Relentless running game keys second CHS win of 2018, 40-33 over winless, small-roster St. Joseph Catholic school team Friday (Oct. 12).
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Scientifically, lightning always creates thunder, although of varying volume and tone. The Chillicothe High School football Hornets, to their good fortune, defied that principle last Friday, gaining only their second victory by creating more thunder than St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond’s Golden Eagles generated lightning.
A late-season clash of Midland Empire Conference squads covetous of rarely- or never-experienced 2018 success saw Bishop LeBlond (0-8, 0-6 conf.) generate lightning-strike touchdown plays of 78 and 64 yards, but Chillicothe (2-6, 2-4 conf.) rumbled repeatedly – like rolling thunder – for over 370 rushing yards that eventually earned the Hornets a 40-33 triumph.
“It was a dogfight and I expected as much,” Tim Rulo, first-year Chillicothe head coach, reflected shortly after the win. “They’re hungry. They want to get a ‘W.’”
He added, “You don’t want to give up the big plays, but we fought and got better and improved and were able to come away with the win.”
The CHS triumph likely will lead to consecutive games against this Friday’s final regular-season opponent, St. Joseph: Benton. Those two are almost-certain to finish fourth and fifth in Class 3 District 16 in some order, which will mean they square off in the first (quarterfinal) round of the district playoffs next week.
Chillicothe will try to win back-to-back contests for the first time under Rulo when it visits Benton Friday.
Friday’s CHS victory was never easy nor was it expected to be. However, nearly tying a program record, the Hornets did prevail at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II with a time-of-possession performance that would please the stadium field’s namesake, long-time CHS coach Bob Fairchild.
The Hornets’ offensive line pushed the undermanned, smaller Golden Eagles back from the line of scrimmage to allow repetitive solid, if smaller, gains in the running game that led to a huge 76-37 CHS margin in offensive plays run and 448-295 total yardage advantage.
“I was really proud of how those guys performed,” Rulo saluted. “… The game is won up front and we were able to run the ball really well.”
The Hornets earned 26 first downs, according to play-by-play statistics kept by the C-T. That’s only one less than the CHS-record total the 2014 Hornets had in a 35-27 district playoffs win against Richmond just under four years ago.
In spite of Chillicothe’s dominance of ball possession, its win wasn’t assured until the yardsticks moved for the last of those 26 times following Jaden Winder’s 3-yards quarterback sneak on a second-and-1 with about 1:40 left in the game. That conversion allowed CHS to run out the clock with three kneeldowns and finish its regular-season home schedule with a break-even 2-2 mark.
The home team moved the ball virtually every time it had it. However, the big-play capabilities of Bishop LeBlond senior quarterback Frankie Gall and senior wide receiver Jaren Guck kept the determined guests right in the game.
The Golden Eagles twice led, including 19-18 at halftime after Guck took a tunnel screen pass from Gall and slashed through the CHS secondary for a 24-yards score 29 seconds before intermission. The touchdown tied the score and Luke Metcalf’s extra-point kick gave the St. Joseph Catholic school’s team, which has only 23 healthy players available, the slight edge at intermission.
The first time the CHS offense was on the field after halftime, plowed through the BLHS defense to the tune of a 12-plays, 70-yards march. Quarterback Jaden Winder terminated it with a 4-yards sneak for a touchdown which gave the Hornets their third lead midway through the third stanza.
As happened once in the first half, Bishop LeBlond called down the lightning on its subsequent possession and answered in less than a minute.
On the Golden Eagles’ second play, Gall zipped a perfectly-placed pass to Guck – a senior who had not played football for the Golden Eagles before this year – down the left seam on an “X” route where Guck and an inside receiver criss-crossed. When a CHS defensive back missed trying to break up the pass, Guck made the catch in stride and sped the remaining 50 yards or so unimpeded for a 78-yards touchdown play. Metcalf booted the conversion and, for the first time since it was 0-0, the clubs were deadlocked with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
“When you play a team that throws the ball like that, their ability to score – that quick-strike idea – is a challenge,” Rulo observed. “When you give up a big one, it’s six points.”
