THAYER 24, HOUSTON 30
Sometimes you can win the battle, win the war, and still come out on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
As discouraging as this can be, you can multiply that feeling by 10 when a fluke play tips the scale in the favor of your opponent.
After keeping the fierce Houston Tigers in check for the first three quarters Sept. 9, the Thayer Bobcats were done in by a busted play late in the fourth that allowed Houston to escape the Cats' bid at an upset with a 30-24 victory.
With Thayer in control of a 24-22 game and 51 ticks left to play in the contest, things came undone for the Bobcats in one play.
With the ball at the Houston 42-yard line, Tiger quarterback Brady Cantrell uncorked a long pass downfield. The ball was tipped and missed its intended receiver. However, the ball fell directly into the hands of Houston running back Greg O'Neal who didn't stop running until he had posted a 58-yard touchdown pass. Jeff Gettys ran the 2-point conversion in to give Houston a stunning, come-from-behind six-point win.
Although they did rack up 240 yards of offense on the ground, including 143 from O'Neal, the Tigers certainly didn't run roughshod over Thayer (1-1) like they did in a 44-14 win at Thayer last year.
As a matter of fact, the Bobcat defense was so stout early that Houston did not log a first down until the 35-second mark of the first quarter.
"You've got to give our guys a huge amount of credit," said Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber. "Especially when you look up and down the rosters and see mostly juniors and seniors on Houston's side, and a lot of sophomores and young guys on ours."
While they didn't let Houston's double-wing rushing attack get clicking, the Bobcat offense looked sharp as Thayer pierced the scoreboard first with a nine-play, 61-yard drive late in the first. For the game, Thayer rolled out 362 yards of total offense.
The Cats got going when quarterback Brett Ward (13-19, 232 yards passing) hit Michael Lowther for a big 22-yard gain that got the ball into Tiger territory. Lowther was rewarded when Ward hit him for a 33-yard TD at the 2:48 point of the first. Lowther posted 132 yards of total offense, 99 in the air, 43 on the ground. While the Cats had little trouble moving the ball and finding the end zone, they did struggle on 2-point conversions in the game, going 0-3, while having their lone PAT attempt on the evening blocked.
Up 6-0 heading into the second, Thayer extended its lead with a pair of scores before the half.
Fashioning a lengthy 15-play march on their first possession of the second, the Bobcats struck again when Ward (70 yards rushing) crossed the Houston goal line from a yard out on fourth-and-goal at the 4:15 point. The 2-point attempt was stopped, but the Cats were on top 12-0.
The Tigers pushed the ball deep into Thayer turf just before intermission, but Jacob Eckman wrapped up Gettys on fourth-and-4 at the Bobcat 20 to snuff out Houston's threat and give the ball back to Thayer.
As they had their way on defense during the first two quarters, holding Houston to a mere 71 yards of total offense during the first half of play, the Cats were willing to roll the bones big time on offense with less than a minute left until the half.
On fourth-and-15 from their own 22, the Bobcats lined up in punt formation, but instead of kicking the football, it was snapped to Eckman, the up-back. Eckman promptly hit John Tollenaar (92 yards receiving) on a 3-yard crossing pattern, and Tollenaar took the ball 78 yards to a touchdown leaving the stunned Tigers in an 18-0 hole at intermission.
"That's an automatic play when we line up for a punt and the outside guys are not covered," Webber said. "We made a nice play that turned out to be really big right before the half."
The Tigers came out a different-looking team in the third quarter, returning to the stout ground game that they rode to the semi-finals of last year's state playoffs.
Using a 10-play, 52-yard drive based on the run, Houston got its first touchdown of the game thanks to a 13-yard scamper from Gettys at the 7:12 mark of the third. Cantrell scored the 2-point conversion on a quarterback keeper, and Houston was back in the contest, down 18-8.
The Cats turned the ball over to the Tigers twice in the frame, but Thayer still carried a 10-point lead into the final frame. A final frame that saw a determined Tiger squad claw on top.
"We did a good job in the first half on the defensive side of the ball. Our defense really did the job, and then the success we had on offense kept their offense off the field."
Three plays into the fourth, Cantrell pulled Houston closer with a 1-yard TD on second-and-goal at the 11:00 mark. Gettys took the 2-point conversion in to shrink Thayer's margin to 18-16.
While the momentum may have been slipping through their hands, the Bobcats did answer with a scoring drive that whittled four minutes off the clock.
Lowther caught a big 23-yard pass during the Cats' scoring march, and Ward ripped off a 26-yard scramble to set up Thayer with a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Ward dove into the end zone with 6:07 showing on the clock, but the PAT was blocked to leave the Bobcats holding a 24-16 advantage.
O'Neal did the bulk of the damage for the Tigers in the remaining six minutes, first rambling 57 yards over left tackle for a touchdown on a double-handoff at the 3:18 mark that drew Houston within two, 24-22.
However disheartening this big play was, it was nothing compared to the next time O'Neal touched the ball, taking a deflected pass 58 yards to give Houston their only lead of the night, a lead that came when it mattered most, at the end, saddling Thayer with a hard-fought 30-24 loss.