CHS kicking game, defense provide great field position repeatedly in 42-7 victory at Kirksville
By PAUL STURM, Constitution-Tribune Sports Editor
KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — Early in the second half of Friday’s 42-7 high school football victory over the host Kirksville Tigers, the Chillicothe Hornets might have had an eerie sensation.
Two years earlier, after taking a 2-scores lead (albeit only 9-0) into the locker room, the Tigers had rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter before making a late mistake that allowed CHS to grab a 21-15 victory.
Friday, the Hornets claimed a 14-0 advantage after one quarter at John Spainhower Field, but that still was the count after a field-goal attempt on their opening possession of the third period banged off the right upright, no good.
If Kirksville, having had a chance to try to make halftime adjustments, were to have a successful next possession and make it a 1-score game, another dogfight to the final whistle might be in store.
The CHS defense did not let the past repeat itself.
A 3-and-out capped by a perfectly-timed blitz by linebacker Preston Hayes that dropped Tigers quarterback John Bohon for a 10-yards loss at the Kirksville 9 led to the Chillicothe offense regaining possession in KHS territory.
After three Dean Adkins III runs and one by Ty Figg got the ball to the Kirksville 1, Adkins barged in and junior Jack Willard’s conversion kick bumped the visitors’ margin to 21-0.
A second personal-foul penalty on Kirksville in a few minutes and another negative-yardage, third-down play when linebacker Trace Staton dropped Bohon for a 2-yards loss on an option keeper soon gave the Hornets the ball back at the foe’s 41. It was the fifth time in eight possessions Chillicothe had taken over on the Kirksville half of the field.
Capitalizing, four Josh Kille runs – the first three of which gained double-digits yardage as the junior alternate fullback surpassed 100 rushing yards for a second-straight game – traversed the 41 yards quickly. With 2:04 left in the third quarter, the Hornets had doubled their lead to 28-0 and were in full charge, effectively cruising home from there.
“We had a good effort from our football team on all three phases of the game,” Phil Willard, CHS head coach, summarized the non-conference triumph.
Chillicothe’s triumph sends it into next Friday’s Midland Empire Conference opener at Maryville with a 2-0 record, the fourth-straight year that has been the case.
Maryville also has come into the week three meetings 2-0 those four years, as it will in 2016 after shutting out Kansas City: St. Pius X 36-0 Friday.
“Each week, there are things we need to get better at it,” Willard cautions. “We’re still missing some assignments on some thiings. There is a lot of room for improvement yet. We still have some guys that are inexperienced (in the front seven on offense) and even some of our experienced guys are still adjusting to the different looks that people are throwing at us.
“Once we can make some of those things ‘automatic,’ I don’t think we’ve come close to our potential yet on the offensive side.”
Just as it did in the preceding week’s 63-7 blasting of Marshall, one of Kirksville’s brethren in the North Central Missouri Conference, the Chillicothe defense limited the opponent to less than a handful of notable gains. After allowing only three KHS first-half plays to exceed six yards as the Hornets gained a 14-0 lead, Hornets defenders gave up only five more following intermission – four of the five after Chillicothe had doubled its lead to 28-0.
Eventually, for a second-straight week, the Hornets seized a large enough lead for the “running clock” rule to be utilized over the final 5-1⁄2 minutes.
In winning by a wide margin again, Chillicothe played the field-position strategy to near-perfection in the first half.
The only flaws were an initial possession which ended with a lost fumble in the red zone and a budding second-quarter drive which, after seemingly pushing the ball inside the KHS 25, was buried under a yellow avalanche of 3-straight major-penalty flags.
In between those fruitless possessions, the Hornets scored two touchdowns.
Seniors Cade Snyder and Ty Figg, each of whom later ran for a score, combined on a sharp touchdown pass to start the scoring with 4:15 remaining in the opening stanza.
Snyder rolled out to his right, but didn’t see a receiver on that side free, so he turned and looked back to the “back” side of the play. There, Figg had filtered free and was near the back line of the end zone. About to be hit, the CHS quarterback lofted the ball toward his teammate, who tiptoed along the end line to make the catch before falling, giving the Hornets the first of their six touchdowns.
