CHS decisively ends 6-times defending Midland Empire Conference champion's 37-games league winning streak, 48-games regular-season wins skein with stout defense, ground attack
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — In the pantheon of victories in Chillicothe High School’s storied football history, Friday’s 24-0 triumph over the visiting Maryville Spoofhounds might not quite match the five state-title-winning games and probably rates a notch below the 2003 state-playoffs victory that ended Platte County’s 52-games winning streak, but it certainly deserves consideration to be among the 10 best ever.
With a performance displaying skill, power, and grit, the Hornets used one score in each quarter – starting with a field goal and followed by touchdowns – to subdue an opponent it had not bested since 2008 and which had won its last 37 Midland Empire Conference and 48 regular-season contests.
It also came at the expense of a program which last year equaled the MEC standard of 6-consecutive gridiron championship Chillicothe established in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Now, the 2017 Hornets have early self-control of preserving – for at least a while – their program’s continuing to share that distinction of the most consecutive MEC titles.
However, there is a long, long way to go to do so. While Friday’s thrilling, emotion-packed triumph – unquestionably CHS’ biggest yet on 6-years-old Bob Fairchild Field at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II – was a very big one, it also was just that: One.
One step along the trail to, potentially, Chillicothe’s first conference football crown since 2008. One step toward a possible top seeding – and home-field advantage – for the Class 3 District 16 playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season. One step along a path which, conceivably, could eventually scale the heights the program hasn’t ascended for a quarter-century.
Yes, it was only one win, but, oh, what a sweet one!
Because of the championship caliber of the opponent, CHS players, coaches, and fans could not afford the luxury of assuming victory until the last couple of minutes, despite the sizable lead the Hornets efficiently constructed and preserved over the course of the four quarters. However, once the clock stood at 0:00, the Chillicothe faithful who turned out in some of the largest numbers the new stadium has seen, could reflect and acknowledge this was a game the Hornets not only had won – and with surprising, but deserved, decisiveness, but had controlled and dictated from start to finish.
With a performance displaying equal parts of skill, power, and grit, the Hornets – seemingly delivering some manner of critical positive play every few snaps – scored each quarter, starting with a field goal and followed by touchdowns, to subdue an opponent which largely had toyed with CHS in recent years, including a shocking 61-14 hammering at Maryville a year ago.
“I was so proud of our kids, as hard as they played,” Phil Willard, in his 20th season as CHS head coach, reacted afterward. “They just didn’t give up.
“They had some adversity at times; we had some kids that ended up with (muscle) cramps and sucked it up and finished.”
While Chillicothe (3-0, 1-0 MEC) largely had the better of the play in both teams’ conference opener, there were a few moments when Maryville (2-1, 0-1) had openings to rally, only to be denied.
The first of those came late in the first half.
With Chillicothe in front 10-0 on Jack Willard’s 31-yards field goal just before the end of the opening stanza and Josh Kille’s 28-yards scoring burst off left tackle behind a wall of blockers less than three minutes later, the Spoofhounds sparked.
A low Willard punt was grabbed on the bounce at midfield by Quentin Ternus and returned 31 yards – the same distance of the kick – to the CHS 19.
With a pair of runs and then a late-substitution penalty on Chillicothe, Maryville had first-and-goal at the 3, seemingly about to be back on close terms.
However, the Hornets’ front seven caused two inside runs to net a 1-yard loss before Hornets senior cornerback Konner Sewell, a first-year starter who played superbly, broke up a third-down throw into the end zone and pressure from 4-years starting tackle Walker Graves forced a hurried release and incompletion on fourth down. The ball went back over to Chillicothe on downs at the 4 and, with one first down, it killed the rest of the half.
“Konner did a great job tonight,” coach Willard confirmed. “… He made several big plays.” That list included two forced fumbles and two or three pass breakups in single coverage.
Still owning that 10-0 lead as it retired to the locker room for the mid-game break, Chillicothe knew possession – and opportunity – awaited it on the other side of the break. It seized both.
Within the first minute of the second half, the Hornets had a hammerlock on victory.
