On multiple occasions this season, the second half has proven to be a trying time for the Houston High School football team.
It happened again last Friday in a South Central Association game at Willow Springs, as the Tigers led 6-0 at halftime but went on to suffer a 28-6 defeat.
Already slim in upperclassmen and experience, Houston’s roster was down about a dozen bodies due to COVID-19 quarantining. Underclassmen were relied upon to do lot of work, with six sophomores starting on offense.
“We looked really young,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “For the first time this season, I think we played as young as we are.”
After the two teams exchanged possessions in the first quarter, Houston’s offense employed an effective ground game to execute a time-consuming 11-play drive that concluded with a 5-yard touchdown run by senior running back Bailey Hurst with 36 seconds left in the period. The extra point attempt was blocked, and the Tigers had all the points they would get.
The Bears threatened late in the second quarter, and had the ball with a first down at the Houston 12-yard line. But the Big Red D maintained the shutout with a nice defensive stand highlighted by sacks by sophomore lineman Brody Brookshire and junior linebacker Dakota James.
Willow Springs took the lead late in the third quarter by finishing a drive with a 3-yard touchdown run by junior running back Gavin Ferguson and a point-after kick by junior Tommy Sidorovich.
The Tigers responded by moving the ball quickly into Bears’ territory with a mixture of runs by Hurst and passes from sophomore quarterback Wyatt Hughes to multiple receivers, including sophomore John Kimey and junior Zac Williams. After Hughes tip-toed down the left sideline for a 28-yard gain, Houston had possession at the Willow Springs 10 with 7 seconds to go in the period.
But the tide turned at the outset of the final 12 minutes.
The Bears defense stopped Hurst on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Willow Springs junior quarterback Taylor Rothermich found junior wide receiver Ryan Koehler open about 25 yards downfield and Koehler took the ball the rest of the way for a 98-yard touchdown. Sidorovich connected on the second of his four extra points in the game and the Bears were up 14-6 with 9:40 to go in the game.
A short time later, disaster struck and the Tigers were in a big hole.
Willow Springs junior lineman Scooter Osborn recovered a fumble at the Houston 35-yard line, and on the next play, Ferguson ran down the left side for a touchdown at the 8:58 mark.
An interception gave the Bears possession again with 6:42 left, and after Ferguson ran the ball several times he scored again on a 2-yard TD run with 1:55 remaining.
The win was Willow Springs’ first in SCA play this season.
“I thought our defense played pretty well in the first half,” Sloan said. “But with so many guys not available, we were playing ironman football; I mean, we just didn’t have any subs and kids weren’t getting to come out on special teams, and that created a problem for us.
“We were worn out, but there weren’t many options.”
The Tigers’ offense compiled 278 total yards in the contest.
Hughes completed 10-of-20 passes for a season-high 101 yards, with the 6-2 Kimrey catching 6 for a career-high 69 yards. Hurst carried the ball 28 times and ran for 141 yards – the third time this season he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark. In seven games, the 5-8, 190-pound workhorse has rushed for 727 yards and has amassed 1,135 all-purpose yards. At linebacker, he’s also the Tigers’ third-leading tackler and has a team-high 10 tackles-for-losses.
“My heart hurts for him,” Sloan said. “There’s no doubt he used up every last bit of gas he had in the tank. He gives it everything he’s got every time he goes out there.”
Houston was scheduled to host Mountain Grove this week, but that game has been canceled due to COVID-19 quarantining (more than 20 HHS players are out).
The Tigers (2-5, 1-4 SCA) have lost their last four games and are scheduled to wrap up the regular season by traveling to Mountain View next Friday (Oct. 22) to take on Liberty. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Sloan expects the team to be at full strength.
“That’s the plan,” Sloan said.