“Cade really made a nice play (and)… Ty Figg did a great job of keeping his feet down,” praised Willard.
The 4-plays jaunt had begun with Snyder making a 22-yards gain on a rare naked bootleg
Aside from that throw, Chillicothe completed nary a pass, but, thanks to stout defense aided by a fine kicking game and a grinding running attack powered by relentless blocking, that didn’t put the Hornets in any danger of not improving their 2016 record to 2-0.
After another KHS 3-and-out, Snyder’s 1-yard sneak capped an 8-plays drive. He picked up the last 13 yards on three sneaks behind center Trevor Bowling.
Ahead by two touchdowns, Chillicothe was far from in command of the game, a fact that underscored over the next 18 minutes of play.
After the next Hornets possession was interrupted by a highly-questionable holding call and then buried under a yellow blizzard of major-penalty flags, the ball sat at the CHS 31 on fourth-and-43.
A poor or mediocre punt could switch field position in Kirksville’s favor and perhaps turn the game, but CHS junior Jack Willard, a major factor in the game with his leg, delivered a big boot.
His punt into the wind angled toward the Kirksville sideline and bounced out of bounds after covering 41 yards.
That proved important since, three plays later, Kirksville running back Blake Lewis got outside with an option pitchout and, directly aided by an uncalled holding infraction, dashed 38 yards to the CHS 20. Had the CHS punt netted only 20-25 yards, as most of Kirksville’s did, Lewis would have been near the CHS goal line when tackled.
The Tigers gained another nine yards on their next four downs, but that left them a yard short of the chains and Chillicothe took possession at its 11 and ran out the rest of the first-half clock.
The punt was only one aspect of J. Willard’s important kicking contributions to the game. Four of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks and two of the other three were lofted or angled to the degree that Kirksville’s offense was left inside its 20 to begin the series.
Asked about the role kicking and coverage units play in aiding a team’s defense, coach Willard affirmed it’s huge.
“There’s no question the kicking game is huge,” he responded. “… Jack’s leg has gotten stronger and he’s able to reach the end zone with kickoffs. That’s been big. Then, of course, the punt really did switch the field position for us, and it was against the wind. With no return on it, that was a big kick.”
As happened in the Marshall game, the Chillicothe defense did get burned for a long touchdown play after the Hornets had gained a comfy lead.
The Tigers executed well on a throwback screen to their most-dangerous player, Lewis, and the shifty, quick, junior back went 77 yards – untouched with the help of another debatable non-call – for the score less than a minute after Chillicothe’s fourth score.
Mildly challenged, the Hornets re-emphasized their intent to win convincingly.
Recovering an onside kick attempt just on their side of midfield, they moved 54 yards in eight plays with Figg going the last three to boost the CHS lead back to four scores, 35-7.
After the sixth of Kirksville’s even punts, Chillicothe trekked 74 yards – once more using eight plays.
After a 29-yards scamper by Kille put him over the century mark in rushing yardage again, fellow junior Dylan Munson burst through a quick hole on the left side and went 22 yards for the score. When J. Willard nailed his sixth point-after kick of the night and 13th without a miss thus far in 2016, it was
42-7, Chillicothe, with 5:33 left.
Statistically, in addition to Kille’s 116 rushing yards, starting fullback Adkins gained 77. Chillicothe approached 400 rushing yards (393), a level it surpassed against Marshall.
Primarily through Lewis’ touchdown catch-and-run and his late-first-half dash, Kirks-ville unofficially had 221 yards of total offense, about half of Chillicothe’s 408 yards output.
“Our lines really dominated the line of scrimmage,” saluted the Hornets’ head coach.
After having seven turnovers in their season-opening 34-0 loss to Jefferson City: Blair Oaks, the Tigers did not give the ball away against Chillicothe. The Hornets had the only turnover – a fumble on their first possession..