The streak is over.
In a tightly-contested South Central Association game Friday night in Tiger Stadium, the Houston High School football team beat Salem 20-13.
The result put an end to an inexplicably lengthy period of of frustration, as the Tigers had lost to their Dent County namesakes 40 consecutive times over a span of 40 years.
“This means everything,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “It’s been a long time coming; there have been some good teams and good coaches here, but the curse was there and they didn’t get it done.
“That was 48 minutes of get-after-it right there.”
After the two teams’ offenses came up empty on their first possessions, Salem got on the board first when senior running back Jimmy Barton finished a drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:11 left in the first quarter. The visiting Tigers led 6-0 following a failed point-after kick.
But the host Tigers wasted no time in responding, as senior Bailey Hurst caught the ensuing kickoff and ran it back 80 yards into the end zone to tie the score. After sophomore John Kimrey kicked an extra point, Houston was on top 7-6 with 2:56 remaining in the opening period.
The lead changed hands again midway through the second quarter, when Salem steadily moved the ball on the ground and Barton scored on another 3-yard run on the fifth play of a drive. This time senior kicker Bradlee Gover converted the point-after and the visiting Tigers led 13-7 with 5:56 to go in the period.
Houston’s offense produced points for the first time in the contest on a huge play as time expired in the first half.
Following a key defensive stand, Salem punted and the host Tigers got the ball at their own 39-yard line with 38 seconds left. After a roughing-the-passer call moved the ball to the Salem 45 with 3 seconds showing, sophomore quarterback Wyatt Hughes tossed a long pass down the left side that was caught by 6-4 junior wide receiver Brody McNew inside the 10-yard line. McNew appeared to be stopped in his tracks, but when one Salem defender knocked two others away from the play, he got loose with a timely piece of second effort and scooted into the end zone.
After Kimrey converted another extra point, Houston held a 14-13 halftime lead and never trailed again.
Early in the third quarter, the Tigers started a drive on their own 35-yard line. After Hughes hit 6-2 wide receiver Kimrey for a 13-yard gain, Houston had a first down at the Salem 40. On the next play, Hurst broke loose from heavy traffic and dashed down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Kimey’s point-after kick was blocked, but the final score was in place.
Houston’s Big Red Defense turned in several key plays throughout the contest, including a couple by senior lineman Alex Swallow in the fourth quarter that helped decide the outcome.
Early in the period, Salem’s offense went for it on a fourth-and-3 play at the Houston 48-yard line. Senior quarterback Garrett Connell tried to get the first down on a keeper, but was brought down by Swallow after gaining only 2 yards.
Then with less than 5 minutes left in the game, Swallow tackled Salem senior fullback Devin Atchinson for a 5-yard loss on a third down play. Facing a desperate situation, the visiting Tigers went for it on 4th-and-7 at their own 31-yard line.
Connell ran the ball again, but was stopped after gaining 6 yards by linebackers Hughes and junior Anthony Carroll.
Houston’s offense took over and Salem never got the ball back.
The Tigers got a couple of first downs (one on a running play and another on a devastating encroachment call against Salem), and the home crowd went wild as Hughes and company lined up in victory formation at the 10-yard line with the final seconds ticking away. As the visiting Tigers’ defenders watched helplessly, Hughes took a knee twice and the horn sounded to end the titanic streak.
“Ever since my freshman year we’ve heard about the streak,” Hurst said, “but we’ve never been able to get the right things done. This year we came in with a chip on our shoulders and were ready to play ball.
“I want to say that Salem put up a heck of a fight; I’m really proud of the outcome and I’m going to celebrate this with my teammates.”
Houston defensive coordinator Jake Brookshire said he changed up the defense at halftime. It worked, as Salem was blanked for 24 minutes.
“We looked at drone film and decided to put in a completely different defense,” Brookshire said. “The kids executed it perfectly; and we have a lot of young kids, and young kids can’t usually do that.”
For at least the time being, Houston shares first place in the conference standings.
Sloan has been hearing about the streak ever since he took the reins of HHS football about seven years ago.
“When I got this job,” Sloan said, “a guy told me – I don’t even know who it was – ‘man, just beat Salem.’
“Everyone on this team has bought in and all the kids believed.”
Next up for Houston (2-1, 1-0 SCA) is the season’s first road game Friday (Sept. 17) at Cabool, as the Tigers take on the Bulldogs in the annual Battle of Texas County.