When senior Trevor Mitchell and the Houston High School special teams unit lined up for a punt early in the first quarter of a South Central Association football game Friday on Wilson Field in Panther Stadium at Mountain Grove, a high snap forced him to scramble to his right.
Mitchell managed to get off a low line drive in traffic, but the officials ruled he was down before the kick and the host Panthers had the ball at the Houston 29-yard line. Seven plays later, junior Brendan Rogers ran the ball into the end zone from a yard out, and after an extra point kick by freshman Hoyt Matthews, Mountain Grove led 7-0. Things never got better for the Tigers, as the Panthers went on to post a 27-0 victory.
“The game started rough with field position and it snowballed from there,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan.
Mountain Grove (3-5, 2-4 SCA) scored again when sophomore quarterback Tyson Elliot and sophomore wide receiver Drew Vaughan hooked up on a 25-yard pass play with 52 seconds left in the first quarter and held a 14-0 advantage after another point-after kick by Matthews.
The Panthers extended their lead on a 15-yard TD pass from Elliot to sophomore Hollen Glenn with 50 seconds to go in the third quarter, and capped off the scoring with about 9 minutes left in the fourth period on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Elliot to Rogers.
With sophomore Brody McNew at quarterback for the first time, Houston’s offense had its chances and moved the ball on the ground on several possessions throughout the contest. But the Tigers turned the ball over four times on interceptions (including two by senior defensive back Alex Cases) and once on a fumble and subsequently never got on the board.
“Turnovers continue to be a concern,” Sloan said. “They sold out to stop the run game so we had to put the ball in the air and we ended up throwing 4 interceptions. We have to run better routes and block better up front.”
The third pick occurred on the final play of the first half, when Glenn (at linebacker) grabbed a pass in the end zone that was intended for Houston junior tight end Korbyn Tune.
Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Tigers executed a perfect hook-and-ladder play while driving at the Mountain Grove 34-yard line, with Tune catching a pass from McNew and lateraling it to sophomore Anthony Carrol who took it down the right sideline to the 7.
But after a tackle-for-a-loss (on a fumble recovered by Houston) and an interception by junior defensive back Todd Edwards, the Panthers had put an end to the threat.
“We can't expect to give ourselves a chance to win doing that,” Sloan said.
In his initial game under center, McNew (the fourth quarterback used by Houston this season) was taking snaps from senior Isaac Choate, as regular starting center Casey Merckling was out with an injury.
“When you have players in new positions, it always brings some challenges,” Sloan said, “but when it's the center and QB, that’s a unique situation. Brody made a few mistakes, but that's to be expected with any position change. For the most part, I think the boys did a good job filling in.”
On most of their possessions, the Panthers enjoyed the luxury of good field position.
“We put our defense in a position to work against a short field several times,” Sloan said. “They were very big up front and their alignment messed with us. We started trying to think and didn't follow our rules – that got us in trouble.”
This Friday, the Tigers (3-3, 0-3 SCA) are scheduled to play at home for the first time in the 2020 season (due to COVID-19), hosting Liberty in a contest that could have an effect for both teams with regard to seeding in the upcoming Class 2 District 3 playoffs. The Eagles will be seeking revenge after falling to Houston on their home field last season, and they should be at full strength after being short-handed for a couple of weeks.
“We better show up to play on Friday after upsetting them last year,” Sloan said. “They are rolling right now and it appears they will have everyone back from quarantine.”