Dominating play on both sides of the ball for most of the game, the Houston High School football team whipped St. James 33-14 in a nonconference contest Friday night in Tiger Stadium.
“We played a lot better,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “Things just went right in all aspects of the game – offensively, defensively and special teams.”
The host Tigers scored their first touchdown on a 4-yard run by senior Bailey Hurst with 7:25 left in the first quarter, and led 6-0 after sophomore kicker John Kimrey’s extra-point attempt hit the left upright.
Houston added 8 more points with just under a minute left in the second period when sophomore quarterback Wyatt Hughes completed a pass to the 6-2 Kimrey (at wide receiver) for an 11-yard scoring play. The Tigers then added a 2-point conversion when junior wide receiver Brody McNew ran into the end zone on a reverse play.
The host Tigers quickly increased their lead in the second half, as Hurst sprinted 77 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After Kimrey nailed the point-after kick, Houston enjoyed a commanding 21-0 advantage.
Before the third period was over, the Tigers struck again, finishing a sustained drive when Hughes found McNew in front of defenders in the right side of the end zone for an 8-yard TD pass. The extra-point attempt was blocked, but Houston led 27-0.
The Tigers kept the pressure on in the fourth quarter, and went ahead 33-0 on a 34-yard touchdown run by senior running back Nathaniel Garnica.
In securing their first victory of the 2021 season, the Tigers never let St. James’ players size become a significant factor, as Houston’s more athletic and mobile linemen successfully shoved their bigger counterparts around and frequently used angles to gain advantages.
Meanwhile, Sloan incorporated lots of ball carriers in his team’s huge offensive performance; six different players gained yardage on the ground in the contest as the Tigers racked up 328 rushing yards.
Hurst led the way, finishing with a career-high total for the second straight week, running for 183 yards on 15 tries.
“We had some big plays,” Sloan said. “Our line blocked a little better and our backs saw holes a little better. We had a lot of good things going.”
Hughes ran the ball 7 times for 42 yards.
“Wyatt added another weapon with his legs,” Sloan said. “He had been telling me for a while he could do that, and we got to see some of it Friday night. When he can do that, it opens up so much more and that’s a nice element for us to add.”
The Tigers’ aerial assault also proved valuable, providing two touchdowns. Just prior to Kimrey’s TD (his first-ever touchdown at any level of football), Houston had another pass play for an apparent score called back, as Hughes connected with McNew in the left corner of the end zone, but the officials claimed the ball had been knocked away before he had controlled it long enough.
“We threw the ball less than we did the week before,” Sloan said, “but Wyatt found open receivers and they made plays.”
Defensively, Houston stifled St. James for the duration of the contest until the visiting Tigers scored twice with the outcome already all but decided. The Big Red D forced St. James to punt four times and turn the ball over on downs three times.
St. James’ offense offered a bit of help to their hosts by having back-to-back 71-yard scoring plays nullified by holding penalties midway through the second period – the first on a run and the second on a pass. The visiting Tigers also had three bad snaps that hindered their progress.
“We were flying around and swarming the football,” Sloan said. “I think you can attribute the bad snaps to begin concerned about the defensive line that was coming and the pressure that was constantly on them. I feel like they had their backs to the wall most of the night and we just continuously stepped up and made plays.”
Sloan said it was a total team effort that began with the opening kickoff, and that the Tigers’ underclassmen held up their end of the bargain.
“We started fast,” he said, “and we never let off the accelerator. And our young kids didn’t play like young kids, and we eliminated a lot of those little mistakes we made in week one.
“For three-and-a-half quarters we basically slammed the door on them.”
Houston (1-1) begins South Central Association conference play with a home game Friday against Salem (0-1), a squad that was significantly short-handed in a loss to St. Clair last week due to COVID-19 quarantining issues. The Tigers from Dent County have a new coaching staff and will come to town hoping to extend an incredible 40-game, 40-year winning streak over their namesakes from Texas County.
“We haven’t talked about that one bit,” Sloan said. “But the boys know what’s standing in front of them and I don’t know that I need to remind them of it.
“But they feel a lot better after what they accomplished last week.”