By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON «» A field goal made and a field goal blocked made the difference Friday night as the Chillicothe High School football Hornets edged the Cameron Dragons 17-14 in Midland Empire Conference play at Dave Goodwin Field.
After junior defensive end Matt Shaffer made his second fumble recovery of the quarter at the Cameron 9 in a 14-14 game, the Hornets' Zach Alperin booted a 25-yards field goal with 13 seconds left in the third period, giving Chillicothe the lead once more.
In the middle of the final quarter, after a costly third-and-2 procedure infraction set them back, the host Dragons followed a third-down incompletion with a 41-yards field-goal try by strong-legged and accurate Andrew Carr. However, Chillicothe's DeEll Midgyett dashed in from the defensive left side to get a hand on Carr's attempt, causing it to fall far short and preserve the 3-points lead.
With 4:09 to go, Chillicothe took possession at its 20 and ran out the clock behind yeoman work by its makeshift offensive line, which paved the way for four first downs on 10 running plays. Having advanced the ball all the way to the Cameron 24, the Hornets ran Cameron out of timeouts and handed the resurgent Dragons their first 2013 loss after three wins. A week after losing to Maryville, the Hornets moved to 2-0 on the road and 3-1 on the season with their win, which left both them and Cameron 1-1 in the MEC.
Chillicothe will return home next Friday for its Homecoming, facing St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond, which bounced back from its 41-14 loss to Cameron the week before with a near-upset of defending league and state champion Maryville before losing 18-16.
"We knew coming into the season the MEC was going to be pretty balanced," Chillicothe head coach Phil Willard remarked, "even more than it has been the last few years. Getting wins is going to be tough every week."
Chillicothe never trailed in Friday's game, but did let a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter disappear.
Hayden Major's catch of a 10-yards Tyler Clampitt pass capped the Hornets' first possession of the game and gave them – with Alperin's conversion kick – a 7-0 lead midway through the opening stanza. Chillicothe got possession at the Dragons' 36 when Clampitt intereepted an overthrown third-down pass and returned it 17 yards. The pick was the third this season by the senior safety and allowed him to equal the Hornets' career record set by Doug Switzer when he snared 12 during the 1978 state-championship season. That was the only year Switzer played high school football.
Later in the first quarter, Chillicothe's defense, which played a fourth-straight strong game and produced three takeaways, held on downs at its 28 as Major and Gillen Gates took turns knocking down pass attempts as they rushed quarterback Dakota Calhoon. Calhoon failed to complete any of his four pass attempts on the night.
Page 2 of 3 - The Hornets' offense then had its best sequence of the night, marching 72 yards in 16 plays over a span of 7:25 to score a second touchdown. Featuring 45 rushing yards on five Midgyett carries and sustained by a 14-yards, third-and-7 completion to Gates from Clampitt, the march culminated with Tyler Long's 3-yards carry just over four minutes into the second period. Alperin's kick made it 14-0, Chillicothe.
Cameron responded with its own long drive and capitalized on a disputed pass-interference penalty which wiped out an apparent incompletion on third-and-4 from the Chillicothe 18 to get its first points a minute before halftime. Two plays after the penalty, Joe Pratt powered into the end zone from three yards out and Carr's kick cut the intermission gap in half at 14-7.
The Dragons' offense would not score again, but that didn't keep the home team from quickly tying the game after halftime.
The Cameron defense forced a 3-and-out, prompting a punt from the Hornets' 26. Kody Peterson caught Alperin's 33-yards boot at his 41, dodged a couple of early would-be tacklers and found clear sailing up the Dragons' sideline. Cutting back left as a blocker occupied the last defender, Anderson cruised into the end zone with the 59-yards TD return and, when Carr booted the PAT, the game was tied 14-14 only 2:08 into the third period.
At that point, all of the momentum was with Cameron and that only increased when the Hornets lost a yard when trying to convert a fourth-and-2 at their 44 on the next series. The Dragons, whose last victory over Chillicothe came in 2006, took possession less than 45 yards away from leading for the first time.
That's when the Hornets' defense, which allowed four second-half touchdowns to Maryville the week before, stepped to the fore.
Stopping two-straight runs for no gain, Chillicothe pushed Cameron into third-and-long. Top Dragons ballcarrier Joe Pratt then mishandled a pitchout – possibly because he was intending to throw an option pass – and junior end Shaffer, starting in place of injured Elliott Keller, won the race for the loose ball at the 48.
The Chillicothe offense failed to do anything, but, from shotgun formation on fourth-and-11, Clampitt punted the ball 51 yards to the Cameron 2.
Three plays later, Calhoon lost the handle on the ball on a third-and-2 play and once more Shaffer was johnny-on-the-spot to cover it in a pileup at the Dragons' 7.
Again, the Hornets' running game could not do anything against a Cameron defense which spent much of the night run-blitzing against passing-shy Chillicothe. Alperin's kick out of the hold of Jared Lauhoff following a good snap from center Caleb Stull bailed the offense out and restored the visitors to the lead. "Our defense got us the ball back there when we didn't have anything going offensively," Willard noted. "That gave us the chance to get back in front."
Page 3 of 3 - Although it didn't seem likely at the time, those turned out to be the winning points.
Statistically, the most important numbers of the game likely was the 3-0 advantage in takeaways which favored Chillicothe. Through four games, the Hornets had 11 takeaways and only one giveaway, a huge aspect of their 3-1 start.
Yardage-wise, Chillicothe unofficially out-gained Cameron 208-181. The Hornets' Tyler Long led all ballcarriers with 89 yards, but needed 26 carries to get them. Pratt, who had topped the century mark in the Dragons' first three contests, was limited to 77 yards on 20 totes.
Already dealing with injury issues among its interior linemen, Chillicothe took another hit – a big one – late in the third quarter when junior Chance Holcer, who was having an all-conference type of year at defensive tackle, suffered what looked to be a severe ankle or lower leg injury. His return to action this season seems highly questionable.
Already missing the game were Keller and Lake Still, both 2-way starters on the line, and top backup Connor Bonderer. In their stead, the likes of Jared Cox, Austin Sharp, and Caleb Ashford filled in admirably in the trenches. Sharp and Cox helped create the space for several of the sizable gains Chillicothe had on the final possession that ran out the clock.
"Austin and Jared have come in and done a nice job the last couple of weeks," Willard praised, "and then Caleb comes in when Holcer goes down and helps us hold on."