Bear TD with 20 ticks left proves to be difference in hard fought game
Growing pains are not usually acknowledged as easy things.
As a matter of fact, sometimes they can be downright painful.
Just ask the Thayer Bobcats.
After battling the always-stout, Class 3 Ava Bears tooth-and-nail for 47 minutes and 40 seconds at home Oct. 1, the Bobcats' hearts were broken the last 20 seconds of the contest in a game which they basically won on all fronts, except for the scoreboard.
The Bears took advantage of a late gift by Thayer, pulling the rug out from underneath a good game by the Cat defense to win 19-15 in thrilling fashion.
Up 15-12 heading into the final quarter of a game they led most of the way, the Bobcats, looking to run out the clock with less than a minute left in the game, turned the ball over to Ava on an interception.
Ava's Chance Dry picked off Thayer's Andrew Eckman at midfield and ran the ball all the way back to the Bobcat 8-yard line, putting the Thayer defense in a tough spot.
The Cat defense didn't fold, however, stopping the Bears on three downs to keep them out of the end zone.
Faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 3, the Bears brought out the kicking tee for a field goal to tie the game at 15-all.
The Bobcats called timeout to make sure their defensive alignment was correct, and during the stop in play, the Bears changed their mind and decided to roll the bones and go for a TD.
This decision proved to be a positive one for Ava, as Dry crossed the goal line with 20 seconds left in the game to give the Bears the lead for the first time on the evening. The PAT was good, giving Ava a 19-15 advantage.
Thayer was whistled for a costly roughing-the-kicker penalty on the extra-point attempt, meaning the Bears would get to kick off to Thayer from the 45 instead of the 30 on the ensuing possession.
Needing to catch lightning in a bottle in order to pull out victory, the Bobcats nearly did just that in the waning seconds.
John Tollenaar, after seeing limited practice time the week leading up to the Ava game because of a mild concussion suffered against Liberty, took the kickoff to the Thayer 20-yard line, leaving the Cats with nine ticks on the clock, time for one final play from scrimmage.
Eckman (197 yards passing) rolled out and hit Aaron Henry at midfield, and Henry busted off to the races, making it all the way to the Ava 10-yard line before he was pushed out of bounds as the final horn sounded, making the 70-yard strike 10 yards and a few seconds too short.
The Bobcats knew going into the game that Ava's Dry was going to be a handful, as he had racked up over 700 yards rushing during the first four weeks of the season.
While he did run for 151 yards, and both of the Bears' touchdowns on the night, the Bobcats managed to keep the high-octane Bears from running wild most of the game, holding Ava quarterback Rocky Valentine to 75 yards passing.
"Our defense just continues to improve," said Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber. "If it keeps improving at this rate, come district time, we should be prepared."
It didn't take Thayer long to light the scoreboard, as the Bears saw a steady diet of Dustin Gaines on the Cats' first series from scrimmage.
Gaines caught a pair of Eckman passes and then peeled off a 17-yard run that placed the ball at Ava's 13-yard line.
Three plays later, on fourth down, Brett Ward caught the first of his two TD passes from Eckman on the night at the 6:25 mark. Tollenaar caught a pass in the end zone for the 2-point conversion, and Thayer led 8-zip.
The last 1:20 of the first quarter saw plenty of action as both teams logged touchdowns.
Ava got on the board with a 1-yard TD carry from Dry. Henry broke up the 2-point conversion attempt, keeping the Bobcats on top 8-6.
After Eckman returned the ensuing kickoff to the Ava 40, the Cats struck paydirt three plays later with nine ticks left until the second quarter.
Eckman tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ward at the buzzer, and Harper connected on the extra-point to stake Thayer to a 15-6 lead.
Although the Thayer defense pretty much had its way in the middle two quarters, Dry did get on track late in the second, as he accounted for all 52 yards of Ava's scoring drive in the frame.
Dry found the end zone for the only points of the second quarter at the 1:01 mark. Anthony Martin forced Valentine to hurry his throw on the 2-point attempt, and Tollenaar intercepted the pass, keeping Thayer in front 15-12.
This marked the end of the scoring until Ava rallied late in the fourth to snatch the win away from the Bobcats.
"We just need to put this game in perspective," Webber said. "Numbers wise, they're a Class 3 school, and we're a Class 1. And we should have won the game, but it just slipped away. This should help us mature as a team and get ready for when the games really matter at the end of the year."