CHS captures third victory in succession with four unanswered touchdowns in last two periods after 14-0 lead had flipped into 20-14 halftime deficit Friday (Oct. 26, 2018)

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — After an outstanding start and a spaced-out second quarter in their 2018 Class 3 District 8 opener Friday night, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets stood at a crossroads.

The painstaking effort they’d used to weather a struggling first six games of their season and salvage a 3-6 regular-season mark with back-to-back victories the previous two weeks was on the verge of being diluted, if not washed away almost entirely, as they trailed visiting St. Joseph: Benton 20-14 at intermission in a game they’d led 14-0 after one stanza.

Would they be able to adjust and refocus and recapture the advantage in the last 24 minutes or would the reprieve they’d given the desperate Cardinals uplift their foe to continued strong play following halftime and eventually a payback victory over a team which had defeated the south St. Joseph team on its own field seven nights before?

Chillicothe answered in the affirmative to the first of those options.

It drove nine plays and 70 yards with the opening possession of the third quarter to reclaim the lead on Kam Ward’s 19-yards run and Jamacin Carr point-after kick and scored 27 unanswered, post-intermission points to gain a 41-20 win that extends their first season under head coach Tim Rulo and his revamped staff at least one more week.

By posting a third win in succession, the Hornets (4-6) advanced in the postseason playoffs to the district semifinals. That means a second journey to Maryville to face the 9-1 Spoofhounds, the defending state champions who upset favored CHS in Chillicothe in last year’s district final en route to their state crown.

Maryville, which swamped the 2018 Hornets 47-0 in early September, did not have to play this weekend to move into the semifinals. At mid-week, MHS’ scheduled opponent, Kansas City: Northeast, gave notice it was forfeiting the contest.

At home on Bob Fairchild Field at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II this past Friday, Chillicothe’s fortunes rode a first-half seesaw before the Hornets kept all the weight on their end of the board after halftime.

The game’s opening play – a CHS kickoff to Benton – resulted in Dawson Wheeler and Brock Ward forcing a fumble which kicker Carr recovered at the BHS 38.

Following an offsides penalty and inside run for little gain, junior halfback Isaak Rasche took a toss going around right end, cut inside an unblocked defender, and dashed, untouched, for 34 yards and a touchdown a mere 51 ticks of the clock into the action.

When, with 2:23 to go in the opening period, fullback Wheeler popped through a quick inside hole and had clear sailing to the end zone 43 yards distant, Chillicothe – with Carr’s second successful conversion kick – led 14-0 and seemed destined to dominate.

However, a Benton TD on the second snap of the second quarter, a Hornets fumble of the ensuing kickoff runback, and a second Cardinals score in less than 2-1/2 minutes had the score knotted, 14-14, less than three minutes after the teams switched ends of the field.

When the guests then bolted 81 yards in four plays and only 32 seconds, Chillicothe went to the locker room a stunned squad, behind 20-14.

The break, however, allowed for some alterations and adjustments, as well as a clearing of the Hornets’ collective mind.

After the opening third-period march put CHS back on top, a Benton ballcarrier, in his effort to get away from a tackler on a sweep, ended up losing 20 yards on the play, the Cardinals faced a fourth-and-20 two plays later and lined up to punt.

The snap on the would-be kick went high and just over the punter’s head. While he retreated and picked up the ball up inside the BHS 5-yard line, shook free of a would-be tackler, and got a kick away, the ball only carried back to the line of scrimmage – the Cardinals’ 34, where the Hornets covered it.

Chillicothe capitalized on the huge break with quarterback Jaden Winder following his 19-yards keeper to the 5 with a 2-yards sneak two plays later. When Benton ran into Carr after his conversion attempt went went left, the Hornets got a second try and Winder carried the ball in for a 2-points conversion and 2-possession lead, 29-20, with 2:12 to go in the third period.

The punt mishap and CHS touchdown seemed to turn the tide decisively.

Although Benton earned a couple of first downs on its next series, it eventually failed to convert a fourth-and-6 just inside CHS territory. The Hornets capitalized on the decent field position to go 62 yards in six plays, converting, first, a third-and-18 with a 46-yards bomb to Brad Hayen and, three snaps later on third-and-6, getting another Winder strike to wide-open K. Ward down the right hashmarks for a 20-yards score that made it 35-20 with 7:28 remaining.

Less than a minute later, CHS’ win effectively was in the bag, thanks to a bungled handoff by Benton deep in CHS territory. The ball snapped at the Hornets’ 17, it squirted free backward and toward the BHS bench. There by himself to pick it up was Hayen, who ran it back 62 yards before being nudged out of bounds at the Cardinals’ 13.

On the next play, K. Ward again turned left end – as he did successfully several times in the last half – and scored, giving Chillicothe a 21-points lead with 6:32 to go.

Colten Sewell’s fourth pass interception of the season on the first play of the subsequent Benton series led to CHS running out the remaining clock, finishing the game inside the Cardinals’ 10.