Thayer ends year with second half flurry to knock off Miller
Although they had no shot at the District 5 title by virtue of dropping their first two league games to Ash Grove and Marionville, the Thayer Bobcats wanted to make sure their season ended on a positive note after making the long drive to Miller Nov. 5 to take on the Cardinals.
It appeared for awhile that the Bobcats had left their desire for a season-ending victory back in Oregon County, as the Cats couldn't get out of their own way during the first 24 minutes of play. Fortunately for the Bobcats, they managed to right the ship and turn first-half miscues into second-half positives, holding Miller scoreless in the last two quarters, en route to a 48-28 win over Miller.
Thayer (4-6, 1-2) struck quicker than lightening to begin the contest, scoring on its second snap from scrimmage on a 38-yard TD run by Brett Ward, the first of his four scores on the evening. Ward had a monster game for the Bobcats, racking up 200 yards rushing, including 152 on 12 carries in the first half alone, against the Cardinals (2-8, 0-3). Bradley Harper booted the PAT to put Thayer on top 7-0.
The Bobcats rolled out 239 yards of total offense in the first half, on their way to over 400 for the game, but they also had a big problem with penalties in the first two quarters, running up 10 infractions, including two that kept drives alive for Miller that led to 14 points for the Cardinals. After falling behind 7-zip to start the game, the Cardinals reeled off four touchdowns in the second quarter to make things interesting.
On fourth-and-7 from the Miller 30, the Cats were whistled for an illegal substitution penalty on a punt attempt, giving the Cardinals a new set of downs.
The Cardinals made good on this new life thanks to a touchdown from quarterback Daniel Otto from 1 yard out to get Miller on the board. Otto found Jonathan Nash in the back of the end zone on the 2-point conversion to put Miller on top 8-7 less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Bobcats responded to Millers' first TD by putting together an eight-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard TD tote from Ward at the 8:05 mark of the second. Ward then hit Andrew Eckman for the 2-point conversion, switching the margin back on Thayer's side at 15-8.
On Miller's next series on offensive, the Thayer defense did its job, forcing the Cardinals to punt on fourth-and-3 from their own 38. And for the second time in the early going, the Cats were penalized as Miller punted, this time for roughing-the-kicker, giving Miller another boost.
Otto took care of this gift by tossing a 24-yard TD pass to Nash at the 4:15 mark to help his squad keep pace with the Cats, down 15-14.
On Thayer's next touch on offense, Eckman wrapped up a 61-yard drive by connecting with Aaron Henry on a 14-yard TD strike in the back of the end zone. Harper's PAT gave the Cats a little breathing room, up 22-14 with 1:31 left until intermission.
This proved to be more than enough time for the Cardinals to knock the Bobcats back on their heels with two fast touchdowns to grab the lead at the break.
Otto uncorked a 60-yard touchdown pass to Clay Wilkerson at the 1:01 mark that knotted the game at 22-all, and then Millers' Brad Hill picked off an Eckman pass and ran it back 52 yards for a score, staking the Cardinals to a 28-22 lead over the stunned Bobcats.
As it turned out, the second half was completely different with the Bobcats keeping Miller off the board while they rolled out 26 points of their own by playing most of the half on Miller's side of the field.
"I think the guys decided at the half to get with it and start playing," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "In the second half, they played with the passion and intensity that was missing in the first two quarters."
Ward moved Thayer in front for good with a 27-yard TD carry around the right side behind a good block from Jacob Sims at the 4:51 point of the third. Harper booted the extra point to switch things back in Thayer's favor at 29-28.
David Masterson came up big on defense for the Bobcats, blocking a Cardinal punt to set Thayer up with a short field.
Harper cashed this big special teams play into points, plunging across the goal line from 3 yards out, moving the Cats in front 35-28, a lead they took into the final quarter of play.
For the fourth time on the night, Ward found the end zone for Thayer, starting the last quarter with a 2-yard TD run on third-and-goal. Eckman nailed the PAT as the Bobcats continued to cruise, leading 42-28.
John Tollenaar got in on the scoring spree for Thayer by hitting paydirt from 18 yards out on a reverse to set the game's final margin of 48-28.
Bret Harrell added to Thayer's defensive effort in the last quarter with an interception of Otto, and Ethan Gaines posted a pair of picks late in the game to help the Bobcats win their first district game of the year.
"I think it's really important to close the season on a winning note," Webber said. "It should help our young guys that are coming back next year, providing then with something to take them through the off-season workouts for next year."