Late turnover dooms Cats in district opener
You really can't blame the Thayer Bobcats if they hope to never see another team line up in the double wing offense.
A week after watching the Cabool Bulldogs march up and down the field out of that formation, the Bobcats welcomed the Ash Grove Pirates, another squad that favors that power-running set, to Louis Bozman Stadium for Homecoming 2004 and for the kickoff of Class 1, District 5 play.
Although the Bobcats didn't give up 40 points to Ash Grove like they did to the Bulldogs, the final result was similar with the Pirates edging past Thayer 26-21, thanks to a potent Pirate ground attack and an untimely late fumble on the Bobcats' part.
The Bobcats (3-5, 0-1) held a 21-14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter when the trouble began.
Picking up five and six yards at a time, the Pirates (4-4, 1-0) had their way running the ball, racking up over 275 yards rushing on the evening out of the double wing, an offense geared to test the interior of a team's defense.
"Our defensive effort was better than the week before against Cabool," said Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber. "But we still didn't execute like we need to. We are still making the same mistakes we made earlier in the year."
With 9:06 left in the game, Ash Grove's Micah Rasmussen ran the ball into the end zone from two yards out on second-and-goal to pull the Pirates closer to Thayer. The all-important extra-point attempt was hooked wide of the goal post, however, leaving the Cats in front by 1, 21-20.
This is when disaster struck for Thayer.
The ensuing kickoff was bobbled, and the Pirates jumped on the football at the Thayer 27-yard line.
Three plays later, Blaine Goodman scored the Pirates' second TD in less than two minutes to give Ash Grove their first lead of the second half. John Tollenaar stopped Goodman on the 2-point conversion try, but the Cats found themselves in a 26-21 hole with 7:36 left to play.
"It's key that you take care of the football, regardless of who you're playing," Webber said. "That hurt us."
Thayer did get its hands on the ball at the Ash Grove 46-yard line with 2:58 showing on the clock, but the Pirate defense denied the Bobcats a first down, taking control of the ball to sit on the lead and run down the clock.
Thayer had opened the game by shuffling the deck on offense, starting Brett Ward at quarterback, Andrew Eckman at tight end and Jacob Sims in the backfield to give Ash Grove a different look.
Unable to get much past midfield on their opening possession on offense, the Bobcats punted to Ash Grove, and the Pirates went 85 yards in nine plays for the game's first points.
Goodman posted a touchdown from seven yards out on first-and-goal to stake the Pirates to a 7-0 lead at the 4:28 mark of the first quarter.
The Bobcats' personnel changes on offense clicked on Thayer's next series as the Cats answered the Pirates with a seven-play, 51-yard scoring drive.
On third-and-11 from the Ash Grove 31, Ward (13-of-27, 187 yards passing) hit Tollenaar on a fade route for a touchdown with 1:35 left in the first. Bradley Harper kicked the PAT and the game was even at 7-all.
Ash Grove jumped back in front in the second with a patented grind-it-out series on their next possession.
Covering 91 yards in 17 plays, the Pirates got another TD from Goodman while chewing up quite a bit of time on the clock. With 4:43 remaining until the half, the Pirates led 14-7.
Down but not out, the Bobcats used a big play on defense to get right back in the thick of things before the break.
With Ash Grove in Thayer territory again, the Pirates went to the air for one of only eight pass attempts on the game.
Michael Lowther jumped in front of a Travis Underwood pass, intercepting the ball for Thayer and keeping the Pirates at bay.
Not only did his play stop Ash Grove, it ended up advancing the scoreboard for the Bobcats as Ward hit Eckman for a 9-yard touchdown with 10 ticks left until halftime. Harper connected on the extra point, sending the two sides to the break tied at 14-all.
Thayer got another big stop on defense early in the third as Underwood had trouble with the exchange from center on fourth-and-2 from the Bobcats' 20, giving the ball to Thayer on downs.
The Bobcats then showed Ash Grove they were capable of stitching together a lengthy drive by going 80 yards in 12 plays for the go-ahead touchdown.
Dustin Gaines made a nifty run from 31 yards out at the 2:47 mark of the third on a delayed handoff that struck paydirt. Harper's PAT made the score Thayer 21, Ash Grove 14 at the end of three, but the Pirates posted two scores in the last 12 minutes of the game to knock off the Cats.