ST. JOSEPH ◊ Whether it will mean anything will be determined next Thursday, but the Chillicothe High School football Hornets at least have positive momentum going into the 2012 district playoffs.
Friday night at Benton High School's Sparks Field, the Hornets won for the second time this season, snapping a 4-game slide, by shutting out the host Cardinals 21-0 in the regular-season finale.
Chillicothe will open the Class 3 District 6 playoffs "tournament" at 6-3 Macon next Thursday at 7 p.m.
Not only will CHS go into that game on a winning note, but also with ever-improving health after getting a couple of players back off the injured list in time for the Benton game and another likely to come back for the playoffs opener.
The Hornets also will have a bit of reinvigoration on both sides of the ball.
They generated only their second 100-yards rusher of the season – senior D.J. Gannan picked up 132 and one touchdown on 22 carries at Benton, found a bit of spark to the recently-moribund passing game on their long, win-clinching drive, and displayed a sticky-fingered pass defense in the form of four interceptions – albeit of very young and inexperienced Cardinals quarterbacks.
Gannan put up the only points it turned out Chillicothe would need when he popped free up the middle and, with one cut at about the BHS 25, lugged the ball 46 yards to the end zone in the final half-minute of the first period Friday at St. Joseph.
After the subsequent kickoff went out of bounds, Hornets sophomore cornerback DeEll Midgyett stepped in front of a short out-route throw to intercept it and run the ball back 17 yards to the BHS 23. Five offensive snaps later, Mason Palmer went around right end to score from six yards out and, with Gannan toeing the extra-point, gave Chillicothe a 14-0 lead.
After Midgyett's solid, low tackle knocked Benton star running back Dontae White out of the game on the ensuing drive, CHS free safety Tyler Clampitt cut in front of a slant-route throw at the Hornets goal line for the first of three thefts he had in the game. The trio of "picks," one shy of Buddy Beetsma's single-game Hornets record, give Clampitt now seven for the year, tied for third-most in a season.
An unforced Chillicothe fumble at its own 29 with 2-1/2 minutes left in the first half gave the Cardinals a gift-wrapped chance to get within a score at halftime, but after advancing the ball to the CHS 2 with under a half-minute to play, they were denied when the Hornets swarmed the next play for a 3-yards loss, Benton committed an illegal-procedure penalty, and then the Cardinals fumbled the snap of the final play of the half.
Clampitt's third interception of the night at his own 3 on a first-and-10 play late in the third period began nailing the Benton coffin shut. Even though they didn't move the ball that after Clampitt's runback, the Hornets' ensuing punt pushed Benton back to its own 29 to start again.
After a pair of first downs got the ball just into CHS territory, the Cardinals were left in fourth-and-long and chose to punt the ball away in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, pinning Chillicothe back at its own 7.
However, by the time Benton regained possession, only four minutes were left and Chillicothe was up by 21 points as the Hornets used a daring fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak inside their own 20 and a critical third-and-8 completion from Clampitt to Zach Alperin to move the yardsticks again. Now at their own 30, the visitors were on their way to a 14-plays, 93-yards touchdown drive with a 46-yards Clampitt-to-Alperin bomb the big gainer. The same duo collaborated one more time for the points, Alperin being all alone in the end zone on a crossing route on third-and-4 from the BHS 5 with 4:05 to go.
Chillicothe rushed for 203 yards, their second-best total of the season, against the 1-8 Cardinals, who finished the regular season in the Midland Empire Conference cellar at 0-7. Without the injured White, Benton managed only 197 yards of total offense, including completing only six of 24 passes.
Chillicothe wraps up the regular season 2-7, but in sixth place in the rugged MEC at 2-5. The five teams above them went a combined 10-0 in non-conference games and won a total of 36 games.
The toughness of the competition the Hornets faced from week three on makes them extremely-battle-tested as they move into postseason play against teams which, aside from Boonville and Fulton, faced almost-exclusively Class 2 or Class 1 foes. Six of the Hornets' nine foes were Class 4 teams