THAYER 14, WILLOW?SPRINGS 6
It may sound really old and really tired, but it's also really true.
You don't know how good a football team is until it's faced with a serious dose of adversity.
That being the case, it looks like the Thayer Bobcats are a good football team.
The Cats got all the adversity they wanted and still managed to keep their season's mark perfect at 7-0 with a hard-fought 14-6 win over Willow Springs Oct. 12 on homecoming night at Palenski Field.
This was one of those have-to-dig-down-deep-and-find-a-way-to-win kind of games, as both teams struggled to pick up positive yards on offense. For the night, the Bears posted 190 yards of total offense, while Thayer managed just 162 yards.
Looking at those numbers, it might be tempting to say that the offensive attack of both sides took the night off.
However, that would not be accurate, as the defense on both sidelines had as much to do with the lack of numbers as did the team's offensive player's efforts.
But in the end, it was a play on fourth-and-inches that boosted Thayer to its seventh straight victory of the year.
With the Bobcats clinging to a 7-6 lead deep in the fourth quarter, a one-point lead it had held since halftime, Thayer managed to get the breathing room it needed to separate from the scrappy Bears.
On fourth-and-inches from the Willow Spring 37, and a shade over five minutes left to play, the Bobcats were looking for a first down to keep possession and keep the clock running.
Thayer got that and so much more as quarterback Jacob Eckman busted through the middle of Cats' short yardage stack formation and kept running, not stopping until he found the end zone 37 yards later for Thayer's biggest touchdown to this point of the season. Ethan Leisenring kicked the PAT and gave Thayer a 14-6 lead.
What turned out to be the game-winning drive was set up by a big defensive effort by the Bobcats, as Josh Huckabee and Patrick Sims snuffed out a Willow Spring's fake punt try on fourth-and-7 near midfield, giving Thayer possession of the football.
And to preserve this precious lead, Ryan Tate recovered a Willow Springs fumble with 3:11 left in the game, giving the ball back to the Bobcats to run out the clock.
Fitting that the Cats defense came up so big late, as it was forced to play on its toes all game long, as the Bears lined up in numerous sets and ran everything from reverses to fullback throwbacks and double and even triple handoffs and pitches.
Thayer was the first to reach the scoreboard, moving 62 yards in eight plays on its first possession of the night.
Eckman hit tight end Luke Martin for a couple of nice passes on the drive, one for 21 yards, the other for 12, and Michael Lowther cashed in from 10 yards out on first-and-goal at the 8:12 mark to give Thayer the advantage. Leisenring kicked the PAT and the Bobcats were on top 7-0.
That's also when the tide turned to defense.
For the night, Thayer forced four turnovers, while Willow Springs came up with one Bobcat miscue.
And it was the Bobcats that would record the first takeaway of the game, as Matt Kojdecki picked off Willow Spings' quarterback Justin Johnson in the second quarter, stopping a Bears' drive.
The Bears then evened the score later in the second, as Josh Kraus picked off an Eckman pass attempt, setting up what turned out to be a dramatic finish to the first half.
On fourth-and-20 from the Bobcat 32-yard line, Johnson floated a jump ball to Adam Lebeau, and Lebeau hauled the pass in at the 1-yard line with 20 ticks left in the half.
The Bobcat defense bowed up and stopped the Bears on two straight running plays. Then on third-and-goal with five seconds left, Luke Martin broke through the line and hit Johnson's arm as he was about to launch a pass, setting up fourth down with two seconds left on the clock.
On the last snap of the first half, Johnson tossed a pass to Derek Chapman in the end zone just as the buzzer sounded. In what turned out to be a huge miss, the extra-point was wide left, leaving Thayer hanging to a 7-6 lead at intermission.
Though they were down a point, the Bears did have the momentum squarely on their side, and came out of the locker room intent on using it to grab the lead away from the visiting Cats.
And it looked like the Bears might just get their wish. That is until the Thayer D had its say.
With the ball at the Bobcat 33, Willow Springs tried to convert a fourth-and-11. Johnson fired a pass over the middle, but Tyler Bonds got his mitts on it, batting it straight up in the air. A flashing Lowther ran under the wounded duck, plucking it out of the night sky and running it back to the Willow Springs 35-yard line.
The Cats ended another Willow Springs drive in the third as Scott Hargus stripped the ball from Johnson and Zack Ary recovered it for Thayer deep on the Bears' side of the field, preserving Thayer's 7-6 lead heading into the final frame.
This narrow one-point lead was enough until Eckman delivered the final blow with his 37-yard run up the middle in the fourth, sealing the deal for the Bobcats.
Thayer opens district play Oct. 19, as the Bobcats play host to Greenfield.