THAYER 40, WILLOW SPRINGS 22
Ah, there's nothing quite like the comforts of home.
The grass looks greener, the people seem friendlier and the food even tastes better.
After a brutal four-game road trek that resulted in a four-game losing skid, the Thayer Bobcats finally got a chance to take the turf at Louis Bozman Stadium for the first time in a month Oct. 13.
Making the occasion even more sweet was the fact that it was homecoming and the rival Willow Springs Bears were in town.
Despite eight costly penalties coupled with four turnovers, the Cats (3-4) managed to find enough offense to knock off Willow Springs (2-5) 40-22.
And there was plenty of offense to go around for the Bobcats on this night. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eckman was four-of-seven passing for 153 yards and one touchdown, while on the ground he ran for three touchdowns. Junior running back Michael Lowther posted his usual 120-plus yards on the ground, running for a pair of scores on the process. And senior wideout/tight end/running back Jacob Sims had a breakout game, posting 124 yards receiving while notching a touchdown. For the evening, Thayer racked up over 425 yards of offense.
The Bears, too, know a thing or two about offense, sometimes resembling a machine gun with quarterback Scott Myers spraying footballs all over the field.
Myers was 17-of-41 for 223 yards passing with three touchdowns on the night. Willow Spring's rushing attack was another matter entirely, as the Cats held the Bears to no positive yards on the ground.
Myers was forced to look for his targets on the run most of the evening, as Thayer came out of the gates with the idea of putting a ton of pressure on the Willow Springs quarterback.
This was evident on the Bears' first series from scrimmage as Kris Frillman sacked Myers at the Willow Springs 40 on third down, forcing the Bears to punt.
Thayer took the football at its own 21 and marched 79 yards in 15 plays, all on the ground, for the game's first points.
On second-and-goal from the Bears' 5-yard line, Eckman crossed the goal line on a quarterback sneak to get things rolling. Eckman then hit Luke Martin with the 2-point conversion pass to give Thayer an 8-0 lead with 1:31 left in the first.
The Cats' second TD of the night came in the second quarter, set up by a big play on special teams.
Lined up in punt formation on fourth down, Lowther kept the football after taking the snap and scrambled eight yards to give Thayer a fresh set of downs on Willow Springs' side of the 50.
Seven plays later, riding a wave of good blocking from Scott Hargus and Tyler Bonds, Lowther ran for a 6-yard TD on first-and-goal for his team's second TD of the night. Jason White booted the extra point and the Cats led 15-0.
Then, much like it had during Thayer's recent losing streak, adversity in the form of costly miscues rose up to bite the Bobcats.
After a nice defensive stand by the Bobcats, Willow Springs punted the football away. Thayer couldn't hold on to the punt and coughed up the pigskin to the Bears at the Bobcat 32-yard line.
The Bears drove the ball to the 5, where on fourth-and-goal, Myers hit Justin Johnson with a touchdown toss. David Doyle ran in the 2-point conversion, and with 4:32 left till the half, Willow Springs had clawed back into the game, down 15-8.
Not to worry.
The Bobcats simply went 52 yards in eight plays to log their third touchdown of the first half. On third-and-inches from the 5-yard line, Lowther plunged into the end zone for his second touchdown of the frame. White hit the PAT and Thayer had moved in front 22-8.
Instead of taking this margin into the halftime locker room, misadventure hampered the Cats yet again.
Willow Springs tried to convert a fourth-and-17 at the Bobcat 42, but was stopped short of a first down with 13 seconds left, giving the football back to Thayer.
Time just couldn't run out in the first half quickly enough for the Cats, and they fumbled for the second time in the second quarter, with the Bears pouncing on the ball at the Thayer 25-yard line.
Six ticks was plenty of time for Willow Springs, however.
Myers rolled out and hit Brick Wilce in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard TD strike with no time showing on the clock. Myers then connected with Johnson for the 2-point conversion, stunning the Bobcats and pulling the Bears within six, 22-16, at the half.
The bad news for Thayer in the third quarter: two more turnovers.
The good news for Thayer in the third quarter: Willow Springs could not cash in on these miscues.
The Eckman-to-Sims combo was gold for the Bobcats in the frame, as Sims reeled in a couple of nice tosses from Eckman, including a bomb that went for 69 yards and a touchdown. The 2-point try was stopped, but Thayer took a 28-16 lead into the game's final 12 minutes.
This lead didn't last long, as the Bears continued to make things interesting.
Myers hit Ryan Crews with a 39-yard pass just inside the start of the fourth quarter, a play that took the ball to the Thayer 11-yard line.
After a couple of incomplete passes, Myers hit Johnson on a 5-yard scoring strike on first-and-goal. The 2-point try was stopped, but with 10:51 left in the contest, the Bears had edged within six points once again, down 28-22.
As it turned out, that would be as close as Willow Springs would get, with Thayer putting the homecoming win on ice with a pair of late scores.
After Bonds used a nice kickoff return to get the football to the 49, the Bobcats put together an eight-play scoring drive.
Eckman capped off this march with a QB keeper on second-and-goal from the 3-yard line. The 2-point attempt was stopped, but Thayer had restored order with a 34-22 advantage and 6:48 left in the contest.
Then it was Willow Springs' turn to get charitable.
Lined up in the shotgun, the snap went over Myers' head and Big John Barnett fell on the football at the Bobcat 20-yard line.
Then it was Eckman's turn again.
He crossed the goal line from one yard out with 2:41 left to round out Thayer's 40-22 victory, stopping the Cats' losing streak in the process.
The intensity level gets turned up another notch next week as the Cats open district play with a trip to Greenfield Oct. 20. Greenfield currently holds the number four ranking in Class 1 football.