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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Cats, Eagles renew old rivalry in non-district play

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Traveling to Pierce City Sept. 17, the Thayer Bobcats managed to do something no other team had done against the Eagles so far this year: put points on the scoreboard.

However, when the final horn sounded, the Bobcats were left in the same spot as Pierce City's first two opponents this year: with a loss against the Eagles, the state's number-two ranked team in Class 1 football.

Moving the ball at a fairly brisk pace for most of the night, Thayer was done in by five turnovers on the game, including three in the last five minutes of play, five miscues that the Eagles cashed in for 26 points on their way to a 46-26 homecoming victory.

"We were pleasantly surprised to score 26 points on them," Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber said. "Their defense is really stout."

Although they are no longer district foes, the game was a classic Bobcats/Eagles tilt, and the game was very much in doubt until the last five minutes of the contest.

In a 27-13 hole to start the fourth quarter, the Cats (1-2) rallied with a score midway into the frame to put pressure on the homestanding Eagles (3-0).

Brett Ward got things rolling for Thayer by returning a booming Pierce City punt into Eagles' territory to set up the Bobcat offense with good field position.

With the ball at the Eagle 45-yard line, the Bobcats zig-zagged down the field, with the legs of quarterback Andrew Eckman bailing his squad out on a couple of plays on the drive.

On third-and-7 from the 35, Eckman scrambled out of trouble and hit John Tollenaar for a 16-yard pass to keep the wheels turning.

Two plays later, Eckman again eluded the Eagle defense long enough to hit Jacob Sims for a 22-yard touchdown strike at the 5:36 mark. Bradley Harper nailed the PAT to pull Thayer within 7 at 27-20.

Looking to strike again while the iron was still hot, the Cats caught Pierce City completely off guard with a quick onsides kick, giving the Bobcats the ball at midfield, and stoking them with a huge shot of momentum.

A scant two plays later, however, this good feeling was quickly removed from the Bobcat sideline.

Running a reverse, Thayer's Aaron Henry was hit from behind by a Pierce City defender, popping the ball free from his grip, directly into the hands of Eagle defensive back Brandon Lathem. Lathem never broke stride and didn't stop until he hit the end zone 48 yards later to extend Pierce City's lead to 33-20.

"Fatigue may have caught up a little bit with us in the second half," Webber said. "When you play 12 or 13 guys the whole game, and they can't get much rest, that can catch up with you."

Capitalizing on Thayer's misfortunes, Pierce City used another Bobcat turnover to keep in front by a comfortable margin after the ensuing kickoff.

Tollenaar lost the ball on Thayer's next play from scrimmage at the Cats' 22-yard line, and one play later, Pierce City's Nick Supplee caught a 15-yard TD pass from Lathem to give the Eagles a 40-20 advantage.

The Bobcats had a little magic left on their next offensive series, as Ward hit Tollenaar for a 78-yard touchdown with 4:08 left on the clock. The extra-point attempt was off the mark, leaving the Bobcats trailing 40-26.

The Eagles did get one more gift in the game, as Eckman was picked off by Kalen Thomas, who ran it back for a meaningless score as time expired to set the game's 20-point final margin.

"We've got to learn to take care of the football," Webber said. "We can't afford it give it up so easily."

The first three quarters of the game was a slugfest as these two old foes went after each other.

Pierce City posted the first score of the night on a 31-yard TD run by Thomas at the 6:37 mark of the first.

A good return by Michael Lowther on the following kickoff gave Thayer a short field with the ball at the Eagle 41.

Ten plays later, on a third-and-goal from the 6, Ward carried the ball across for the Cats' first points of the game. Harper booted the PAT to lock the game at 7-all.

With a score early in the second, the Eagles were in front 14-7 when they boosted their lead with an 85-yard interception return of an errant Eckman pass to make the score Pierce City 21, Thayer 7.

Answering back with under a minute to play before the half, Ward's second TD of the game came on a 4-yard run that brought the Cats closer, down 21-13 at intermission. The only points of the third quarter belonged to the EaglesLathem scampered 53 yards on an option play to move Pierce City in front 27-13.

"I think we learned that we can play with anybody when we want to," said Webber. "If we can eliminate our mistakes, we should be able to be in every game we play."

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