THAYER 42, MARIONVILLE 12
There's only one way to deal with a bully.
Confront him head on.
Walk right up and smack him in the mouth, getting in the first punch before he knows what happened.
Chances are, if he can pull himself off the ground, he'll then turn tail and run.
That's just the way the visiting Thayer Bobcats handled the big, bad Marionville Comets Oct. 26 at Bill Redus Field.
Swinging with a couple of early haymakers that left the Comets battered and bloody, the Cats thoroughly dominated second-ranked Marionville 42-12, as Thayer improved its season mark to a sparkling 9-0, while climbing into the driver's seat in the District 3 race at 2-0 with one game remaining.
That's how you handle a bully, one that has had its way with not only the district ranks, but has also terrorized all of Class 1 the past several years.
Consider that over the course of the last four seasons, the Comets (8-1, 1-1), four-time defending District 3 champions, have played in the Class 1 Show-Me Bowl finals three times, winning a state title in 2003, while coming in second in the state the last two years.
Oh, yeah. Marionville had also not suffered a loss at home since 2004.
But on this cool, crisp night in Lawrence County, it was the Bobcats that said enough is enough, sending the Comets to the mat right off the bat.
And in fact if this had been a fight, whether in the schoolyard or in the ring, it would have been stopped early in the first round via a technical knockout.
Thayer chewed up most of the first-quarter clock with a pair of impressive, lengthy drives that not only resulted in points, but also kept the ball out of Marionville's hands. The Comets ran just six plays from scrimmage the entire first quarter, while Thayer scored a pair of touchdowns for a quick 14-0 lead.
Thayer ran five minutes off the clock on its first scoring drive, a 70-yard, 11-play drive that ended when Michael Lowther crossed the goal line from four yards out at the 7:28 mark on second-and-goal. Ethan Leisenring kicked the PAT to give the Cats a 7-0 lead.
Then, in what may have been the play of the game, or at least set the tone for the night, the Comets fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Luke Martin recovered it for Thayer at the Marionville 28.
One snap later, Lowther sprinted in from 28 yards to give Thayer a stunning two-touchdown lead over Marionville, just five minutes into the game. Leisenring's kick was true, pushing the Bobcats on top 14-0.
"I think that set the temp of the game early," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "We scored, got a turnover and scored again. That caught them off guard and put them in a position they hadn't been in much this year. That also put us in the driver's seat."
Big Blue finally got its hands on the football, but Thayer turned them black-and-blue, holding the Comets to a three-and-out to keep the Comets from getting anything going.
The second quarter was almost a carbon copy of the first.
Thayer stitched together a beautiful 11-play, 53-yard drive for its third TD of the first half.
Jacob Eckman jumped over the top of the pile on first-and-goal from the 1 at the 4:27 mark to extend Thayer's margin. Leisenring's extra-point gave the Bobcats a 21-zip lead over what was becoming a quickly-frustrated bunch of Comets.
After another three-and-out from Marionville, Thayer wasted little time in hitting the end zone yet again.
Lowther broke off a nifty 38-yard run that hit paydirt with 1:57 left until intermission. Leisenring's PAT boosted Thayer's advantage to a commanding 28-0 lead at the half.
"Our guys did a nice job all game long up front," Webber said. "Those three-and-outs were really big. It kept them from getting anything started in the first half, while we were able to take the ball and score."
And there was little doubting the command that Thayer had in the first half.
Coming into the game, Marionville had been posting 41 points a game, while allowing just eight through its first eight victories, averaging 465 yards of offense in the process.
In the first half against Thayer, the Comets found just 25 yards of total offense, were held without a first down, managed just 18 plays from scrimmage and were forced to punt four times.
By contrast, the Cats rushed for 262 yards in the first two quarters of play, in what was billed as a showdown between two of the state's best running backs, Thayer's Lowther and the Comets' Layton Metcalf. Heading into the game, Lowther had ran for 1,011 yards and 20 TDs, while Metcalf had amassed 1,771 yards on the ground while scoring 21 touchdowns.
Lowther certainly held up his end of the squareoff, as he carried the ball 29 times for 203 yards, with 176 coming in the first half. Metcalf, on the other hand, was held to 94 yards on the night by the swarming Bobcat defense.
For the game, Thayer rackes up 478 yards of total offense against the mighty Comet defense.
"We put in a couple of new wrinkles on offense before the game, and the guys up front did a great job of catching on quick to them," said Webber.
Marionville did record the only points of the third quarter, coming on a halfback pass to Garrison Edgar from Metcalf with 3:46 left in the frame. The 2-point try was stopped, leaving the Comets in a 28-6 hole after three.
The Bobcats responded by stepping on the throttle and racing to two scores in the final stanza that sealed the deal.
Eckman hit tight end Luke Martin (three catches, 48 yards receiving) for a 14-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth to keep the Comets at bay. Leisenring's kick was right down the middle, pushing the Bobcats in front 35-6 with 10:36 left to play.
Eckman had another outstanding effort for Thayer, racking up 99 yards rushing and one touchdown on 13 totes, while through the air he was a perfect seven-for-seven, 124 yards and two TDs.
"Jacob just continues to get better every time he steps on the field," said Webber. "Seven-for-seven passing and almost 100 yards rushing from the quarterback spot. We'll take that anytime."
Marionville got one last touchdown in the game, on a 4-yard run from quarterback Brandon Verfurth with a shade over eight minutes left to play.
The Comets then tried an onsides kick, but Cody Ary was Johnny-on-the-spot, falling on the pigskin near midfield.
This gave the Cats enough fuel for one last touchdown.
Eckman hit Lowther (three catches, 58 yards receiving) in stride on a screen pass, and Lowther did the rest, weaving his way into the end zone from 31 yards out with 4:56 left. Leisenring's sixth PAT gave Thayer a 42-12 lead.
Just to make sure they left a lasting impression, the Bobcats hammered Marionville with one last uppercut on the Comets' last series of the one-sided contest.
Marionville tried a swinging gate set, but Scott Hargus would have none of the trickery and crushed Verfuth for a 10-yard loss.
Then Eckman came up big on back-to-back plays, first skying high in the air to bat down a Verfurth pass, before wrapping up his counterpart for a sack that ended the game with Thayer routing Marionville by 30 points.
Firmly in control of their own destiny, the Bobcats, ranked in the top five of Class 1 teams, need to topple Miller at home Nov. 2 to insure a district title and trip to the state playoffs.