears’ 10-yard line with time running down in the first half, and turned the ball over on downs at the Sarcoxie 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Houston’s first TD followed a nicely-executed trick play, when sophomore quarterback Wyatt Hughes completed a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Kimrey near the right sideline, and Kimrey lateraled the ball to senior running back Nathaniel Garnica, who took it to the Bears’ 37 for a 21-yard gain.
The Bears built a 12-0 lead late in the first period when junior quarterback Jaron Malotte scored twice, once on a 13-yard run after a sustained drive at the 4:17 mark and again on a 45-yard run on a draw play with 1:07 on the clock.
The youthful HHS squad began the contest with only 11 upperclassmen available. As the minutes progressed, that number dwindled due to injury and other attrition.
“We had to have a lot of underclassmen play a lot of key minutes,” said head coach Eric Sloan. “When you start with only four seniors and two juniors, and those guys start to exit the ballgame, we got really young in a hurry. When we got to the point where we were out of running backs and linebackers, we had a bunch of kids playing out of position.
“That’s never good.”
Sloan said the Bears took advantage of the Tigers’ youth and inexperience on the game-changing kick return TD.
“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the kickoff team because of our depth issues,” he said. “They exposed that pretty quick.”
Hurst carried the ball 15 times for Houston and finished with a career-high 151 yards rushing. He also led the Tigers’ offense in receiving and was one of the defense’s top performers at linebacker.
“He had a pretty good night,” Sloan said. “If we could keep him on the field the whole night, that would be beneficial.”
Sloan said Hughes held his own in his first game as Houston’s No. 1 quarterback.
“I thought he managed the game pretty well and did plenty of good things,” Sloan said. “And he’ll get better the more he plays.”
Senior Night activities took place prior to the game, recognizing HHS seniors in fall sports, cheerleading and band.
Next up for the Tigers is a home game Friday against St. James.
“They look pretty impressive on film,” Sloan said. “They’re big and tall; I hope their size doesn’t wear us out.”
After losing senior running back and linebacker Zach Fuwell (who sustained a broken hand in the opener), Houston will have only three seniors in the lineup this week. Sloan said five sophomores will likely start on offense.
“We are young, young, young,” Sloan said. “It’s good for the future, but kind of scary at the present.”