It was one of those games in which it was a shame someone had to lose.

But after a riveting, evenly-matched battle featuring two high school football teams going toe-to-toe for more than four quarters, Houston suffered a heartbreaking 41-34 defeat in overtime in a Missouri State High School Association Class 2 District 3 Tournament contest last Friday night at Forsyth.

“We played about as good of a ballgame as you could play,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “It was just a back-and-forth battle. It was kind of like a heavyweight fight; we just exchanged punches all night long.”

Each team scored 21 points in the first half and added 13 more in the second half.

Houston led five times in the contest – at 7-0, 14-7, 21-14, 28-21 and 34-28 – but the host Panthers retaliated to tie the score each time. The Tigers scored 21 points in the first quarter, but Forsyth kept pace with 14.

Each team’s kicker converted 4-of-5 extra point attempts in regulation, with both dramatically missing wide in the fourth quarter.

Both teams turned the ball over by fumble once in the contest and neither team punted the ball.

The Panthers never led until overtime.

HHS head coach Eric Sloan, center, and assistant coach Rodney Preheim greet Tigers players after a scoring play in the first quarter of a district playoff game Friday at Forsyth. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Forsyth went first in OT, and took three plays to score from the 20-yard line. Freshman running back Rolly Fisher produced what proved to be the winning touchdown by dancing down the left sideline from 10 yards out, somehow simultaneously remaining inbounds and evading several would-be tacklers. Comer made good on the point-after, but it didn’t matter in the end.

On the Tigers’ turn in overtime, they moved the ball to about the 1-yard line, but on a fourth down play, a host of Forsyth defenders stopped senior Bailey Hurst short of the goal line and Houston’s season was over.

The Panthers had the first possession of the game, starting at their own 19-yard line. But the Tigers got the ball on the second play from scrimmage when junior linebacker Anthony Carroll delivered a hard hit on Fisher and linebacker Hurst recovered a fumble at the Forsyth 12.

Hurst scored two plays later on an 8-yard run and the shootout was on.

Houston had the ball in Panthers territory with seconds left in regulation, but time expired when a hail-Mary pass from Hughes was intercepted at the goal line.

HHS sophomore linebacker Keaton Goetz wraps up Forsyth running back Rolly Fisher. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

“Our kids played their tails off,” Sloan said. “We had played better each and every week, but our schedule was so tough on the back end and it was fun to see the kids play so hard and have a lot of success throughout the night.” 

Hurst scored four touchdowns – three on rushing plays and another on an 82-yard kickoff return with 34 seconds to go in the first quarter. The Tigers’ other TD (which turned out to be their final points of the season) came on a 2-yard run by Hughes with 5:40 remaining the fourth period.

Hurst’s kick return score came on a perfectly executed “huddle” play. Junior Dakota James caught the ball and joined a closely-gathered group of five teammates in the middle of the field, and all five ran away in varying directions with Hurst carrying the ball and breaking free down the right side of the artificial turf field.

Forsyth scored three times through the air and twice on the ground in regulation time.

“Moments like last Friday night sting,” Sloan said, “but we were playing our best football in week 10. We were firing on all cylinders, but ultimately it was about being about two or three feet short.”

Watched by quarterback Wyatt Hughes, HHS senior Dmitri Zveniatchovskii prepares to launch the ball on a halfback pass play in the second quarter. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

In his final high school football game, Hurst ran for a career-high 252 yards on 32 carries, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the fifth time in the season. He also caught a pass for an 18-yard gain and amassed 352 all-purpose yards.

“The offensive line made big holes and Bailey got up in it all night,” Sloan said. “He just had a career night; what a performance.”

“It was really personal for me to go out there and give it everything I had one more time,” Hurst said, “and play hard with my friends and coaches. To run for 250 yards and score four touchdowns is something I’ve dreamed about doing, and I just put my mind to it and I figured I could get it done.”

For the season, Hurst ran 169 times for 1,115 yards, averaging 123.9 yards per game. He scored 14 of Houston’s 22 touchdowns and racked up 1,652 all-purpose yards (an average of 183.6 per contest).

HHS senior Zach Fuwell runs the ball at the Forsyth 5-yard line during overtime. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

“I can’t say enough about him,” Sloan said. “But that’s the way he’s played his whole career – just guts-out. For him to have the kind of year he had – that’s a lot of heart right there.”

Forsyth’s roster included 17 upperclassmen (11 seniors and six juniors), while Houston had nine (including three active, healthy seniors and six juniors).

The Tigers finished the season with an overall record of 2-7. Houston was seeded 7th in the 7-team district, while Forsyth is No. 2.

This season was Sloan’s seventh leading Houston football.

“There were some highs and some lows, and some injuries and some quarantines,” he said. “We knew going in – with five seniors and six juniors – that there would be some growing pains, and then we lost two of those seniors right off the bat and ended up having to play a whole bunch of younger kids. While that’s great for the future, it’s kind of tough at times in the present.

HHS head coach Eric Sloan, right, and defensive coordinator Jake Brookshire watch the action at Forsyth from a crouching position. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

“But I think the kids’ attitudes were good and they wanted to battle each and every week, and you’ve got to like that.”

Hurst is the only player to go through Sloan’s program from seventh through 12th grade, and his class has always been one with a low number of players. Defensive coordinator Jake Brookshire has been at Sloan’s side throughout.

“Early in my career, coach Sloan and the other coaches recognized I had special talent and they started working with me on a lot of things,” Hurst said. “It’s been great to play under him and coach Brookshire all these years.” 

Next up for the Panthers (6-4) is a home game this Friday against third-seeded Liberty in the district semifinals. Liberty beat No. 6 Willow Springs 44-7 in the first round.

In the other first-round game, fourth-seeded Strafford and No. 5 Springfield Catholic battled to a scoreless tie in regulation before Strafford pulled out a 7-0 win in overtime. Top-seeded Ava received a bye in round one and will host Strafford in the semifinals.

Last Friday’s district playoff game at Forsyth marked the end of the high school football careers for seniors from left, Dmitri Zveniatchovskii, Bailey Hurst, Zach Fuwell and Alex Swallow. It was also the final game for Nathan Garnica (not shown). DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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