Chillicothe High School football Hornets will win district, reach state quarterfinals IF they beat Maryville at home again tonight
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — When the 2017 Chillicothe High School football Hornets squared off at home with the Maryville Spoofhounds on the first night of September, there were numerous sub-currents below what, at the surface, was simply the third overall game and first of seven Midland Empire Conference contests of their season.
Chillicothe had not defeated Maryville since 2008, including several blowout defeats, including a year earlier, but – with a strong senior class – was facing a Spoofhounds squad which had graduated nearly every starter from its 2016 Class 3 state runnerup squad.
In addition, Maryville had won or shared the past six MEC crowns, matching a conference standard set by CHS in the 1980s and early ’90s, and, if it downed the more-experienced Hornets, was looking to establish itself as the immediate front-runner to take an unprecedented seventh-consecutive title. It also was looking to extend its string of consecutive conference games won to 38 and consecutive regular-season games won to 48, spanning seven seasons.
Despite the physical, statistical, and psychological challenges, Chillicothe (10-1) was up to the task, scoring once in each quarter while blanking their nemesis and keenest gridiron rival in a 24-0 triumph. It would parlay that win into an eventual MEC co-championship with Smithville and the top seeding for the Class 3 District 8 playoffs.
Two months and two nights later, the Hornets tonight have a simpler equation before them: Win the district title and advance to the state quarterfinals a week from tomorrow or stow their gear and watch the fierce rival they’ve already defeated move on.
“Both of our teams know each other very well and the kids have played against each other since they were very young, so it’s a pretty good rivalry,” CHS’ Phil Willard, in his 20th season as his alma mater’s head coach, mused Wednesday.
“I know our kids are going to play hard. I know theirs are going to play hard. It ought to be a great football game.”
The overarching question, aside from who will win, is how much better the Spoofhounds (9-2) are, given the enhancement of their experience level by a full season’s play and the bolstering of their roster by the addition of one talented player from their 2016 club who wasn’t in uniform for the first duel and the greater availability of a promising younger player who was involved on only defense in his first game with the ’Hounds in that clash.
“The main thing is the addition of a couple of players they have – Eli Dowis, who’s a outstanding athlete, has moved in at a running back spot and corner spot (on defense) and Tate Oglesby, who’s moved into the other starting corner (post) and also is playing quarterback on their 2-point conversions – both of them (are) excellent athletes,” confirms the Chillicothe coach.
The improvement experience and the player additions has helped fuel for the ’Hounds is a given. Not to be overlooked, though, is that Chillicothe won the first contest with a lineup which included only three returning offensive starters and four returnees on defense. Now – like Maryville, having had the blessing of avoiding, through injury, long-term loss of any significant players, it has a fully-seasoned squad which has steadily raised its level of play all season.
“Overall, … their line has progressed throughout the year and has gotten better, but I think ours has, too,” coach Willard says of the teams’ critical players in the trenches.
“They’ve improved throughout the season, you can see,” Matt Webb, Maryville’s sixth-year head coach, sized up CHS. “We certainly hope we’ve improved, as well.”
Speaking of improvement, one facet of the game both coaches hope their respective teams improve on from the September clash is ball security.
Shockingly, the first CHS-MHS game this season ended with a combined eight turnovers – five by the Spoofhounds, including six total fumbles – four of which the Hornets recovered. All three Chillicothe giveaways were interceptions.
“Last time, we won the turnover battle and we’re hoping we can do that again,” coach Willard admits.
“We always talk about that being a huge factor,” Webb says of his team’s focus on slashing its turnovers this time.
In terms of personnel, aside from the lanky Dowis, an extensively-used running back a year ago who initially planned to sit out football this year to focus on his best sport – basketball, and Oglesby, the players Maryville utilizes on each side of the ball are essentially the same as in its first trip to Chillicothe.
On offense, Dowis primarily is used as a ballcarrier from either the backfield or on a wing/slot, while – to date – Oglesby has been used mostly at split end. Both are capable of throwing option passes.
“They do have a couple of ‘trick’ plays that they’ve used,” notes the CHS coach. “I’m sure we’re going to see some stuff we haven’t seen before.”
As coach Willard noted, both of those players have been either starting or playing extensively at cornerback on defense.
The Spoofhounds’ starting quarterback remains Will Walker, who has a strong arm and hit flanker/wingback Brady Atwell for early long score last week. Walker completed only four of 22 passes against CHS in September.
Aside from Dowis, a pair 205-pounders – junior Tyler Houchin and senior Jacob Reuter, recently returned from injury – provide power-run threats and reserve Mark Zahnd has some speed.
“They’ve predominantly gone back to their basic game that they’ve done for years,” coach Willard says of Maryville’s run-oriented approach as the season has moved along.
In addition to the turnovers it forced in the week three shutout of Maryville, Chillicothe’s defense throttled the Spoofhounds on 190 total yards – 126 rushing.
“Our defense just did a solid job in our first game,” lauds coach Willard. “That’s what we’ve got to have again.”
Working hand-in-glove with the defense this fall has been senior Jack Willard’s kicking.
His kickoffs – including 40 touchbacks – routinely have forced opponents to try to travel 80 yards or farther to score and the 2016 All-State punter is averaging 36.6 yards in ’17.
“The defense has given us great field position and our kicking game’s given us great field position all year,” praises coach Willard. “That’s something we want to continue.”
Offensively for Chillicothe, it tore through the ’Hounds for 310 rushing yards in the regular-season game, getting 152 and two scores on 21 carries by senior halfback Brett Shaffer and 96 more on 18 lugs by senior fullback Josh Kille, who scored once.
While Shaffer enters this game 30 shy of 1,000 ground yards – over one-fifth of his season carries came in that first game vs. Maryville, J. Kille has become the focal point of the running game as a powerful, yet shifty, back.
In eight contests since the first meeting with the Spoofhounds, he has gained 1,365 yards on 167 totes – an average of 8.2 yards a carry – and scored 29 touchdowns while smashing numerous Chillicothe records. In last week’s district-semifinal win over Kansas City: Pembroke Hill, he gained a career-high 259 yards and scored six times - including a 93-yards run – on merely 15 carries in one half.
Weather-wise, the teams apparently won't have to contend with a chilly rain. Game-time temperatures figure to be around 50 degrees, a bit milder than what they were last Friday, and the potential of rain has been lowered and mostly limited to the overnight hours tonight.
“You can’t let the weather, the elements bother you,” chides coach Willard. “You’ve just got to play through those things.”
The Hornets have been very good all season – in preparations and during games – in staying on task.
“I don’t care whether it’s been Cameron or it’s been Maryville, Smithville, whoever,” their coach compliments “… they know what we have to do.”
“It should be a great match between two programs with great tradition,” comments Webb.
“It’s going to come down to execution of fundamentals,” summarizes coach Willard, later expanding that to “it’s going to come down to a game of who’s going to make plays.
“If we can do that, I like our chances.”