Two big-play touchdowns in first quarter, stellar defense the last three periods lift Hornets to victory.
By PAUL STURM, Constitution-Tribune Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A pair of first-period lightning-strike touchdowns and stellar defense in the shadow of their own goalposts repeatedly over the last three quarters lifted the Chillicothe High School football Hornets to a 14-6 victory in their 2014 season opener Friday night at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II.
Addressed in the locker room not long before the game by retired CHS coaching legend and national football coaching Hall of Famer Bob Fairchild and members of Fairchild's undefeated 1978 state champions, the Hornets came out like gangbusters, then eventually had to fend off self-immolation.
After the defense, following a fine Marshall kickoff return to near midfield, set a game-long tone by holding Marshall on the season's first series, the Hornets' young offensive line executed perfectly and sent junior running back Mason Hayward on his way to a 74-yards touchdown run on Chillicothe's first offensive play of the season.
Late in the opening period, the Hornets converted decent field position into a second TD with a couple of big plays.
Backup fullback Cole Distler popped through large gap the left side of the line provided for a 24-yards pickup from the CHS 37 to the Marshall 39. After a loss and a Hornets procedure penalty, Chillicothe used some chicanery to double its lead. From the 47, Hayward took a pitchout and headed toward the right end of the formation, but soon slowed and raised his right arm to throw. His lofted aerial arced over a defender at about the Marshall 25-yard-line and dropped neatly in the hands of fellow running back Aaron Baker, who was angling toward the east sideline. Making the catch, Baker had clear sailing to the north end zone and, after Wagner Chapman's second successful point-after kick, Chillicothe led 14-0 with 15 seconds remaining in the first stanza.
Those would be Chillicothe's last points – it never seriously threatened to score again, but they proved to be enough, thanks only to some stone-wall defense.
Following another good kickoff return which set the visiting Owls up at their 48, Marshall used a 23-yards pass to get the ball inside the Hornets' 20 early in quarter No. 2. However, after having first-and-10 at the 17, the visitors stood fourth-and-1 at the 8 when CHS senior defensive end Matt Shaffer perfectly executed his containment assignment as MHS quarterback Zach Maupin tried to sprint out for a possible pass. Shaffer forced Maupin to try to set up and throw, then sacked him before he could, giving the Hornets the ball on downs with an 8-yards loss.
That presaged a second-half showing by the Chillicothe defense which saw it stop the Owls on downs inside the Chillicothe 5 twice on consecutive possessions and then turn them away again on the next possession after Marshall had second-and-1 at the Hornets' 11.
Finally, after returning a punt 24 yards to the CHS 26 on the first play of the fourth quarter, the visitors got on the scoreboard. A second-and-long completion to the 1-yard line on which Chillicothe just missed breaking up the pass led to Maupin's quarterback-sneak score two plays later. However, on the conversion kick attempt, a momentary delay while the holder scooped up a low snap gave Hornet Luke Plummer time to penetrate up the middle and block the kick, keeping the score 14-6.
With its lead down to one possession with 9:47 remaining, the Chillicothe offense finally pulled itself back together after struggling second and third quarters.
A well-executed toss sweep to DeEll Midgyett on third-and-7 looked destined to produce first-down yardage when an Owls defender stretched out and grabbed the ballcarrier by the neck opening of his shoulder pads and yanked him to the artificial turf of Bob Fairchild Field. The illegal "horse collar" tackle gave the Hornets 15 yards and the first down.
Kyle Ross, who led the CHS defensive performance with, unofficially, nine tackles – eight solo, converted a third-and-4 on a jet sweep to extend the possession. By the time the Hornets relinquished the ball on a punt, Marshall had exactly four minutes left to try to tie the game and 66 yards to cover.
The CHS defense said, "Nothing doing," twice more, denying Marshall a first down on each occasion. The final stop gave the Chillicothe offense back the ball at the Owls' 28 with 55 seconds remaining and the visitors out of timeouts. Two kneeldowns allowed the home team and crowd to fully celebrate.
Statistically, Chillicothe had the better of things, too. Unofficially, it rushed for 244 yards on 42 carries and had 293 total yards. Its most glaring deficiency was the four second-half fumbles it had, three of which it lost, setting the stage for the second-half defensive heroics.
Marshall unofficially produced 261 total yards – 134 on the ground and 127 in the air, but its average gain on the ground was less than four yards and it completed only nine of 27 throws. The Owls did not have a turnover.
Individually for CHS, Midgyett finished just shy of the century mark running the ball. He racked up 98 yards on 20 totes. Thanks to his long opening carry, Hayward totaled 89 yards on only four runs. With his TD throw, the junior had 136 yards of total offense.
Chillicothe's next game will be at Kirksville next Friday, Aug. 29.