Defense has often been known to win football games, and that’s what carried the Houston High School squad to a 13-12 victory in a South Central Association conference matchup Friday night on John Mark Hale Field at Mitch Carmack Stadium in Cabool.

The Tigers’ Big Red D produced numerous crucial plays throughout the annual Battle of Texas County that ultimately made the difference in the contest.

“We constantly had 11 guys swarming to the ball,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “It was great.”

The big defensive plays began late in the first quarter when the Bulldogs’ offense was forced to turn the ball over on downs at the Houston 29-yard line. The Tigers took advantage and went ahead 6-0 when senior running back Brady Brookshire capped off a sustained drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left in the period. Senior kicker Stone Jackson then booted an extra point that ultimately provided the winning margin and Houston led 7-0.

HHS senior Grayson Mitchell runs the ball during the first quarter of the Tigers’ win last Friday at Cabool.

Houston struck again with a 77-yard drive late in the second quarter the concluded with junior wide receiver Jordan Arthur scoring a touchdown on an 11-yard reverse play. As Arthur was hit at about the 4-yard line, he dove and flew stretched out horizontally the rest of the way to pay dirt, coming back to Earth with the ball on the goal line with 3:37 left.

One of the Big Red D’s biggest moments in the game came on the final play of the first half. After moving the ball inside the Houston 5-yard line with less than a minute to go, Cabool had a golden opportunity to score on a fourth-and-2 play with time running out. But senior running back Tyler Fleetwood was gang-tackled short of the goal line and the Bulldogs remained scoreless at the break.

The teams fought back-and-forth through a third quarter in which neither team scored before Cabool mounted an electrifying comeback in the fourth period.

After gaining possession with a fumble recovery on their own 33-yard line, the Bulldogs moved the ball deep into Houston territory. Facing a fourth-and-4 play at the Tigers’ 18-yard line with about 5 minutes to go in the contest, Cabool got on the board on a pass to Fleetwood from senior quarterback Trey Atkins.

HHS junior Jordan Arthur flies through the air on the way to scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the Tigers’ SCA win last Friday night at Cabool.

But Houston’s defense responded by stopping Fleetwood on an attempted 2-point conversion run and the Tigers led 13-6.

The Bulldogs maintained the momentum by recovering the ball on an onside kick at their own 49-yard line. Moments later, Fleetwood ran 37 yards down the right side of the field for another touchdown, and Cabool was within a point at 13-12.

But the Big Red D rose up again and gang-tackled Fleetwood again on the following 2-point conversion attempt.

The Bulldogs tried another onside kick, but this time senior Keaton Goetz caught the line-drive boot on the fly and the Tigers had the football at their own 48. Cabool would not gain possession again.

Facing a fourth-and-7 play at the Bulldogs’ 34-yard line, Houston retained possession when senior quarterback Wyatt Hughes competed a pass to Arthur for a first down at the 25.

The Tigers then moved the ball big-time on a couple of carries by senior running back Grayson Mitchell. On the second carry, Mitchell could have easily waltzed into the end zone, but instead fell on purpose at the 1-yard line so Cabool would have no chance of getting the ball back and potentially tying the game or even taking the lead.

The contest ended with Hughes taking a knee while Bulldogs defenders stood and watched dejectedly.

As Cabool defenders stand and watch helplessly, HHS senior quarterback Wyatt Hughes takes a knee on the final play of the Tigers’ SCA road victory last Friday night.

“It was another great overall team effort,” Sloan said.

Cabool came into the contest ranked fifth in the latest Class 1 poll.

“It was everything you want in a high school football game,” Sloan said. “It was very physical; talking with some of their kids afterward, they said it was a slugfest. And you always hear it’s a game of inches, but you don’t really understand that until you play through it.”

Sloan said defensive coordinator Jake Brookshire came up with a viable game plan and the players executed it nicely.

“Coach Brookshire had them scouted pretty well,” Sloan said. “They had several tendencies to run certain plays out of certain formations and our guys were calling it out and were spot-on.”

Jackson has made 11-of-16 point-after attempts so far this season.

“It’s been nice being able to make some extra points,” Sloan said. “And this time it was a big difference-maker.”

Arthur has scored 8 touchdowns so far in 2023, while Brookshire and Mitchell have scored 3 apiece. The Bulldogs were allowing Mitchell to score another toward the end of last Friday’s game, but he instead did what it took to protect the team’s lead.

“That was such an unselfish play,” Sloan said. “It was being a great teammate instead of going for individual stats. That kind of sacrifice is exactly what you want.”

Riding a 3-game winning streak, the Tigers (3-1, 2-0 SCA) travel to Thayer this week.

“They’re very athletic,” Sloan said, “and it’s a group of kids who have had a lot of success together. And they’ll be physical; it should be another slugfest.”

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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