HHS senior running back Dakota James grinds out yardage early in the first quarter of the Tigers’ win in the season-opener Friday at Orchard Farm. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

On the strength of a prolific running game and numerous timely plays on defense and special teams, the Houston High School football team cruised to a 49-8 win in the 2022 season-opener Friday at Orchard Farm (near St. Charles).

“That’s a good way to start the season,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “It was a great team win and all three aspects of the game contributed. That’s great.”

After Houston came up empty on a time-consuming 14-play drive to begin the contest, the Tigers got the ball back late in the first quarter when senior linebacker Dakota James recovered a fumble at the Orchard Farm 25-yard line after a bad snap. Senior Anthony Carroll then ran twice to give Houston a first down at the Eagles’ 11-yard line at the end of the period.

On the second play of the second quarter, the Tigers got on the board when Carroll ran 4 yards for a touchdown and led 8-0 after a 2-point conversion run by Carroll.

From there, it was all Houston.

The Tigers increased their advantage to 14-0 on a 1-yard run on a keeper by junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes at the 7:57 mark of the period. 

With just over 2 minutes to go in the first half, senior Zac Williams intercepted a pass and ran the ball back about 12 yards to the Orchard Farm 48-yard line. A few plays later, the Tigers executed a perfect reverse play and Carroll dashed 14 yards untouched into the left side of the end zone and Houston was ahead 20-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Eagles’ sophomore Jorden Matlock got loose and appeared to be about to score, but was run down by James at the Houston 15-yard line after rambling 64 yards down the right side of the field. The Tigers’ defense then kept Orchard Farm scoreless, with three big plays in the defensive backfield resulting in incomplete passes.

Sloan called for an onside kick to open the second half, and freshman kicker Cohen Brannan delivered a perfect ball that bounced off of an Eagles player and was recovered by sophomore Bryson Alexander at the Orchard Farm 48-yard line.

Hughes then gained yardage on a few keepers (including a 27-yard run to the Eagles’ 18), and Houston struck again in a 5-yard TD run by senior Austin Goetz. After Carroll ran for another 2-point conversion, the Tigers held a commanding 28-0 lead.

HHS senior Austin Goetz (11) celebrates with teammate Anthony Carroll after Carroll scored a rushing touchdown in the second quarter.

But they continued to apply big-time pressure on both sides of the ball and produced several more scoring opportunities.

With 7:34 left in the third quarter, the Eagles started a drive on their own 16-yard line and quickly fell victim to another bad snap. This time, the ball went past the goal line and was pounced on by junior linebacker Grayson Mitchell for a touchdown. When Hughes tacked on a 2-point run, the lead had grown to 36-0 (and the clock ran continuously the rest of the way since one team led by at least 35 points in the second half).

With 1:22 remaining in the third quarter, Mitchell lined up at running back and scored on a 2-yard run. Goetz then made good on a point-after kick and the Tigers were up 43-0.

The host Eagles prevented a shutout with a 25-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Collin Sinclair with 6:38 left in the game and trailed 43-8 after a 2-point conversion pass from Sinclair to junior running back Jackson Carruthers.

But the Big Red O wasn’t done yet.

With 1:32 to go in the game, Goetz took a hand off from Hughes and ran 64 yards down the left side of the field for a TD. After Goetz missed the extra point kick, the final score was on the board.

Houston’s offense racked up 382 yards on the ground in the contest, as four Tigers had career-high rushing totals. Carroll led the way with 111 yards on 14 carries, while James ran 12 times for 109 yards, Hughes kept the ball 13 times for 77 yards and Goetz totaled 67 yards on 2 tries.

Time and again, Houston’s line produced big holes for runners to take advantage of.

“We returned our whole offensive line,” Sloan said, “so everyone is a year older and a year more experienced.”

Every Tiger on the offensive line – except one – has close to 10 games under his belt as a starter, and senior center Casey Merckling has started since his freshman season.

“We’re definitely not young up there,” Sloan said. “We were opening massive holes.”

Houston’s Big Red D held Orchard Farm to only 75 total yards, much of which came on one play late in the game.

Houston defensive linemen prepare for a snap during the Tigers’ win last Friday at Orchard Farm. From left, Brady Brookshire (55), Trenton Shelton (74) and Casey Merckling.

“We flew around to the football,” Sloan said, “and other than a couple of plays, we pretty much shut them down.”

In every phase of the game, Houston got major contributions from players in all four grades. But at the same time, Sloan and his coaching staff didn’t have to rely on youngsters to carry a big load, as has often been the case in recent years.

“It was nice because we didn’t have sophomores everywhere who we needed key contributions from,” Sloan said. “Now we just need to stay healthy so we can keep some older guys on the field.”

And those “older guys” did a lot of communicating.

“That’s something we’re not used to seeing,” Sloan said. “It’s always a positive when you get a group that will talk.”

After traveling more than 160 miles for the opener, Houston (1-0) will ramble about 10 miles farther next Friday for a nonconference game at Fayette. The matchup with the Class 1 Falcons figures to present the Tigers a stiffer challenge.

Fayette even has a wide receiver bound for NCAA Division 1.

“And they had four starters out last week and they’ll have those guys back,” Sloan said, “That presents a challenge because we haven’t even seen them on film. They’ll be pretty salty.”

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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