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Friday, May 6, 2016

Thayer Bobcats are ... Headed to the Dome!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The tide had just turned.

Words were not necessary to describe it.

All it took was a pair of eyes to see that ol' man momentum had just found a new partner.

The player in the crimson jersey, head slumped over, slowly shuffled to the home team's suddenly-quiet sideline.

The player in the white jersey, arms pumping like a windmill out of control, bounded over to the jubilant visiting team's sideline, screaming at the top of his lungs.

The tide had just turned and the Thayer Bobcats were about to overcome a sluggish start and two-touchdown deficit to defeat the Tipton Cardinals 35-24 Nov. 17 to earn a spot in the Class 1 finals for the first time in school history.

That player in crimson was Tipton's Keil Allison, who had just been stripped of the football near midfield early in the fourth quarter, and that player in white was Thayer's Cody Ary, who had just recovered the fumble for Thayer to set up what turned out to be the Bobcats' game-winning points.

With Thayer trailing 24-22 at that point, and the Cardinals at midfield looking to add to that margin, Ary's big play couldn't have came at a better time.

And the Bobcats knew just what to do with that precious gift.

Quarterback Jacob Eckman hit Michael Lowther with a 25-yard screen pass that moved the ball to the Cardinal 15-yard line, and two plays later, Lowther ran in from 10 yards out to give Thayer its first lead of the afternoon, 28-24, with 6:39 left to play.

Now stoked with a hotly-burning fire, Thayer continued to pour it on, and on Tipton's next snap from scrimmage, Luke Martin picked off Cardinal quarterback Trey Allison at the Tipton 30-yard line.

After an 18-yard TD run by Lowther was called back due to holding on Thayer, Eckman (seven-for-eight, 178 yards passing) simply rolled out and hit Josh Huckabee with a 24-yard touchdown pass with 3:38 left in the game. Ethan Leisenring's PAT set the final score at 35-24, giving Thayer a spotless 13-0 mark, and its second straight win over a previously undefeated team. The Cats had edged Hayti 14-13 in the quarterfinal round to set up a clash with Tipton (12-1), while the Cardinals had to rally late to knock off Adrian 44-43 in the quarters.

"It's a dream come true for everyone involved," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "It's something that everyone that is involved in works for, and works toward. You want it for the kids and you want it for yourself. It was just an incredible effort that we put out today to get there (state finals) and now we've got to find the effort to get the next one."

That next one will be a showdown with Orrick (13-0), the state's top-ranked Class 1 team, in the Class 1 Show-Me Bowl at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis Nov. 24, with kickoff scheduled for high noon.

Whether it was the 250 miles from home, the early start (1:30 p.m.), or just plain anxiousness, the Bobcats did something they had managed to avoid to this point in the season -- they fell behind by two touchdowns early and were forced to play from behind.

"Our guys never quit fighting. They were determined and just battled," Webber said. "We didn't battle those first three possessions, I think we were a little bit tight to start, but once we got loosened up, we decided to play. Our guys have battled all year, just not from that position (trailing early). But they sure responded and overcame adversity all day long."

That adversity started with the Bobcats turning the ball over on a fumble on their first series of the afternoon.

Tipton returned the favor on its first possession, with Luke Martin scooping up the loose ball.

The Cardinals did get rolling late in the first quarter, with Allison hitting Tanner Edwards on a 38-yard touchdown pass at the 7:15 mark. Weston Wood kicked the extra-point to give the homestanding Cardinals a 7-0 lead.

Tipton added to this as Edwards (139 yards) logged his second score of the first quarter four minutes later on a 30-yard TD run around the left side. Wood's PAT pushed the Cardinals on top 14-0 after one.

But the Bobcats hadn't climbed into the upper echelon of the Class 1 ranks by backing down from a challenge, and they got on the board early in the second quarter with an impressive 14-play, 88-yard drive, thanks to the legs of Lowther and the blocking of the big Bobcats up front. Lowther carried the ball 12 times for 72 yards on this scoring march.

Lowther (171 yards rushing) crashed into the end zone from a yard out on second-and-goal at the 9:18 mark for Thayer's first points of the game.

Tipton's defense, which got a big fumble recovery late in the Adrian game, then came up big a few minutes later on Thayer's next possession.

Brad Knipp stripped the ball away from the Bobcats near midfield and ran it all the way to the Thayer 21-yard line.

The Cardinals got as close as the 10, but Thayer stiffened and Tipton had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Wood to extend its lead to 17-6 with 2:07 left before the half.

And those remaining two minutes were just enough for Thayer to edge closer before the break.

Shaking off a couple of penalties on the drive, the Cats ran their two-minute offense to perfection, fashioning a 65-yard scoring drive.

Eckman tossed a nice screen pass to Lowther, who tight-roped his way 55 yards down the right sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the Tipton 10-yard line.

Two plays later, Lowther had his second rushing TD of the second quarter, as he burst through from six yards away on third-and-goal. Eckman took the 2-point conversion in to pull Thayer within three, 17-14, at the half. For the game, the Bobcats racked up 453 yards of total offense against the Cardinals.

Tipton extended its lead to a 10-point margin in the third on a 21-yard touchdown run by Allison that came at the 4:58 mark, boosting the Cardinals in front 24-14.

That also turned out to be Tipton's last points for the year, as the Bobcats dug down deep to reel off 21 straight points.

The Cats were hit with another costly penalty, a block in the back on the ensuing kickoff, giving Thayer possession of the football at its own 11-yard line.

But despite this terrible field position, Thayer put together a nine-play, 89-yard scoring drive.

Tyler Bonds caught a big 21-yard pass from Eckman on third-and-7 on the drive, while Huckabee (39 yards rushing) added a nice run, that added with a face mask infraction on Tipton, took the ball to the Cardinal 10-yard line.

Eckman (68 yards rushing) took over from there, scoring on a 2-yard QB keeper with 41 ticks left in the third. Eckman also was successful on the 2-point conversion carry, pulling Thayer within two, 24-22, after three.

Then the Bobcat defense made its presence felt in the final frame, recording two takeaways while the offense generated two scores off those Cardinal miscues.

"We made some great plays defensively in the second half. Just a great effort, really on both sides of the ball," said Webber. "Offense, defense, special teams -- all aspects of the game in the second half -- it was really a great effort by our guys against a very good Tipton team. They (Tipton) were undefeated for a reason. They're a quality team."

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