Big bulk of Tigers too much for Bobcats to handle
While he may not be the Bogey Man, Craig O'Neil will be haunting the Thayer Bobcats in their sleep the next week or so.
O'Neil rushed for 159 yards on 10 carries, scored four touchdowns and a 2-point conversion and grabbed an interception on defense to help power the visiting Houston Tigers past Thayer 44-14 Sept. 10.
The Class 3A Tigers and their huge offensive line (300, 290 and 320 pounds on the interior) turned a 10-point halftime lead into a runaway game by scoring three touchdowns in one six-minute span in the third quarter.
Things started out promising for the Cats as they posted the first score of the night on a three-play, 72-yard drive to open the game.
Andrew Eckman (three-for-12, 110 yards passing) hit wideout John Tollenaar (69 yards receiving) on a 56-yard scoring strike at the 10:00 mark of the first quarter to put the Cats on top. The PAT was wide of the mark, but Thayer led 6-zip.
Lining up in a double wing set with a ton of beef up front, Houston's usual method of operation is to just power the football straight down the field. However, just to prove that a Tiger can change its stripes, Houston broke tradition by throwing the ball on their first play from scrimmage, a throw that resulted in a 62-yard TD from Brady Cantrell to O'Neil at the 9:45 point of the first. O'Neil ran the 2-point conversion in to move the lead to Houston's side, 8-6.
"That caught us off guard a little bit," Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber said. "We didn't expect them to throw it right off the bat."
Not slowing down any, O'Neil picked off Eckman on the Cats' next offensive series, setting up his second score of the game, this time on a 41-yard tote off a misdirection play. With the 2-point conversion, the Tigers were in front 16-6 with 7:23 left in the first.
Houston returned the turnover favor later in the first as Aaron Henry jarred the ball loose from O'Neil, a fumble that Michael Lowther recovered for Thayer.
Thayer moved deep into Houston territory before suffering another turnover, this one on a pick of Ward that gave the ball back to the Tigers in the shadows of their own goal posts.
Looking more like the Houston squads of old, the Tigers moved downfield grinding out five and six yards at a time on the ground. Alex McGuire hit paydirt for the Tigers with a 4-yard TD run at the 4:42 mark of the second quarter, putting Houston up 24-6.
Instead of folding their tent, the Cats struck back with a quick score on an 80-play drive before halftime.
Eckman (36 yards rushing) did most of the damage with his legs on the series, and Ward (54 yards rushing) finished it off with a touchdown on a sweep play. Ward also plunged in for the 2-point conversion, drawing Thayer within 10, 24-14 at the half.
"We still felt like we still in the game," Webber said. "We knew they'd get the ball first on offense in the second half. We needed a stop on defense, but we didn't get one."
All the good feeling the Bobcats earned right before intermission was swiftly swept away minutes inside the second half as Houston put the game on ice with touchdowns on their first three series on offense in the third.
O'Neil rang up his third score of the evening with a 22-yard run, and the Bobcats fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, giving the Tigers the ball at the Thayer 22-yard line.
A couple of plays later, O'Neil found the end zone for the fourth time, staking the Tigers to a 38-14 advantage with 8:26 left in the third.
It didn't stop there as Justin Merkling peeled off a 45-yard TD scamper down the middle of the field, part of Houston's 338 yards of offense on the ground for the game, as the Tigers stretched their lead to 44-14.
Despite a respectable 272 yards of total offense on the night, Thayer just had no answer for the bigger, more physical Tigers as the 30-point difference in the final score indicated.
"They're a senior-dominated team," said Webber. "We knew they were going to be tough up front, and they were."