THAYER 8, ORRICK 20
Something had to give.
One team was going to have its storybook 2007 football season end with an undefeated season and state championship.
One team was going to have its storybook 2007 football season end with its first loss of the year, falling a game short of a state championship.
Such were the stakes as the number-three ranked Thayer Bobcats and the state's top-ranked team, the Orrick Bearcats, faced off in the 2007 Class 1 Show-Me Bowl Nov. 24 in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
And when the final whistle blew on the physical, grind-it-out clash, it was Orrick that emerged on top, winning 20-8 to capture its first state championship since 1975 with a perfect 14-0 mark.
For the Bobcats, who finished their season at 13-1, appearing in the Show-Me Bowl for the first time in school history, dreams of a state title will have to wait at least another year.
"I think the ballgame lived up to its billing," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "Two undefeated teams that got under their pads and played football. Two teams with great running attacks, and today Orrick had a little too much for us. They did a terrific job getting in behind their blocks and getting a push up front."
And that was where Orrick made its mark in the game -- on the ground. Orrick completed just one pass in five attempts, while the Bearcats outrushed Thayer 272-113, with Orrick controlling the second-half clock by racking up 224 of those yards in the third and fourth quarters.
The game was much closer than a casual glance at the final score would indicate, with Orrick breaking away from an 8-all tie by scoring with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
Taylor Eubank ran in from 34 yards out with 53 ticks on the third-quarter clock for the Bearcats' go-ahead score. Orrick was flagged for a false start on the 2-point try, pushing the attempt back to the 8-yard line. Quarterback Joe Kauffman's pass hit the turf, leaving Orrick in front 14-8 after three.
The Bobcats went to work in the fourth quarter and drove all the way to the Orrick 18-yard line on their first possession of the frame.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at the 18, Thayer was unable to convert a fresh set of downs and turned the ball over to the Bearcats.
The Bobcats had the ball inside Orrick's 20-yard four times in the game, but could manage just one touchdown. Thayer turned the ball over on downs twice, once at the 8, once at the 18, and saw its other red zone possession end at the Orrick 16-yard line as time ran out in the first half.
"We got into the red zone a couple of times and didn't capitalize and that came back to hurt us," said Webber. "With the rushing attacks that both teams have, it was just going to be anybody's ballgame and come down to who could take care of the football and who could move the chains. But you've got to give Orrick credit. Their defense did a great job (of stopping Thayer inside the 20-yard line). We knew their defensive ends were really good, and you have to give them credit for making plays."
Once Orrick got its hands on the ball with a 14-8 lead and 7:06 left to play in the game, the Bearcats turned once again to its shifty senior running back Taylor Eubanks.
Running behind the left side of the Orrick line, Eubanks (24 carries, 211 yards) kept chipping away until he unleashed the back-breaker, a 41-yard TD run with 2:21 left in the game. Bobcat defensive back Lance Schneider picked off the 2-point pass attempt, but that was all the points the Bearcats needed to win the 2007 Show-Me Bowl 20-8.
The Bobcats looked like they meant business to start the game, overcoming a shaky kickoff return to fashion a lengthy, time-consuming drive on their first series from scrimmage.
Orrick used a line-drive kickoff to get things going on the afternoon, with the ball sailing about three feet off the ground all the way to the Thayer goal line.
Michael Lowther's quick hands and feet saved Thayer, as the senior running back picked up the ball and managed to get out to the 15-yard line.
Thayer then marched into Bearcat territory, using plenty of Lowther (22 carries, 78 yards rushing) on the ground, mixed in with a couple of slick passes from junior quarterback Jacob Eckman (nine-for-18, 107 yards passing) to junior tight end Luke Martin (four catches, 59 yards receiving).
The Cats chewed up the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the game with this drive, but Thayer's shot at scoring the first points of the game ended when Orrick stopped the Bobcats on fourth-and-4 from the 8-yard line.
As it turns out, Orrick was first to reach the scoreboard, as Eubank broke free for the first of his three TDs in the championship game, running in from 30 yards out on the last play of the first quarter to give the Bearcats the lead. Eubank also carried in the 2-point conversion to give Orrick an 8-0 lead after one.
The tight-going continued in the second quarter, until Thayer's special teams and defense came up big.
Faced with fourth-and-16 at the Orrick 45, the Bearcats tried to get a punt away, but Thayer's freshman special teams ace, Cameron Carey, came up big by blocking Aaron James' punt, giving Thayer the ball at the Orrick 28.
The Bobcats ended up turning the ball over to the Bearcats deep in their own territory, but on Orrick's next series, Lowther picked off a Kauffman pass and ran it back 16 yards to the Bearcat 4-yard line.
Two plays later, Eckman (27 yards rushing) broke through the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown with 2:21 left in the half. Thayer then locked the game at 8-all as Eckman carried in the 2-point conversion.
The Bobcats held Orrick to a three-and-out on the Bearcats' last possession of the half, giving Thayer the ball back at its own 38 with a minute left.
Eckman then uncorked his arm, tossing the ball to Ryan Veatch (three catches, 36 yards) and Luke Martin to gain access to Orrick's side of the field.
The first half ended when Martin was tackled at the Bearcat 16-yard line, sending the sides to intermission with the score tied at 8-all.
Orrick came out of the locker room with a bit of a different look on offense, lining up in the single-wing to add fuel to its ground game.
"The single-wing gave us a little trouble. When you get that many guys in front of the football, with the way they run the ball anyway, that's an advantage for them," said Webber.
Despite the changeup, Thayer still managed to get Orrick in some uncomfortable second- and third-and-longs, but whenever the Bearcats needed a big play, Eubank was there to lift them up.
"We had them third-and-long a couple of different times and they were able to capitalize on that and get first downs," Webber said.
And in the end, Orrick got enough of those first downs to string together the only scoring drives of the second half to win their first state championship in 32 years.