THAYER 14, AVA 40
While it's never a good thing when your starting quarterback is forced to miss a game because of injury, it can be downright deadly when your starting quarterback is also your punter, kick returner and linebacker.
Add to this one powerful opponent, one enjoying their homecoming night, and a recipe for disaster is close at hand.
And a disaster is just what the Thayer Bobcats found Sept. 30 as they made the long trip to Douglas County to tangle with the Ava Bears.
Falling behind by six touchdowns in the first half of play, the Bobcats were slapped with a 40-14 loss to the Bears.
The Cats (2-3) were under the gun before the game even kicked off, as Thayer was without the services of senior signal caller Brett Ward who was sidelined after suffering a sprained MCL the week before in a loss to Liberty. Ward is expected to return Oct. 7 against Willow Springs.
In Ward's stead, freshman quarterback Jacob Eckman got the first start of his varsity career after subbing for Ward in the fourth quarter against the Liberty Eagles.
However, it wasn't so much a lack of a veteran field general that doomed Thayer in their clash with Ava; rather it was a potent ground game on the Bears' part that was the Bobcats' undoing.
Fueled by another huge rushing game from All-State running back Chance Dry, the Bears were in gear from the opening whistle on, as Ava rolled out 322 yards of offense in the first half of play alone, shoving the Cats into a hole they could not climb out of.
While the Bears gained big chunks of yardage, and posted 40 points during the first 24 minutes of play, Thayer was limited to just one first down in the first half against a powerful Class 3 Ava (4-1) squad.
It didn't take the Bears long to light the scoreboard for the first time, as Ava went 80 yards in six plays on its first possession of the night.
Quarterback Jonathan Batcheller crossed the goal line at the 10:24 point of the first quarter for a Bear TD. The PAT bounced off the crossbar, but Ava led 6-0.
A special teams snafu cost the Bobcats on their first series from scrimmage, as Thayer was forced to punt from its own 24-yard line. A high snap went over backup punter Ryan Tate's head, forcing Tate to improvise. He picked up the ball and tried to punt on the run, but the kick was blocked, giving the Bears excellent field position at the Thayer 2-yard line.
One play later, Dry, Ava's all-time leading rusher, scored the first of his three touchdowns on the game, this one at the 7:41 mark of the first. The PAT was no good, but Ava led 12-0.
Dry, who rushed for over 1,800 yards last season, logged his second score of the night with 4:03 left in the first on a 30-yard carry on fourth-and-1. The 2-point conversion was denied, but Ava had extended its margin to 18-0.
With Thayer unable to keep the Ava offensive on the sideline by sustaining any kind of extended drives, the Bears added three more touchdowns in the second quarter.
Dry hit paydirt once again three plays into the second on an 8-yard TD scamper. Dry also toted the 2-point conversion across to push Ava on top 26-0.
The Bears went to the air for their next touchdown, as Batcheller hit tight end Rick Ritter with a 20-yard scoring toss at the 5:15 point of the second. The PAT was good, and Ava was clearly in control at 33-0.
The Bears' last score of the second came with 1:22 remaining until the half, as running back Chance Davis scored from five yards out. Ava's point-after attempt was good, and the two sides went to the half with the Bears leading 40-0.
Thayer, shut out in the first half of play for the first time this season, finally found the end zone midway into the third quarter.
Michael Lowther capped a 61-yard drive by finding the edge of the Ava defense and rambling 41 yards for a touchdown at the 7:52 mark of the third. Eckman was stopped short of running the 2-point conversion in, and Ava enjoyed a 40-6 advantage.
The Bobcats had another shot early in the fourth, as Eric Burton recovered a Bear fumble at the Bobcat 40-yard line. Thayer's clash with Ava was relatively turnover free, a week after the Bobcats and Eagles of Liberty had combined for 10 miscues.
The Cats cashed in this fumble recovery when Eckman dove across the goal line from three yards out on second-and-goal with 6:39 left in the game. Eckman also took the 2-point conversion in to make the score Ava 40, Thayer 14.
The Bobcats made it down to the Ava 6-yard line with under 50 seconds left in the game, but a Thayer fumble ended the contest with the Bears posting a 26-point victory on homecoming.