After scoring a touchdown midway through the third quarter, the Houston High School football team trailed 14-13 in a Class 2 District 4 Tournament game last Friday night at Strafford.
But the third-seeded Indians then scored 21 unanswered points to beat the No. 6 Tigers 35-13 and put an end to their 2023 season.
Much of Strafford’s offensive production in the contest came from quarterback Silas Morton, who scored four touchdowns on lengthy runs. The 5-10, 210-pound senior scored on runs of 46 yards in the first quarter, 52 yards in the second quarter, 71 yards in the third quarter and 70 yards in the fourth quarter. The Indians’ other TD came on a 55-yard punt return by junior Bradley Mullins early in the fourth period. Junior Cody Voysey scored another 5 points for Strafford by going 5-for-5 on extra point kicks.
Houston got on the board first in the contest, taking a 7-0 lead with just over 6 minutes left in the first quarter when senior quarterback Wyatt Hughes capped off a long drive with a 1-yard scoring run and senior Stone Jackson successfully booted a point-after.
But the Indians tied the score on Morton’s first long scoring run before the period was over, and took the lead on the first play of the second quarter on his next big dash.
The Tigers had a golden opportunity to pull even midway through the second period, moving the ball deep into Strafford territory with a sustained drive powered by an effective ground game. But the threat ended on a fourth-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line when senior Brady Brookshire was stopped short on a running play.
In the third quarter, the Tigers began a drive at their own 25-yard line and again moved the football downfield. After a personal foul penalty gave Houston the ball at the Strafford 12, junior Jordan Arthur lined up at quarterback for a couple of plays and ran the ball inside the 5. With 4:21 showing, Hughes scored again from 2 yards out and the Tigers had closed the gap to 14-13, and the score remained that way after a missed extra point.
But on the Indians’ first play from scrimmage on the following series, Morton ran more than 70 yards into the end zone and Strafford never looked back.
Houston’s offense finished with 303 total yards in the contest, including 240 on the ground and 63 through the air.
In his final high school football game, Hughes completed 7-of-12 passes for 63 yards (with 1 interception), while also running 12 times for 27 yards. HHS senior running back Grayson Mitchell finished his career with 19 carries for 84 yards, while Brookshire ran 15 times for 82 yards.
Arthur and sophomore DJ Riley each intercepted a pass in the contest. Junior linebacker Bryson Alexander led Houston’s defense in tackling with 9, while Arthur and Riley were in on 7 apiece, senior linebacker Kayden Crawford had 6 and linemen Ethan Chase (as senior) and Mason Dodson (a sophomore) were each credited with 5.
Other than Morton’s four big plays, the Indians’ offense struggled to find a rhythm against Houston’s Big Red Defense.
“I thought we did a good job containing him for the most part,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “Obviously, he’s a really fast kid and found holes and exploited us. We bottled him up most of the night, but it seemed like when he did get loose it was a huge play.
“We corralled him, and there weren’t a lot of places for him to go, but when he found a hole, he hit it hard and was gone.”
For multiple reasons, the Tigers were without the services of multiple upperclassmen for much of the game.
“We had some guys who went out of the game, and we just kept getting younger and younger,” Sloan said. “It was tough to see it slipping away.”
The Tigers finished the season with an overall record of 4-6 and went 3-4 in South Central Association conference play. The squad lost several close-calls during the campaign, including a 3-point defeat that included 6 turnovers in the season-opening home game against Orchard Farm (which is the top seed in the Class 3 District 3 Tournament).
After losing many top players to graduation, the Tigers began the season with a very new look, especially on offense.
“We were right there in a lot of the games,” Sloan said. “We put a lot of kids in new situations, and I think we kept improving and kept battling.”
Last week’s game marked the end of the high school careers of 10 Houston’s 10 senior players, including several 3-year starters like Hughes, Brookshire, Chase and Keaton Goetz.
“It was another fun group,” Sloan said. “They’re great kids; they’re unselfish and they come to work with a good attitude. We blocked out all the noise and they just cared about what goes on inside the four walls of the locker room and didn’t care about the other stuff.
“We’re losing a lot of experience and it’s going to be difficult to replace.”
Strafford advances to face second-seeded Forsyth in this week’s district semifinals, a 65-20 winner over No. 7 Willow Springs. The other semifinal matchup will feature No. 1 Fair Grove (which had a bye last week) hosting fourth-seeded Liberty after the Eagles beat No. 5 Springfield Catholic 20-14 in the first round.