Chillicothe’s offense was not fazed, returning to the field and doing what it did incessantly – grind out first downs. When that again led to a touchdown, the Hornets moved in front for keeps.
CHS used 14 plays and over six minutes of game time before Winder again followed the surge of the center of the line to paydirt, this time from five yards away. His conversion kick left Chillicothe possessing a 33-26 lead with 10:15 to play.
As it did to begin the final half, the Chllicothe defense again stymied the BLHS offense, forcing it to punt. A short kick gave the ball back to Chillicothe at the BLHS 48 with 8:25 left.
Methodically pushing the ball toward the goal line, Chillicothe ran nine plays and drained another four minutes off the clock before Cade Koehly, who had his third 100-yards-rushing game of the season, pounded in off right guard from the 4. Another Winder kick and, with only 4:42 to go, Chillicothe at last had a 2-scores lead, which proved to be enough.
“Very happy that our guys improved in the second half,” complimented Rulo. “Winning the second half is something we haven’t done this year.”
Sparked by a long Gall completion to Guck, Bishop LeBlond used exactly half of that remaining time to cut the CHS lead in half, but never got the ball back. Isaac Washburn made a surehanded reception of an onside kick and the Hornets’ offense then sealed the deal.
Friday’s “Senior Night” game, which saw Rulo have each of the eight Hornets seniors open either the first offensive or defensive series on the field, began with an 11-plays CHS drive that stalled at the Bishop LeBlond 30.
After the Hornets’ defense, as it did several times in the game, repelled the Golden Eagles in three plays, prompting a punt, the offense came back on at midfield and, in six plays, produced the first points.
Double-digits run gains by Koehly and Kam Ward helped advance the ball to the BLHS 10, from where K. Ward scampered around right end and just inside the pylon for the touchdown at the 3:39 mark of the opening quarter.
Less than 15 seconds of game time later, the Golden Eagles found paydirt as, on the first play of their possession, Gall kept the ball up the middle on a zone-read run and scooted 64 yards to the south end zone. Chillicothe did manage to maintain its lead, however, when the conversion kick went wide left.
A pass interception by the visitors on a too-high throw was returned inside the Hornets’ 30 and, seven plays later, Kyle Knapp carried the ball in from three yards away for a 12-7 Bishop LeBlond lead four plays into the second quarter.
The Hornets replied with back-to-back scores of their own, although only one was a touchdown.
On a fourth-and-9, Winder found Brad Hayen, who appeared to get away with pass interference to create space to make the catch, for a 38-yards TD pass. As with K. Ward’s first-quarter scoring run, it was Hayen’s first varsity touchdown. Winder’s run on the conversion made it 15-12, Chillicothe.
Forcing another Golden Eagles punt, the Hornets drove from their own 14 to the Bishop LeBlond 17 before, on fourth-and-11, Winder hit CHS’ first field goal attempt of the season from 34 yards away for an 18-12 margin.
Guck’s score and Metcalf’s point-after kick in the last half-minute of the half then sent the visitors to their locker room up by one.
Statistically, topped by Koehly’s 121 rushing yards on 20 carries and K. Ward’s 96 on 14 attempts, eight different CHS ballcarriers used the blocks of their linemen and fellow backs to rack up about 371 rushing yards. Five of those eight rushers had more than 30 yards.
In addition to his two scoring runs and TD pass, Winder took on all of the team’s placekicking responsibilities in the game and delivered two conversion kicks and the field goal. With his conversion run, too, he provided 19 of Chillicothe’s 40 points and had his hand in another six on the hookup with Hayen.
While, for the first time all season, the Hornets did not fumble at all, it did wind up a negative two in the turnovers category, although one of the two interceptions Winder had was essentially inconsequential on the last play of the first half.
“With that, you’re going to see more success (moving the ball).,” noted Rulo.
By not fumbling, five CHS offensive possessions lasted at least nine snaps, producing three touchdowns and the field goal.
“That’s great, to see that our guys were able to execute for that long a period (of time),” the Hornets’ coach acknowledged.