For the first time since 2008, the Houston High School football team will play an 11th game this season.

The Tigers added at least one more week to their campaign thanks to a 43-6 destruction of Willow Springs in a quarterfinals game in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 3 playoffs Friday night in Tiger Stadium.

Seeded third in the 7-team district bracket, Houston led 14-0 at halftime before outscoring the No. 6 Bears 29-6 in the second half. As has been the case in many outings this year, the Tigers’ got contributions from numerous players in all aspects of the game.

“For the most part, we played a pretty good all-round game,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan, “on offense, defense and special teams.”

Houston got rolling with 5:36 to go in the first quarter when junior lineman Brady Brookshire recovered a fumble at the Tigers’ 34-yard line. 

After a drive that included gains on the ground and in the air, senior Austin Goetz opened the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run with 1:30 left in the period, and Houston led 8-0 after senior Anthony Carroll ran for a 2-point conversion.

HHS sophomore wide receiver Jordan Arthur gains yardage after a catch during the first quarter. 

The with 7:05 remaining in the second quarter, Houston increased the advantage to 14-0 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes to junior tight end Kayden Crawford, who was wide open in the middle of the end zone (a 2-point run failed).

The Tigers got the ball first in the second half and went to the air, producing a scoring drive that began at their own 42-yard line. Hughes hit Crawford for a 20-yard gain to the Willow Springs 38, and then found Carroll for an 11-yard pickup to the 27.

Moments later, Houston had a first-and-goal situation at the 4-yard line after Hughes tossed a ball to sophomore Jordan Arthur. With 7:34 to go in the third quarter, Hughes scored on a keeper from about 2 feet out, and when Carroll ran for another 2 points, the Tigers held a commanding 22-0 lead.

The Bears scored their only points of the contest a short time later on a 53-yard touchdown pass.

But with 49 second left in the period, Houston’s passing game struck again on a 51-yard TD passing play from Hughes to Carroll, as Carroll caught the ball over the middle and then scooted to his left and ran to the end zone, juking a defender just before crossing the goal line. 

After a 2-point run was no good, the Tigers were up 28-6.

The Big Red D rose up moments later, as senior Casey Merckling and sophomore Layne Seago teamed up to cause a fumble that was recovered by junior lineman Trent Shelton at the Willow 13-yard line.

The with 11:09 to go in the fourth quarter, Carroll ran 7 yards for a touchdown and tacked on a 2-point run to put the Tigers up 36-6.

Late in the contest, Arthur intercepted a pass and ran the ball 43 yards to the Bears’ 42-yard line.

A couple of plays later, sophomore Bryson Alexander ran for a 28-yard gain to the Willow 10. The Tigers followed up with a yet another scoring pass, this time a 9-yard throw from Hughes to Crawford, who was again alone in the end zone.

The game score was then completed when senior Sammy Nance booted and extra point.

“A lot of good stuff happened in there offensively,” Sloan said.

When the two teams met Oct. 7 in Houston, the Tigers scored with 13 seconds left to break a tie and pull out a 20-14 win. This time, it was all Tigers.

“Our team did really good today,” Goetz said. “We knew not to come in here thinking it was going to be an easy game; we knew they were going to be hyped up after losing by only 6 points in the first game. We just had to go 100 miles per hour the entire game and never let up, and that’s what we did.”

“We played lights out, to be honest with you,” Hughes said. “Good coaching, too, and good play calls. We just kept marching the ball down the field with little or no hiccups, and the defense was awesome.

“Coach said we needed to come in here and have fewer penalties and win the turnover battle, and we did that.”

On the strength of their first districts victory in 14 years, the Tigers (8-2) hit the road for a semifinals matchup against second-seeded Mountain Grove, a 63-0 winner over No. 7 Doniphan Friday night.

HHS senior captains Casey Merckling (53) and Dakota James (33) wait to head to midfield for the pregame coin toss.

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

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