Stopped inside their own 20 on the return of the kickoff, they sent senior running back Brett Shaffer off right tackle for seven yards on the first play, advancing the ball to their own 23.
With the ball on the right hashmark, the play call was for another Shaffer run, this time off tackle to the left. When Maryville’s defenders, after a pre-snap shift, slanted initially at the snap to the offense’s right, multiple Chillicothe blockers were able to get position to create a big crease for the speedy back. Bursting into the secondary at full gallop, track-and-field star Shaffer outran the cross-field pursuit of two Spoofhounds and took the ball 77 yards to the north end zone for a score that made it 16-0.
In a lucky, but important, break, Willard’s low, line-drive extra-point kick barely cleared the pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage and rose to maybe a foot above the crossbar as it reached the goalpost. Not only that, but the ball zeroed in on the upright to the offense’s left. Leather indeed met iron, but the glancing blow went, suitably on this night, in CHS’ favor. The ball caromed back to the right between the uprights and skittered on beyond the goalpost, making it good and the Chillicothe lead a more-daunting three scores, rather than two.
With the way the Hornets’ defense had played in the first half, that was a significant difference as, even if a mistake was made or Maryville came up with a perfectly-executed play that put it in the end zone, the Spoofhounds still would have to produce two other scores to catch or pass the hosts.
As things worked out, understandably diminished by the graduation of nearly their entire 2016 Class 3 state-runnerup starting lineup, they never could solve the CHS defense enough to put up even one score.
Uncharacteristically, MHS lost the ball on fumbles on 3-consecutive third-period possessions – Chillicothe forced two of them. However, the Hornets threw two interceptions of their own in that 5-minutes span and the margin stayed at 17 points.
Finally, after forcing a punt, CHS took possession at its 35 with 2:38 to go in the third quarter and delivered a sloooowwww-motion knockout punch.
Despite having four 2-way starters go down with calf muscle cramps or other short-term injuries for different, sometimes-overlapping, intervals from the second period on – briefly in the third quarter, both starting linebackers were shelved at the same time, Chillicothe dug deep and put the win on ice.
As backups and replacements shuttled in and out, play by play, the Hornets’ offense pushed the ball inexorably upfield. Twice, with aggressive belief, they converted on fourth-and-1 plays – first at their own 44 in the last minute of the third period and again at the MHS 45 three snaps into the fourth.
Eventually, the pounding weakened the visitors enough that five runs in a row netted between four and eight yards, allowing Chillicothe to get inside the Maryville 10.
On a third-and-1 play – the 16th snap of the possession – with a double-wing on the left side of the formation, Shaffer – who had, without telling anyone, sustained a hand injury in the opening period, an injury which, the C-T has learned, has since been determined to be a broken bone in a pinky – carried off the right side behind 2-times All-State tackle and fellow senior Graves. Spinning through one attempted tackle at about the 5, he fell into the end zone with only 5:50 left. When Willard drilled the extra point as Isaac Washburn filled in for cramped linebacker/tight end/deep snapper Trace Staton, Chillicothe had expanded its lead to 24 points with an 8:48 drive that cemented victory.
“You’ve got to have guys ready to come in off the bench and play and we had that,” coach Willard said of the lineup and positioning adjustments the unexpected cramping issues necessitated.
Maryville battled to try to avert the whitewash – its first since a 2006 league loss to Platte County. It moved from its 17 to the Hornets’ 18 before a desperation fourth-and-10 pass into the end zone was tipped into the air by junior cornerback Lavery Jones, who, like K. Sewell, played extraordinarily well in his first “big” game, allowing Shaffer to reach in and swipe it.
“That’s been a thing that’s kind of let us down a little bit is, sometimes against Maryville, they’ve been able to (have receivers) run by us and get some big scores and they weren’t able to do that tonight,” coach Willard praised not only the two first-year starting cornerbacks, but the entire secondary. “That made a big difference.”
