A season of resounding success continued for the Houston High School football team Friday night, as the Tigers remained undefeated by grinding out a 12-6 victory in a South Central Association conference game at Silvey Field in C.E. Harlan Stadium at Ava.

For the second straight game, Houston’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown, as the host Bears’ points were scored on a pair of field goals by senior Jeremiah Blakely.

Ava had the ball first and moved quickly into Tigers’ territory on a few running plays. But the drive came to an end when Houston junior lineman Trent Shelton recovered a fumble and the Tigers had possession at their own 20.

The Big Red Offense then turned on its renowned ground game, running the ball right at the Bears several times during a time-consuming 80-yard drive that culminated with a 5-yard touchdown run by senior Anthony Carroll on a fourth down play with 1:22 left in the first quarter. A 2-point conversion run was stopped short, but Houston had a 6-0 lead.

Ava cut the deficit in half on Blakely’s first field goal at the 10:07 mark of the second quarter. That proved to be the only points of the period, as the two teams exchanged punts several times during a back-and-forth series of possessions.

HHS senior Anthony Carroll runs for first down yardage during the first quarter of the Tigers’ win in an SCA game last Friday night at Ava. Carroll rushed for a career-high 174 yards in the contest.

The Bears pulled even on Blakely’s second field goal with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter. 

But the Tigers responded with another long drive that began at their own 18-yard line. With 1:21 to go in the period, Carroll ran 42 yards to the Ava 28, and the Big Red O was in business.

Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, junior quarterback Wyatt Hughes threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Kayden Crawford in the left corner of the end zone. A point-after kick by senior Sammy Nance hit the left upright, but the Tigers had a 12-6 lead.

The Bears threatened late in the game when sophomore quarterback Aiden Lane  (who entered the contest in the second quarter when senior starter Ashton Stout was injured) tossed a bomb to senior running back Hunter Hall for a 45-yard gain to the Houston 23. 

But the Big Red D rose up once again.

Junior lineman Keaton Goetz tackled senior running back Wyatt Johnson for a 2-yard loss on a third down play, the Bears turned the ball over on downs after a halfback pass thrown by sophomore Thomas Merritt fell incomplete.

As time ran down with Houston in possession, multiple issues occurred with the both the game clock not starting and the play clock not being reset, and Ava ended up with one final play with a few seconds to go. With the Tigers’ defense set up with only three lineman and eight other players distributed around the field in a deep prevent mode, the Bears tried a multi-lateral play in hopes of finding space and producing a miracle ending.

But senior lineman Casey Merckling caught the second toss and the final horn sounded, setting off a wild celebration among Houston, players, coaches and fans.

“It’s amazing,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “The kids had a never-say-die attitude, and we played incredibly. Offensively, we moved the ball when we had to, and we were great on defense again.”

The victory was Houston’s first over Ava since 2008.

HHS head coach Eric Sloan leaps joyfully as time runs down in the Tigers’ huge victory last Friday night at Ava.

“We stuck together and fought hard,” Hughes said. “That’s when brotherhood comes in; we’re all brothers out here, and we all give it 155-percent when we play. That’s why we won.”

“They’ve all bought in and they love each other,” Sloan said. “That’s the difference right now.”

The loss dropped the Bears to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in SCA play.  

“It doesn’t have to be pretty,” Sloan said. “A win’s a win.”

Houston’s defense has held opponents to single digits points totals in 5-of-6 games so far this season. The Tigers (6-0, 4-0 SCA) host Willow Springs next Friday night (Oct. 7).

“This is an amazing feeling,” said HHS senior lineman Harold Lassiter. “6-0 baby!”

Many “expert” prognosticators had Ava easily handling Houston.

“Cinderella continues!” Sloan said.

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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