THAYER 6, ASH GROVE 14
Ask coaches what they want most heading into any sporting event, and the answer will almost always be, "just a chance to win."
And that's just what the Thayer Bobcats got Oct. 21 as they opened Class 1 District 5 play with a trip to Ash Grove -- a chance to win.
However, in the end this chance didn't pan out, as the Pirates used a strong showing in the first half of play to knock off the Cats 14-6.
As close as the game turned out to be, the decisive play took place on the Ash Grove 4-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Down 14-0 after three quarters, the Bobcats marched deep into Pirate turf to open the final frame.
After keeping the drive alive with a fourth-down conversion at the Ash Grove 21, Thayer (4-4, 0-1) found itself at the 4-yard line faced with a fourth-and-half-yard to go.
In what ended up being a critical moment in the clash, Ash Grove (6-2, 1-0) pulled together on defense and stopped Thayer quarterback Brett Ward short of a first down, giving the ball back to the Pirates. For the game, Thayer was one-of-four on fourth down conversions.
The Bobcats did keep Ash Grove on its toes with a late score that threatened the Pirates' lead.
Taking the ball with under two minutes left in the game, Thayer headed downfield looking for points.
Ward (nine-of-13 for 111 yards passing) hooked up with wideout John Tollenaar (seven catches, 95 yards receiving) on a couple of nice tosses to move the ball into the red zone.
On first-and-goal from the Ash Grove 4-yard line, tailback Michael Lowther (116 yards rushing) burst through to get the Cats on the board to keep their hopes alive. The 2-point conversion was stopped, and the Bobcats trailed 14-6 with 1:15 remaining in the game.
Thayer attempted an onsides kick, but Ash Grove recovered the ball at its own 47 and ran the clock out on the hard-fought eight-point victory.
Before hitting the jackpot with their fourth-quarter TD, the Cats played on their heels for most of the first three quarters, as Ash Grove set the tone running the ball out of its double-wing set.
The Pirates posted 162 yards of rushing offense in the first half of play, while Thayer mustered just 81 yards of offense during that stretch, and the Bobcats couldn't get deeper than the Ash Grove 24-yard line in the first two quarters of action.
The Pirates accounted for the only score of the first half on their first offensive series of the night.
Moving the football 46 yards in seven plays, all on the ground, Ash Grove hit paydirt from three yards out on first-and-goal, thanks to a TD dive from Jimmy Garber at the 7:04 point of the first. Justin Anderson connected on the PAT and Ash Grove led 7-0.
After a Thayer drive had ended with an unsuccessful fourth-down attempt at the Ash Grove 24-yard line, the Pirates got the ball back looking for more points in the first.
Luke Martin made sure the Pirates didn't accomplish this task, as he picked up a botched lateral pass, snuffing an Ash Grove drive late in the first.
Though Ash Grove seemingly moved the ball at will in the first half, picking up 10 first downs to just three by the Bobcats, the score remained 7-0 at intermission thanks to another sparkling play on defense from Thayer.
With 27 ticks left until intermission, the Pirates were eyeing another touchdown with the ball at the Bobcat 13-yard line.
On first-and-10, Ash Grove's Blaine Goodman headed around the right side, but Thayer's Dustin Gaines ripped the football from Goodman's grip, denying the Pirates a certain score.
Ash Grove did extend its margin with a lengthy touchdown drive late in the third quarter.
Starting at their 39, the Pirates used 10 plays to notch a touchdown at the 2:26 point of the frame, as Goodman shook loose on fourth-and-3 from the 15, scrambling into the end zone for an Ash Grove TD. The PAT was good, and the Pirates held a 14-0 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Despite this deficit, the Bobcats did battle back in the fourth, before time ran out on their bid to start district play with a win.
The Bobcats travel to Marionville Oct. 28 to tangle with the Comets who opened district action by smashing Miller 68-0 Oct. 21.