Koehly tops 100 yards on ground, offense shaves turnovers, nets 274 yards in Friday (Oct. 5, 2018) 57-13 home loss to Spoonemore-fed Savannah

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Devastated defensively by multiple big plays from the legs – not the arm – of Savannah Savages junior quarterback Chase Spoonemore, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets nevertheless displayed their best offensive execution of a thus-far tough season last Friday in SHS’ 57-13 Midland Empire Conference victory at Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II.

The versatile Spoonemore had first-half touchdown runs of 80 and 79 yards and 230 rushing yards on only five carries prior to intermission as Savannah surged to a big lead, but Chillicothe (1-6, 1-4 MEC) sharply reduced its offensive giveaways and regularly moved the ball with runs both inside and outside and hit on some passes that helped lead to nearly 275 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns.

“I was very happy with many aspects of what we did,” Tim Rulo, first-year Hornets head coach, remarked afterward. “Very happy with how our offense played. When you have almost 300 yards of total offense, you’ve got to feel really happy about how you are moving the ball, because they kept their varsity starters out there the whole time. We were able to score and we were so close to scoring some other times, too.”

The Hornets’ offense ended a scoring drought that extended back to the first half of a fall-from-ahead loss at Kansas City: St. Pius X two weeks earlier.

CHS senior fullback Cade Koehly had 110 of the team’s 207 rushing yards, scoring from 33-yards out – CHS’ longest run to date this season – on a nicely-timed cutback run on an early second-period dive play.

The other Hornets touchdown was scored on a 5-yards quarterback sneak by Jaden Winder early in the fourth quarter, briefly returning the game to normal timekeeping procedures before the Savages (5-2, 5-0 MEC) added a couple more scores.

Experiencing – against a quality team – the drive-sustaining rewards of not turning the ball over as often, Chillicothe will try to use that as a springboard to scoreboard success as it faces opponents (St. Joseph’s winless Bishop LeBlond at home this coming Friday and then at 1-win Benton) it should be very competitive with the final two weeks of the regular season.

By not repeatedly handing the ball back over to the foe within a few plays of gaining possession, the Hornets’ offense was able to get some “rhythm” to its play-calling and execution, which fostered self-confidence.

In fact, CHS did not have a 3-and-out all game. Aside from its possessions at the end of each half that were halted in progress by the expiration of time, Chillicothe ran at least six offensive plays every time it possessed the ball. Even the two possessions that concluded with turnovers lasted 11 and seven plays, respectively.

“Ball security improves; we look better,” the CHS coach mused. “It’s funny how that works. It’s not rocket science, right?

“The guys did a great job and we actually did less ball-security drills (in practice last) week. … Very grateful to see us holding onto the football better.”

If the offense can execute as well as it did against Savannah and the defense improves some, the Hornets have the potential to close the regular schedule with consecutive victories that almost-certainly would put them fourth in the final district standings and allow them to host a first-round district game against a beatable foe.

“Proud of our guys,” Rulo declared.

He immediately elaborated, “Not satisfied by any means, but optimistic – very optimistic – for what the rest of the season can hold.

“… We’ve got to say, ‘What do I need to do? What’s the next thing I need to do to get better, the next ‘box’ I need to check, so I can improve? The higher we’re able to execute – coaches, right?, players – the better we’re going to be.”

“Not satisfied, but hopeful,” he summed up his outlook.

While Friday’s loss to Savannah was anticipated by many, the final margin could have been significantly closer.

Twice in the first half, the Hornets had a pass receiver open and in position to potentially score, only to have the ball be enough off-target to result in an incompletion. Just by themselves, those 12-14 points mathematically would reduce the final spread to around 30 points.

By extrapolation, being before halftime, they could have affected the teams’ mindsets at intermission, even if all they did was make it 37-20. However, had CHS put those points on the board simply by improved execution and not requiring a change in Savannah’s performance, at least two or three subsequent Savages touchdowns might not have come about, as least at the time and in the manner they did.

