As a huge crowd watches in Tiger Stadium, the HHS offense lines up for a play during a win over Cabool last Friday night. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Trailing 12-0 after one quarter, the Houston High School football team outscored Cabool 38-12 the rest of the way and beat the Bulldogs 38-24 in the annual Battle of Texas County last Friday night in Tiger Stadium.

“It’s good to fight some adversity and not hit the panic button,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “We definitely didn’t play to our capability in the first quarter, but we made some adjustments and picked it up and things started going the way we wanted.”

As a huge crowd watched the South Central Association conference game on HHS Homecoming Night, the Bulldogs scored on their first offensive play of the contest when junior Tyler Fleetwood threw to junior Seth Owens for a 51-yard touchdown on a halfback pass play at the 8:42 mark of the opening period.

Just before the end of the quarter, Cabool doubled the margin to 12-0 when Fleetwood finished a sustained drive with a 10-yard TD run. The Bulldogs didn’t convert attempted 2-point conversion runs after either score.

But after starting a possession at their own 45-yard line with time running down in the first quarter, the Tigers got on the board with 9:47 to go in the second period on a 43-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes to junior tight end Kayden Crawford. Senior Dakota James then ran for a 2-point conversion and Houston had cut the deficit to 12-8.

Late in the first half, the Tigers started a drive deep in their own territory and moved it down the field on several running plays. Then with 25 seconds showing on the clock, Hughes scored on a 4-yard keeper. After a failed 2-point run, Houston held a 14-12 lead at halftime.

HHS quarterback Wyatt Hughes runs for first down yardage during the second quarter.

The Bulldogs had the ball first in the second half, but the Tigers took possession on the first play from scrimmage when junior linebacker Grayson Mitchell recovered a fumble at the Cabool 49-yard line.

After a few running plays moved the ball to the Bulldogs’ 10, senior Anthony Carroll ran into the end zone to put Houston ahead 20-12 (a 2-point run came up short).

A short time later, Cabool turned the ball over again on a fumble, this time with senior Casey Merckling recovering at the Bulldogs’ 12-yard line.

After a penalty moved the ball back, the Tigers scored again on a 15-yard pass from Hughes to freshman wide receiver Jordan Arthur. After a 2-point pass attempt fell incomplete, Houston was on top 26-12.

The Bulldogs responded and cut the deficit to 26-18 on a 3-yard TD run by Casper with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter.

HHS freshman wide receiver Jordan Arthur (1) and teammate Austin Goetz leap in celebration after Arthur scored a touchdown during the second quarter.

But the Tigers got another 6 points and led 32-18 with 36 seconds left in the period when Carroll capped off a drive with a 5-yard scoring run, getting into the end zone after twice shaking off would-be tacklers.

The Bulldogs kept victory on their minds and pulled to within 8 again when Fleetwood ran 25 yards for a TD to make it a 32-24 game with 8:39 to go in the contest.

Houston then scored the final points in the game when Hughes finished a 56-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run with 5:34 to go.

On their next possession, the Bulldogs moved the ball deep into Tigers territory, but the Big Red Defense stepped up and prevented any further scoring. On a third down play from inside the 15-yard line, Mitchell tackled Fleetwood for a loss. Then on fourth down, senior lineman Keaton Goetz brought down Fleetwood for another loss, forcing Cabool to turn the ball over on downs.

As Bulldog defenders watched helplessly, Houston’s offense lined up in victory formation, and the Tigers secured the victory with Hughes taking a knee on the game’s final two plays.

Hughes had his best-ever offensive outing, amassing 263 total yards by rushing for a career-high 141 yards on 23 carries and completing 6-of-11 passes for 102 yards (with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions).

The Tigers’ offense racked up 370 yards of total offense, and has generated that amount or more in 3-of-4 games this season (totaling 334 in the other). Houston’s running game was on task as usual (with 268 yards), and Hughes completed passes to five different receivers.

“We have some guys who are capable of making plays,” Sloan said. “And when you take one or two people out of it, somebody else is stepping up and making plays.”

Houston’s Big Red D did plenty again to help lift the Tigers to another win.

And once again, linemen led the squad in tackling, as Goetz finished with a career-high 11 tackles (including 5 solo and 2 for losses), while senior Harold Lassiter had 9 (including a whopping 8 solo).

“We’ve just got some stout kids up there,” Sloan said, “and they’re all doing a pretty good job.”

Sloan (in his eighth season leading HHS football) said the giant crowd likely had something to do with his team’s rough first quarter.

“That was by far the biggest crowd I’ve seen since I came to Houston,” Sloan said. “We were just so amped up; it’s Homecoming and there’s so much going on, and it was so loud to start the game and we just didn’t know how to handle it. It took being down 12-0 for us to go, ‘we’ve got to settle down and play.’

“Then when we scored and it was like, ‘OK, here we go.’”

With the win, the Tigers raised their record to 4-0 overall (for the first time since 1979) and 2-0 in SCA play.

Houston hosts Thayer at 1 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 24).

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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