For the second straight week, the Houston High School football team struggled against a state-ranked team.
This time the Tigers were beaten 46-8 by class 2 No. 6 Ava in a South Central Association contest last Friday in Tiger Stadium.
In dropping a fourth straight conference game, the short-handed Houston group (greatly limited by injuries) pretty much went toe-to-toe with their guests in the first quarter, but the Bears finished a drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion at the 4:30 mark to lead 8-0 going into the second quarter.
Ava then added 32 more points before halftime, beginning with a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Nate Swofford to sophomore running back Spencer Skyles on the first play of the second quarter. After Swofford ran for a 2-point conversion to extend the advantage to 16-0, the Bears were on their way to the lopsided victory.
Ava (6-0, 4-0 SCA) led 40-0 at the break after tacking on a scoop-and-score TD on a blocked punt, a 20-yard TD run and 2-pointer (both by Skyles) and a 60-yard scoring dash by Skyles with 1:20 left in the second period followed by a 2-point pass from Swafford to senior running back Kayden Myers.
The Bears completed their scoring and led 46-0 with a 13-yard touchdown run by sophomore fullback Zach Richards with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Houston (2-4, 0-4 SCA) prevented a second consecutive shutout with a 30-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Dakota Burchett with 11:06 left in the fourth quarter. But in a game where the Tigers were playing without eight starters (most of whom are important pieces on both offense and defense), Burchett limped into the end zone on the play with a pulled hamstring. Junior Ty Franklin replaced Burchett and ran for a 2-point conversion.
HHS head coach Eric Sloan played three quarterbacks in the game, as freshman Danny Venable got his first varsity snaps at the position as time ran down. Many other underclassmen also saw action for the Tigers before the final horn sounded.
“In the first quarter, I thought we played pretty well,” said HHS head coach Eric Sloan. “We were standing there exchanging punches with them and were only down 8-0 at the end of the first quarter. Then in the second quarter, they scored three times in about three minutes, and just like that, it doesn’t look like a contest.”
Senior running back Chance Mitchell led the Tigers’ offense, carrying the ball 17 times for 103 yards, while Burchett completed 5-of-16 passes for 40 yards. Senior Connor Wilson caught three of those throws for 22 yards.
Back from an injury for the second week, HHS senior lineman Chris Cichon recorded 7 tackles on defense (one for a loss) and added 4 assists. HHS senior Robbie Mortensen had 5 tackles and 5 assists, while Mitchell and sophomore Korbyn Tune each had 4 tackles.
Burchett’s injury was in keeping with his team’s apparent theme this season. The Tigers were down eight starters for the second straight week and had numerous players occupying positions they were barely familiar with. Two freshmen even started on the offensive line
“I don’t know if we’ve been snake-bitten, cursed or what, but it seems like any bad luck that can happen, we’re catching onto it right now,” Sloan said.
The good news is, many Houston youngsters are seeing time they otherwise wouldn’t.
“There were some typical rookie mistakes,” Sloan said, “but they’re playing their tails off in some unfortunate situations.”
Houston travels this week to Willow Springs. Sloan said he hopes that at least two of the injured players will return – seniors Devin Wallander and Tristan Leier – and maybe more.
“It’s amazing,” Sloan said. “You look at the group we had on paper in July compared to what we’re playing with now, and there are a lot of guys in totally opposite positions. It’s been a really weird year.”