Getting stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line is not the best way to end the first half of a playoff football game.
But those were about the only two negative things that happened to the Thayer Bobcats in their Class 1 Quarterfinal matchup with the Valle Catholic Warriors at Louis Bozman Stadium on a cold, blustery Nov. 15 afternoon.
For in the end, the Cats (11-1) turned in yet another truly dominating performance as they routed the high-powered Warriors (10-3) 30-0.
The win sends Thayer to Tipton for a semi-final showdown with the Cardinals Nov. 22, the second straight year the two schools have met with a trip to the Edward Jones Dome and a spot in the Class 1 Show-Me Bowl on the line.
Against the no-huddle hurry-up attack of Valle Catholic, the Bobcats' defense was more than stifling. Confounding the Warriors with constant pressure on quarterback Michael Greminger, the Cats held Valle Catholic to just 88 yards of total offense in the game. And all those yards were through the air, with Thayer giving up zero rushing yards to the Warriors.
"You've really got to give a lot of credit to our down linemen," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "We managed to put a lot of pressure on their quarterback, which is what we wanted to do. And our defensive backs and linebackers made some plays. Just a really good job all the way around."
The Bobcats, however, had no such running problems. Thayer turned in 313 yards of rushing, 235 coming from quarterback Jacob Eckman, who once again, was a huge factor in the Bobcats' victory. Eckman also threw for 72 yards, giving the Cats 386 yards of total offense in the quarterfinal clash. Eckman also scored all four of the Bobcats' touchdowns in the game.
But things sure didn't start out rosy for the home team.
Thayer fumbled its first snap from scrimmage and Valle Catholic's Bryan Kertz fell on the football at the Bobcat 28-yard line.
But as they would find out on numerous occasions all day long, this Bobcat team hangs its hat on an impressive defense.
On third-and-17 from the 24, Greminger tried to hit Zach Weiler in the end zone, but Ryan Veatch tipped the ball and it fell right into Lance Schneider's hands, snuffing out a Warrior scoring opportunity. Schneider was a welcome sight in Thayer's starting lineup after missing the sectional game against Miller the previous week with a knee injury.
Thayer got on the board with a three-play, 84-yard drive, fueled by some hard running from its senior quarterback midway into the first quarter.
Starting at the Bobcat 16, Eckman ripped off a huge 44-yard burst behind his offensive line, taking the ball to the Valle Catholic 40. Then Eckman finished what he started with a 40-yard burst to get the Cats on the scoreboard. The 2-point try was stopped, but Thayer was in front 6-0 with 6:16 left in the first.
On Valle Catholic's next series, Luke Martin picked off Greminger for the Warriors' second turnover of the first quarter.
Thayer couldn't convert that into points, but less than two minutes into the second quarter, the Cats extended their advantage to two touchdowns.
Eckman scored on a quarterback keeper at the 10:52 point and he then hit Veatch for the 2-point conversion to up the Cats' margin to 14-0.
By that point, Valle Catholic's offense was so much on edge that the Warriors committed two straight false starts and had to call a timeout to regroup on their next series from scrimmage.
But the Warriors proved they can play a little defense, too.
Thayer had moved the football all the way to the Valle Catholic 10-yard behind some nifty running from Josh Huckabee (66 yards rushing), before the Warriors bowed up.
Valle Catholic kept the Cats out of the end zone, stopping Eckman on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 43 ticks left in the half, sending the teams to intermission with Thayer leading 14-0.
While this impressive goal-line stand should have shifted the momentum to Valle Catholic in the third quarter, it didn't.
Instead, in a span of 40 short seconds, the Bobcats pretty much put the game on ice.
The Cats were at their own 49, faced with a fourth-and-2, when Thayer got tricky. Lined up in punt formation, Eckman took the snap and hit Schneider with a 25-yard pass, giving Thayer a fresh set of downs at the Warrior 24.
Six snaps later, all carries by Eckman, Thayer had its third TD of the afternoon on a 1-yard blast from its quarterback. The 2-point try was no good, but the Cats were putting some distance between themselves and the Warriors with a 20-0 lead with 5:13 left in the third.
But things kept getting better for the home team.
On Valle Catholic's next snap, a pitch from Greminger to Luke Uding went awry and hit the turf. An alert Stefan Cotham fell on the football, giving the Bobcats possession at the Valle Catholic 14.
On Thayer's next snap, Eckman scampered into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game with 4:52 still left in the third. Ethan Leisenring kicked the PAT to extend the Cats' cushion to 27-0.
Leisenring wrapped up the scoring with a 33-yard field goal, into the teeth of the wind, with 6:25 left in the fourth, setting the final score at Thayer 30, Valle Catholic 0.