After being the victims of an upset at the hands of the Liberty Eagles in overtime last week, it's a safe bet that the Thayer Bobcats went through a tough week of practice with one thing in mind; getting off to a good start against the Class 3 Ava Bears.
If that indeed was the case, it sure didn't show as the Bobcats got off to just about the worse kind of start possible, then somehow recovered in the second half, and escaped Ava with a 28-13 win Oct. 3.
The Bobcats were their own worst enemy in the first quarter, turning the ball over three times, including an interception on their first snap from scrimmage that the Bears' Travis Ewing picked off and ran back for a 7-0 just seconds inside the game's opening whistle.
"We really had our backs against the wall in the early part of the game, that's for sure," said Bobcat Head Coach Billy Webber. "But the guys kept playing and didn't quit."
If that wasn't bad enough, Thayer's Andrew Eckman was picked off on the Bobcats' second series, giving the ball right back to Ava.
The Thayer defense held fast and kept Ava from getting another score before once again giving the Bears a gift with their third turnover in as many possessions, just asking for more trouble from the Bears.
Once again Thayer's defense pulled its weight as the Bobcats escaped the first quarter trailing just 7-0, when they could have easily been looking out of a 21-zip hole.
The second quarter began on a more positive note as the Bobcats swiped the ball from Ava as Justin White and Dustin Gaines teamed up to strip a Bear ball carrier and take over at their own 41.
The Bobcats couldn't cash in on this turnover, but they did tie the game late in the period as Ava was forced to put out of their own end zone, giving the Bobcats their best field position of the night.
Aided by a pass interference call on the drive, the Bobcats moved the ball to the 4-yard line of Ava where White scooted in on a counter play for Thayer's first TD of the night. Carl Hunter booted the PAT to knot the game at 7-7.
The Bobcats dodged one final bullet in the first half as the Bears had a 60-yard touchdown pass called no good as the receiver was ruled out of bounds in the back of the end zone as the halftime horn went off with the game all square.
"It's a much tighter ballgame if that play stands. They had a lot going for them, and it was big for them not to get that play on the board," Webber said.
A different team emerged from the Bobcats' locker room in the second half, as the offense started clicking through the air, and the defense continued its control of the line of scrimmage.
The Bobcats' first series of the third quarter ended in an 80-yard TD march as Eckman broke the plane of the goal line with a quarterback sneak at the 7:50 mark of the frame. Hunter's PAT put Thayer in front 14-7, hard to imagine after the way the game started.
The fourth quarter belonged to Bobcat sophomore John Tollenaar.
First, on the defensive side of the ball, Tollenaar wrapped up a Bear short of the first down on fourth-and-2 at the Thayer 40 to give the ball back to the Bobcats.
Tollenaar was immediately rewarded for this good play as Eckman hit Tollenaar on a 55-yard TD pass on the Bobcats' next play to stretch their lead to 21-7 at the 9:17 point of the fourth.
The Bobcats finished the game with 242 yards in the air, with Tollenaar the recipient of 149 of those yards.
The Bears made things interesting as Cody Harley caught a 15-yard TD pass from Rocky Valentine with 5:27 left in the game. White blocked the PAT, making the score 21-13, Thayer.
The Bobcats closed the door on the Bears a couple of minutes later as Eckman ran a bootleg in from 8 yards out to push Thayer's lead to 28-13.
The Thayer defense sealed the deal as Dustin Gaines logged an interception and Brett Ward picked off his third Ava pass of the night to turn a horrible start into a big 28-13 win over the Bears.
"I was really proud of the way the guys just kept playing and pushing," Webber said. "It's easy to give up after the kind of start we had, but to our guys' credit, they didn't."