Should the Thayer Bobcats ever need to expand Louis Bozman Stadium, they might consider annexing Cardinal Stadium in Tipton.
Even though Tipton is a good 200-plus miles and four hours away from the Thayer High School campus, the past couple of years Cardinal Stadium has sure held a lot of the amenities of home for the Bobcats.
Backed by a sea of green-wearing fans that rivaled the number of Cardinal fans wearing red for the home team, Thayer made itself right at home and hit Tipton with a dose of good, old-fashioned smash mouth football and earned its second straight Show-Me Bowl berth with a 36-12 rout of the Cardinals Nov. 22.
That victory marks the second straight year the Cats (12-1) have taken the fight to Tipton (13-1) and handed the Cardinals their first loss of the season. All on Tipton's home field.
Impressive stuff, for sure.
"That is an incredible pat on our guys' back. To come up here two years in a row and win is big. Up here they're awfully tough -- they're a quality ballclub," said Thayer Head Coach Billy Webber. "Their eight guys in the box are as big as anybody we've seen this year and their skill kids and secondary really does a good job. So, for us to come here and win two years in a row has really been a great thing for our program."
And as has been the case all throughout Thayer's second straight march to the Edward Jones Dome, it was defense, defense, defense that played a central role in the Bobcats' big victory over second-ranked Tipton.
Save for about two plays, the game easily could have been a shutout victory for Thayer.
And if a 64-yard TD run by Josh Huckabee late in the fourth quarter had not been nullified by a block-in-the-back, Thayer would have broken the 40-point barrier in the game.
The fourth-ranked Bobcats held the hard-running Tipton squad to 118 yards on the ground, this after Cardinal running back Jonathan Loganbill had racked up 106 yards rushing in just the fourth quarter alone of Tipton's 19-0 quarterfinal win over Greenfield the previous week. Thayer's big defensive front also held Tipton to three first downs in the first half of play.
The game didn't start out looking like the Bobcats would have their way, however.
Thayer took the opening kick and marched all the way to the Cardinal 5-yard line before disaster struck. The Cats fumbled a pitch and Luke Boles fell on the football for Tipton.
But Thayer made the best of a bad situation by holding firm on defense. Tommy Martin and Jacob Eckman teamed up to sack Tipton quarterback Marcus Brinkley on first down and after a carry for no gain and incomplete pass, the Cardinals were forced to punt with Chris Bracht standing deep in his own end zone.
Luke Martin broke through Tipton's line and blocked the punt, sending it out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Thayer lead with 4:17 left in the first quarter.
Thayer did get its first touchdown of the game in the second quarter on a 62-yard scoring drive. Eckman (11-of-16, 131 yards pasing, 3 TDs) hit Lance Schneider (five catches, 50 yards) with a 12-yard TD pass on second-and-10 at the 8:15 mark of the second. The 2-point try was no good, leaving Thayer with an 8-0 lead.
Things got a bit dicey for both teams the last eight minutes of the second, as each team turned the ball over, the Cats twice, the Cardinals once.
Schneider picked off a Brinkley pass attempt, while the Cardinals intercepted Eckman twice.
Eckman's second pick resulted in a Tipton touchdown, as Cody Beyers ran the interception back 20 yards for the Cardinals' first TD of the game, coming with 2:01 left before the half.
But although the home team had swung the momentum back on its side and narrowed the gap to two points, Thayer displayed the girt and the guile that it takes to play for a state championship.
And it started immediately after Eckman's interception.
Ethan Leisenring ran the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards, winding his way through the Tipton defense, for a touchdown that shook the Cardinals to their core. Leisenring also kicked the PAT to edge Thayer in front 15-6 with 1:47 left to intermission.
Leisenring then booted the kickoff deep and the Cats wrapped up returned Tanner Edwards at the Cardinal 5-yard line.
Thayer then turned to excellent clock management from the coaching staff and unrelenting defense from the players on the field to put the game away.
The Bobcats kept Tipton pinned deep and on third-and-seven from the 19, Stefan Cotham slammed into Loganbill, tossing the running back for a loss. The Cats had used their timeouts wisely and got the football back at the Cardinal 36-yard line with 45 ticks left in the half.
Eckman hit Martin (five catches, 60 yards) with an 11-yard pass and then thanks to a roughing-the-passer penalty, the Cats had first-and-goal from the 13 with six seconds showing on the clock.
Eckman tossed a 13-yard TD to Martin and then ran the 2-point conversion in to give Thayer a 23-6 lead at the half.
Not a bad way to bounce back from two late turnovers.
"I think that comes down to the guys leading our team. They've been through a lot of battles and have played a lot of football," Webber said. "They kept their composure and really illustrated a great drive (late in the second) to respond."
And things got better in the third for the visitors from Thayer.
The Bobcats chewed up most of the third-period clock with a lengthy, 14-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown from Eckman (20 carries, 106 yards rushing) at the 1:58 mark, pushing Thayer in front 29-6.
"Eating up that time was really beneficial. We've got great guys up front getting a push and backs that run to daylight, and then we have enough passing game and play-action to keep people off-balance," said Webber. "But yeah, using up all that clock and then scoring was huge."
Schneider caught his second touchdown pass of the game at the 9:59 mark of the final quarter, giving Thayer a 36-6 advantage over the Cardinals.
Tipton did get its second touchdown two minutes later on a 22-yard pass from Brinkley to Edwards, but that was it for the home team.
But Ryan Veatch picked off a Brinkley pass attempt late in the fourth to warp up Thayer's 36-12 victory over Tipton.
Josh Huckabee led the Bobcats in rushing with 118 yards on 15 totes.