Turnovers on five mid-game possessions in a row much too much for inexperienced, transitioning Hornets to overcome as KHS rolled 41-0 Friday, Aug. 31, 2018
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — Considering the locale and the weather conditions, things could have gone worse than a 41-0 defeat for Chillicothe High School’s football Hornets and the fans that travelled to northeast Missouri’s Adair County for game two of the 2018 season last Friday.
At a location where heavy rain delayed the beginning of the 2012 clash between Chillicothe and Kirksville and where, two years later, a halftime lighting system failure prompted the game to shift to nearby Truman State University’s field for the last half, the teams’ 2018 meeting offered some frustrating possibilities. As storms streaming across the upper third of Missouri had lightning crackling around Kirksville less than two hours before game time, a substantial pre-game delay, in-game interruption, or – heaven forbid – postponement or suspension until the next day that could have everyone there until midnight or past or making a return trip loomed as unwelcome scenarios.
Thankfully, however, in about the only break the visitors from Livingston County received all night, the threatening weather surprisingly dissipated about an hour before game time, allowing the contest to start – after the only-slightly-delayed warmups – only 15 minutes late.
As it turned out, when Kirksville pulled away from the mistake-prone Hornets in the last half, the game’s final 7-plus minutes were governed by the “running clock” timekeeping rules and led to the late-starting game actually ending just about the time a game with a 7 p.m. start usually would.
Summing up where the contest left his still-green squad, Tim Rulo, first-year CHS head coach, told the C-T afterward, “As a coach, you’ve got to be able to figure out how to challenge your guys better, put them in a better position to be successful, and allow them to perform like I know they can.”
Chillicothe will travel to Maryville this coming Friday to tangle with the defending Class 3 state-champion Spoofhounds.
That the game was won by the host Tigers (1-1) didn’t rank as a surprise, given the rampant inexperience of the still-maturing and transitioning Hornets (0-2). Neither was the fact of CHS being shut out a second-straight time. The wide margin was disconcerting, however, though understandable, considering Chillicothe’s repeat of lax ball protection in the second half.
Just as it did the week before in a 16-0 loss to Marshall, CHS fumbled the ball away on its first two offensive series of the third quarter. However, that was only part of the story this time, as those were preceded by a pass interception on the last series of the first half and two more pickoffs immediately following the fumbles. Add it all up and five Hornets possessions in a row ended in giveaways in a span of less than 11 minutes of game time.
“Those self-inflicted wounds are causing the most damage,” Rulo understated in a post-game interview. “… You’re not going to be successful turning the ball over.”
Given that unfortunate series of events, it was not surprising that Chillicothe’s defense sagged, surrendering 152 second-half yards on 20 runs after holding the Tigers to only 28 on 19 first-half carries.
Kirksville had secured a 14-0 lead behind its passing game before halftime, however, prior to the downpour of CHS giveaways.
It seemed to turn the game’s tide with a long, quick scoring drive in the last few minutes of the second stanza.
The Tigers, who had fallen to the Hornets five-straight times, led 7-0 on a 9-yards Paxton Dempsay-to-Tanner Lain second-quarter touchdown hookup when Jaden Winder’s punt carried and bounced 57 yards into the KHS end zone with exactly three minutes left in the opening half.
With Chillicothe due to receive the second-half kickoff, keeping KHS off the scoreboard in those last 180 seconds would give it a chance to adjust in the locker room and hit John Spainhower Field anew with a chance to tie the game when the third quarter commenced.
However, Dempsay quickly and efficiently guided his unit 80 yards in 10 plays in only 1:47, paving the way for big Colten Gillespie’s 4-yards inside scoring run 1:13 before halftime. The touchdown was mostly set up by a 37-yards strike to Blake Morgan that put the ball at the CHS 4.
Asked if he saw that possession as a pivotal point, Rulo agreed.
“I thought we were playing really well, both offensively and defensively, but, with them being able to get that score, being down two scores going into halftime made it tougher,” he responded.
“That definitely gave them a lot of momentum.”
Although it didn’t come off a turnover, the CHS coach also noted that Kirksville’s first touchdown had been aided by a Hornets mistake. On a third-and-11 from the Hornets’ 41, a deep “flag” route to the right side seeming would have necessitated an excellent catch of the high throw by the intended receiver, but just before the ball arrived, there was contact from a Hornet. The interference penalty negated the incompletion and extended the drive that Dempsay and favorite target Lain ended only three snaps later.
When the second plays of each of Chillicothe’s first two series of the second half resulted in fumbles Rulo labeled as “ball-security issues,” the eventual outcome quickly took shape.
“That’s just something we’ve got to get better at,” the coach said of fumble avoidance.
Statistically, for Chillicothe, the best numbers came from junior linebacker Dawson Wheeler. Based on C-T review of game video, he had 10 solo tackles and was in on another four.
With its inability to maintain ball possession in the last 30 minutes, Chillicothe ended the night with a paltry 93 yards of total offense – 10 in the air.
“You definitely don’t want to ever start the season 0-2,” Rulo acknowledges, “but again there were some brights spots, things, much like in week one, we saw that were good, that were like, ‘Ahh, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. That was a really good play.’ But when we’re unable to put enough of them together, that’s what hurts you.”
In a similar vein, he commented after the game, “We’re getting there. We’re getting closer. I saw some good things. We just have to string them together.”
CHS’ special teams play generally was a bright spot against Kirksville.
The extra-point defense blocked one kick, punter Winder had the boomer late in the first half plus an earlier 39-yarder, and junior kick returner Kam Ward had a nice 30-yards kickoff return that gave the offense the ball at midfield.
“I thought our special teams did a good job,” Rulo praised the unit overseen by assistant Zach Douglas, a former Hornets player.
Kirksville’s Dempsay unofficially added 56 second-half passing yards to his 15-of-24, 205-yards first-half output. Lain finished with nine receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while – with a 26-yards pickup on the last of his 20 carries, Gillespie rushed for 102.