THAYER 14, HAYTI 13
It was the goal line stand to end all goal line stands.
The stuff legends are born of.
It was also exactly just what the Thayer Bobcats needed to punch their ticket to the Class 1 state Final Four for the first time.
That's all it took for Thayer to knock off Hayti 14-13 in the Class 1 state quarterfinals Nov. 12 at Indian Stadium, in a titanic battle of two of the top three teams in the Class 1 ranks.
A goal line stand to end all goal line stands.
That and a wide-left field goal attempt on fourth-and-goal.
Thayer (12-0, number three in Class 1) was clinging to a one-point lead late in the game when Hayti quarterback Shawn Jones hit wideout George Hamilton with a 37-yard pass that took the ball all the way to the Bobcat 3-yard line with 35 seconds left to play.
That's when things got sticky for the Indian offense, as the Cats dug their heels into their real estate, refusing to budge.
On first-and-goal from the 3, Luke Martin crashed into Hayti's Anton Jones, shoving him backwards for a 5-yard loss.
On second down, Kris Frillman knocked down a pass attempt over the middle of the line.
On third down, Jacob Eckman pulled the same trick, swatting a Jones' pass attempt harmlessly to the turf, leaving the Indians with fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line with 22 ticks left in the game.
Instead of having another run stuffed, or pass knocked down, Hayti opted for a field goal.
Abidin Barjrami put his foot into the 27-yard field goal attempt, but pushed the ball left of the goal posts, leaving Hayti (11-1), ranked number two in Class 1 short of the points it needed to rally past Thayer.
The Cats' win over the high-powered Indians set Thayer up with a semi-final matchup at Tipton Nov. 17.
As outstanding as the Bobcats' defense was once again, Thayer's special teams were really "special" on this night, while Hayti's were anything but special.
Thayer's outstanding running back Michael Lowther blocked what would have been the game tying point-after attempt midway through the fourth quarter, while punter/kicker Ethan Leisenring was money, going two-for-two on PATs, while also pinning the Indians deep when called on to punt.
On the flip side, Hayti struggled on special teams, with a botched snap over the head of the Indians' punter leading to the first points of the night.
With the contest a scoreless tie late in the first quarter, and Hayti backed up deep in its own territory, a snap went sailing over the Hayti punter's head and the Bobcats fell on the ball at the Hayti 3-yard line.
Eckman busted through on a quarterback keeper at the 2:33 point to take advantage of this huge Hayti blunder. With the extra-point, Thayer held a 7-0 lead.
Considering the fact that Hayti had scored over 50 points on three occasions this year, and had beaten St. Vincent 64-20 to open district play, a 7-0 lead didn't seem like much for the Indians to shake off.
But with the way the Bobcat defense played against the Indians, it looked like the high-octane crew from Hayti might be lucky to rack up any points. The Indians, used to scoring at will during the first 11 weeks of the season, found themselves in numerous third-and-longs, forcing Hayti to operate out of its normal comfort zone.
Thayer's defense attacked Hayti much the same way a pack of hungry teenagers might attack a free, all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.
The Cats took the fight right to Hayti to open the game, as Ryan Tate looked like a man possessed, and was in Jones' face all night long. As a matter of fact, there's a great chance that it will take Jones several weeks of therapy to get Tate's smiling grill out of his mind, as Jones spent a lot of time on the ground looking up at Tate and his defensive mates.
For the game, the Bobcats racked up five quarterback sacks for a minus-39 yards, while holding Hayti to just 14 yards rushing.
Tate smashed Jones so hard on Hayti's first possession of the game, that the quarterback threw a wounded duck and Lowther picked it off.
Though the Cats would fumble the ball away to the Indians on their first snap of the game, Thayer got the pigskin quickly back as Cody Ary recovered a Hayti fumble just three plays later.
Both teams played inspired defense in the second quarter, but it was Thayer's D that came up biggest.
Hayti had managed to drive the ball to the Bobcat 11-yard line with 47 seconds left until intermission.
On third-and-3, Lance Schneider knocked down a pass, and then on fourth down, Eckman got his hands on a pass, sending the teams to the half with Thayer holding a 7-0 advantage.
That advantage didn't hold up very long in the third quarter, however.
J.B. Gooden picked off a pass from Eckman and ran it back 32 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the second half. The point-after locked the game at 7-all and gave the homestanding Indians a shot of momentum that was missing during the first half of play.
Then Thayer stole that momentum.
The Bobcats recovered a Hayti fumble near midfield and fashioned a 7-play, 44-yard drive.
Josh Huckabee accounted for most of the yards on this scoring drive, as he rushed around the right side of the line for a 35-yard TD with 1:35 left in the third. Leisenring's kick pushed Thayer on top 14-7 after three.
Huckabee's was the Cats' biggest play from scrimmage, as Thayer was held to 131 yards of offense, all on the ground.
Turning to its arial attack, Hayti scored its second touchdown of the night at the 6:18 point of the final frame on a 29-yard pass from Jones to Jerome Covington. Jones was 18-for-36 with 221 yards passing for the contest.
But in what turned out to be every bit as huge as the goal line stand Thayer would mount six minutes later, Lowther busted through the Hayti offensive line and blocked the point-after try, leaving Thayer on top by one, 14-13.
Eckman picked off a Jones pass with three minutes left to play, but despite some nifty clock management from the Bobcats, Hayti still got the ball back with 1:17 left at its own 30.
And though the Indians had an excellent shot at ruining Thayer's march into the semis, the Bobcat defense would have none of that and stood tall and firm to deny Hayti in a heart-stopping last 35 seconds of play.
And that was the stuff legends are born of.
In the sectional round, the Joplin McAuley Catholic Warriors, champions of District 4, were no match for the Bobcats Nov. 7, as Thayer rolled to a 42-6 win at Louis Bozman Stadium.
It didn't take long for Thayer to cool off the Warriors (4-7), who despite opening the season at 1-6, had been on a hot streak entering district play and were on a three-game winning streak. Thayer rolled out 463 yards of total offense on the night, including 355 on the ground, while holding the Warriors to a grand sum of 113 yards of offense on the night.
On the second snap from scrimmage, Lowther took a handoff and sped 79 yards to the house, staking the Cats to a quick lead. Leisenring hit the first of his six PATs on the night and Thayer was well on its way to winning its sectional matchup with McAuley.
For the night, Lowther racked up two TDs on offense, while picking off two passes on defense. Lowther also racked up 203 yards rushing in the first half of play.
Ryan Veatch was responsible for Thayer's other points of the first, as he hauled in a 42-yard TD pass from Eckman to give the Cats a 14-0 advantage after one.
Eckman extended Thayer's lead to three touchdowns in the second quarter on a 3-yard QB keeper at the 6:24 mark of the frame.
Thayer's second touchdown of the second came courtesy of a pass interception from Tate.
After Tate's pick, Huckabee plunged through for a 3-yard TD to boost Thayer to a 28-zip lead.
The Bobcats tacked on one additional score before the half on a 21-yard TD run from Lowther that sent the teams to the break with Thayer holding a commanding 35-0 lead.
Lowther and Scott Hargus both recorded interceptions in the third, while Tyler Bonds posted Thayer's last points of the night on a 22-yard run in the stanza, after taking a direct snap from center and shredding the Warrior defense.
McAuley did get on the scoreboard with a shade over two minutes left in the game, as quarterback Austin Metz hit Kevin O'Keefe for an 11-yard touchdown pass to set the final score at Thayer 42, Joplin McAuley Catholic 6.