Pursued by a posse of Willow Springs players, HHS senior Zac Williams returns a punt during the second quarter of the Tigers' win in an SCA game Friday night in Tiger Stadium. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

With 13 seconds left in the game, senior Anthony Carroll scored on a 3-yard touchdown run and the Houston High School football team escaped with a 20-14 victory in a South Central Association conference contest Friday night in Tiger Stadium.

Prior to the decisive play, the matchup had been highlighted by mistakes, turnovers, penalties and squandered opportunities on both sides, making for a back-and-forth affair with neither squad sustaining momentum for long.

The host Tigers got on the board first when senior running back Dakota James took a pitch from junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes and ran 11 yards for a touchdown with 2:13 left in the first quarter. After James ran for a 2-point conversion, Houston was ahead 8-0.

Before the period ended, Willow Springs senior quarterback Taylor Rothermich rambled 48 yards to the Tigers’ 30-yard line, and a personal foul penalty at the end of the play gave the Bears the ball at the 15. Early in the second quarter, senior Ryan Friga lined up at QB for Willow and tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Gennadiy Dudko to close the gap to 8-6.

HHS senior running back Dakota James takes a pitch from junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes during the first quarter of the Tigers’ win over Willow Springs Friday night. James scored Houston’s first touchdown of the contest on the play.

HHS senior lineman Harold Lassiter blocked a point-after attempt by Bears’ senior Thomas Sidorovich to keep the Tigers ahead by 2 points.

The two teams then exchanged possessions throughout the third quarter and for most of the fourth.

Then with just under 4 minutes left in the game, HHS sophomore linebacker Bryson Alexander recovered a fumble at the Bears’ 28-yard line. The Tigers took advantage of the opportunity and scored on a 1-yard keeper by Hughes with 3:26 remaining. After a failed 2-point run, Houston held a 14-6 advantage.

But on the first play of the following possession, Willow Springs scored a when Friga and senior wide receiver Ryan Koehler hooked up on a 61-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing 2-point try, the Bears were backed up 5 yards on a false start penalty, but still converted and tied the score at 14 when Friga made a diving lunge into the end zone at the right pylon.

After a short kickoff, the Tigers began their final possession at their own 48-yard line.

With 29 seconds left, Hughes found Carroll for a 26-yard passing gain to the Bears’ 2. After a 1-yard loss on a running play, Carroll bashed his way into the end zone from 3 yards out, and after a pass fell incomplete on a 2-point conversion attempt, Houston was on top again at 20-14 with just 13 seconds to go.

With Houston’s defense in prevent mode (with only three lineman and eight players spread out over the field behind them), Willow Springs tried a pair of unsuccessful pass plays and the final horn sounded.

HHS junior lineman Keaton Goetz (50) tackles Willow Springs senior running back Gavin Ferguson during the first quarter.

Despite their struggles, the Tigers maintained a never-say-die attitude throughout the game.

“We always play our hearts out on each side of the ball,” Carroll said. “I couldn’t ask for a better season; I love all these guys.”

“We just overcame adversity once again,” Williams said. “We never quit; we kept playing hard and fought for each other and our coaches. We’re a big family.”

The win kept Houston’s record unblemished at 7-0 overall (for the first time since 1979) and 5-0 in SCA play.

Next up for the Tigers is a key conference matchup at Mountain Grove, with kick off unusually set for 1 p.m. next Friday (Oct. 14).

The Panthers will be coming off of a 51-12 win over Salem and stand at 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the SCA.

The Tigers’ seniors indicate how many wins in a row the team has notched so far this season. From left, Zac Williams, Harold Lassiter, Anthony Carroll, Casey Merckling, Dakota James and Austin Goetz. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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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