After Chillicothe punted, the Spoofhounds made one last bid, going from the CHS 43 to the 21 on a long, third-down run before K. Sewell made the last of his multiple key plays in both run and pass defense. He hit a MHS ballcarrier and, when joined by teammates, yanked the ball free for a sixth ’Hounds fumble and fifth turnover of the night as Shaffer recovered.
“We made some plays when we had to,” remarked coach Willard. “Defensively, I was really proud of those kids. That goal-line stand was big and … the drive that went 16 plays and took (more than) eight minutes off the clock – that was big.”
While so much happened – most of it good for CHS – later in the game, the early tone it set, mainly with its defense, was hyper-critical to the triumph.
With one exception a couple of years ago, Maryville has used strong starts to put the underdog Hornets under the gun from the outset in their meetings the previous five or six years.
Coach Willard had acknowledged, in the days leading up to the game, that staying on essentially-even terms or better – especially early – would be important for his squad, strategically and psychologically.
The Hornets did just that right from the opening kickoff.
J. Willard’s game-starting boot carried into the end zone for a touchback, leaving MHS to begin at its own 20.
Even with a free five yards from an overanxious CHS defensive unit before the first play, the Spoofhounds went three and out, losing three of the five gifted yards before punting.
Starting from their own 46, the Hornets produced two first downs to have first-and-10 at the Maryville 22. However, another pre-snap infraction before a third-and-10 play led to a different play call and, taking a risk, J. Willard’s lob into coverage trying to hit Shaffer was intercepted and returned to the 18.
Once more, the Chillicothe defense forced a punt after three plays, Shaffer’s sure tackle in space stopping 210-pounds Mary-ville fullback Jake Reuter a yard short of the first-down marker.
Chillicothe set up shop a bit farther back this time at its 35, but used double-digits gains by all three of its running backs – J. Kille, Dylan Munson, and Shaffer – to move the ball 56 yards in 10 plays to the Maryville 9.
When the march was halted there, J. Willard drilled a 31-yards field goal from the left hashmark right down the middle of the goalposts from Shaffer’s hold off Staton’s perfect snap.
Up 3-0 11 seconds before the end of the first period, Chillicothe had set the early tone it desired and took off from there.
Another Maryville 3-and-out and another punt gave the Hornets the ball at virtually midfield (their own 49).
Three plays later, on third-and-5, J. Willard scrambled up the middle past several defenders to pick up 18 yards. On the next play, with the left side of the line caving in Maryville’s defense and motioning back Munson and pulling guard Adler Marshall picking up strays, J. Kille angled wide off left tackle and scored untouched from 28 yards out for, with the conversion kick, a 10-0 lead.
The victory gained, the Chillicothe head coach was only too aware that the now-somewhat-inexperienced first-year MHS starters will be a much-saltier bunch if and when the two teams meet in the district playoffs a couple of months from now. Add in a couple of talented all-around athletes who, after initially opting not to come back out for football this season, now have rejoined the team and Maryville figures to be significantly improved by late October.
“Maryville’s still a good football team and they’re going to be better toward the end of the year,” coach Willard observed.
Much more immediately, Chillicothe will turn its sights to its next game – Friday, Sept. 8, at winless Cameron.
“That’s a danger after coming off a big game is having a letdown,” the CHS head coach warily confirmed, in regard to getting ready for Cameron. “… We don’t want to let that happen. We hope we can come out and play well and keep improving.”
Statistically. CHS unofficially had a solid 320-190 advantage in total offense in its victory over Maryville, 310 of its yards coming on the ground.
Getting by far his heaviest workload of his career to date, Shaffer finished with 152 yards and the two scores on 21 carries. J. Kille banged his way nearly to the century mark, too, finishing with 96 yards on 18 carries, including his second-period score. He had 89 of his yards before intermission.
Adler Marshall paced the tackling with nine stops – five solo – and a fumble forced. Shaffer had five unassisted tackles, three helps, a fumble recovery, and a "pick."
Neither side had much luck throwing the ball, finishing a combined five of 29 with four interceptions and only 64 yards.
Chillicothe won the critical turnovers battle by the unexpectedly-high count of 5-3.