Had the first missed connection been made, when Koehly scored early in the second period, the score would have been 23-12 or 23-13 and, very clearly in contention, Chillicothe might have opted not to send the ensuing kickoff deep to clearly-dangerous Jadon Brady. Rather than him producing Savannah’s fourth kick-return TD and his third in the past three games, the Savages would have had to use at least some more time to score its next touchdown.

Even assuming SHS did punch it in on such a possession, the time it used likely would have meant Spoonemore’s weaving 79-yards scoring trek with 1:11 wouldn’t have had time to take place. And, similar to the earlier missed CHS touchdown chance, had the second potential TD pass happened, it could have within the last few seconds of the half and made it a 2-scores-or-less game at halftime.

Even in the reality of those missed Chillicothe scoring opportunities and the 31-points halftime margin and Savannah likely losing a bit of its mental “edge” and starting to look ahead to this week’s title-deciding home game against MEC co-leader Maryville once it put the “running clock” into use initially not quite four minutes into the second half, the visitors still used its first-stringers throughout the contest. So, the improvement Chillicothe’s defense made in the last 24 minutes was legitimate to at least some degree.

Spurred by Spoonemore, the Savages had right at 270 total yards before halftime. After it, though, that total was more than halved by the CHS defense.

In addition to Spoonemore’s three touchdowns runs – he also dodged in from a yard away in the fourth quarter, top running back Titan Irvine had scoring runs of one, 11, and 26 yards.

Rulo saluted “their ability to score with so many different guys (Irvine, Spoonemore, Brady),” acknowledging the Savages have “a lot of talent, lot of different speed and ability.”

Helped by the return from the 1-game injury absence of senior center Drake Lightner, the Hornets averaged just over five yards per carry in the opening half, although that yielded only six points. A long, opening drive died on a pass interception in the end zone on a third-and-9 play from the SHS 14 and the aforementioned two incompletions on potential touchdown passes thwarted later possessions that had promise.

The game sharply tipped Savannah’s way late in the first quarter.

On the first play after a CHS punt into the end zone, Spoonemore went 80 yards untouched on a zone-read keeper up the middle as the Savages doubled their lead to 16-0.

Then, after CHS dodged a bullet when its lost fumble on the ensuing kickoff was balanced by Kam Ward’s second pass interception of the season, a too-high punt snap led to an incomplete pass that gave SHS the ball at the Chillicothe 29.

A 3-plays “drive” Irvine completed with his 11-yards run meant, in a span of 3:28, Chillicothe went from trailing 8-0 and having had two good or decent offensive series to trailing by three scores. However, in contrast to the prior contest at St. Joseph: Lafayette, the Hornets didn’t disintegrate.

“The Lafayette game was definitely not how we wanted to be,” Rulo acknowledged the upgraded response to adversity. “I was just glad to see us respond in a positive way, because we’ve got to keep ‘climbing the mountain.’ There’s a lot left in the season.”

Statistically, while the Hornets still committed three turnovers, the game’s differential in that category was a much-more-palatable one as CHS had two takeaways – Ward’s interception and Isaac Washburn’s recovery of a botched Spoonemore-Irvine handoff exchange.

Even though the regular season to date hasn’t produced the won-lost results anyone would have hoped for, the reduction in turnovers against Savannah and how that one thing can translate to markedly-better overall performance offered perhaps the clearest indication yet that more-favorable results could be closer than they seem at times.

“It isn’t just the first day or the second day or the third day,” Rulo compared reshaping the CHS program after its forced, extreme makeover and developing its largely-inexperienced and young personnel to the arduous task of altering some personal aspect or habit of one’s everyday life, “sometimes it’s many days in a row.

“It’s the same out here. You’ve just got to get better at one thing, that one thing you can improve on (at a time), and, if all 11 guys (on a unit) or the entire 62 guys (in the program) can do that – get better at something, over the course of time, we all know we’re going to be better.”

“… We just want to make the fans proud.”

While being only their fourth home appearance, the Hornets’ clash with winless Bishop LeBlond this Friday will be their regular-season home finale.

Since the shift to the state’s new playoffs system in 2012, every other year, nearly every team in the state has only four home games. This is such a year for CHS, the situation seeming more stark by the fact that, a year ago, the five regular-season home games were followed by three more contests on Bob Fairchild Field in the district playoffs.