In regular-season finale of turnaround season, Chillicothe dominates St. Joseph team which had starting player die days earlier

CHILLICOTHE, Mo — Many football contests conclude with the triumphant team’s quarterback going to one knee to down the ball on the final play. For tragic reasons, as a gesture of remembrance and respect, Friday’s (Oct. 25) Chillicothe High School 2019 regular-season finale with visiting St. Joseph: Benton – eventually a 42-7 CHS victory – began that way.
A contest Chillicothe likely would have acceded to a request from Benton for the guest Cardinals to accept a forfeit, had BHS elected to make such an entreaty in the aftermath of last weekend’s death of a BHS sophomore player, was preceded with a moment of silence in memory of Aiden Gromowski.
Then, after Benton kicked off to Chillicothe and the Hornets’ offense took Bob Fairchild Field after returning the kick to the CHS 38, Benton – in pre-arrangement with Chillicothe head coach Tim Rulo and game officials – sent only 10 defensive players to the field for the first play from scrimmage, leaving vacant the linebacking spot Gromowski had filled for every or nearly every defensive snap only seven nights earlier as the Cardinals battled Cameron.
As a gesture of sympathy, CHS quarterback Jaden Winder carefully accepted center Cameron Dush’s hike and dropped to one knee, ending the play with no other players on either side of the ball moving.
Benton then sent an 11th defender to the field and normal action commenced.
When it ended, Chillicothe (7-2, 4-2 conf.) officially had secured the top regular-season rating in its Class 3 district – an achievement no one would have predicted for them at season’s start on the heels of a 4-7 2018 campaign, even though that No. 1 rating won’t equate to the No. 1 seeding in the upcoming District 8 playoffs.
Because of their not-unexpected week-7 loss at Savannah, which finished second to them in the ratings, the Hornets slide to the second seeding behind the Savages and thus into a first-round playoff meeting with Kansas City: Southeast (1-8) next Friday (Nov. 1).
Southeaet seized the No. 7 rating in its regular-season finale, blowing out another previously-winless squad – KC: Northeast – 49-7.
As the No. 2 seed, Chillicothe – if it gets past Southeast, as it will be very heavily-favored to do – will have the right to host the district semifinal game against the winner of the first-round clash between third-seeded KC: Pembroke Hill (7-2) and Benton (1-8).
 “You’ve got to take each opponent one week at a time,” cautioned Rulo in post-game remarks to the C-T.
Being the top-rated team in its district, regardless of how the seedings worked out – had Pembroke Hill managed to finish ahead of Savannah, CHS would have kept the No. 1 spot on the bracket, since it did not play Pembroke Hill, is one of a number of noteworthy achievements the senior-heavy 2019 Hornets – 19 12th graders on the squad were honored prior to the game – have produced.
A year ago, in newcomer Rulo’s inaugural season as head coach following the retirement of 20-years leader and “hometown hero” Phil Willard, many of this year’s seniors – with almost no prior varsity-level experience – were starterz on a CHS team which did not score a point until the fourth week of the season and eventually stood 1-6 before ringing up three wins in a row over lowly foes.
Now, they already have an impressive 7-wins season in the books with a very good chance for at least a 9-3 campaign, if not better.
“It’s awesome,” Rulo commented following the sanguine triumph over Benton. “It’s a tribute to them – how hard they’re working, how much they’re buying into what we’re trying to do, their willingness to continue to improve.
“… Proud of these seniors, but not satisfied. We want them to accomplish so much more this year.”
Friday’s action, with Benton understandably not at its best – physically, emotionally, or psychologically, was controlled by Chillicothe.
Even giving away the first play of that first series, the Hornets quickly earned a fresh set of downs with two right-side runs by guard/part-time fullback Brock Gott and fullback Isaih Kille.
They eventually covered the 62 yards needed to reach the end zone in 11 plays, Kille capping the march with a 5-yards touchdown run inside. With the first of senior placekicker Jamacin Carr’s six successful conversion boots without a miss – boosting the kicker’s season accuracy to an impressive 26 of 30, Chillicothe was up 7-0 with 8:12 left in the first period.
After a 3-and-out for Benton in which it lost a net three yards – the CHS defense setting a tone it would reinforce all night, Chillicothe followed the ensuing Cardinals punt with a fumbled handoff exchange on the first play of its second possession.
Regaining the ball at the Hornets’ 21, Benton tried valiantly to inject some positive emotion into its troubled night.
Converting and third-and-12 situation with a 21-yards pass from quarterback Caden Stone to slot receiver Garison Dydell, the Cardinals had a first-and-goal at the Chillicothe 6-yard line. However, three incompletions targeting three different receivers surrounded a short run gain and, with 4:15 on the first-period clock, Benton turned the ball over on downs at the CHS 3. For all intents and purposes, it turned out, the game’s outcome was decided.
Chillicothe used four runs of double-digits yardage – topped by Isaak Rasche’s 36-yards right-end sweep to near midfield – and one for six yards to move from the shadow of their own goalposts to the BHS 6.
A couple of plays later, Winder burrowed into the end zone on a sneak and the hosts were in front 14-0 with 1:29 showing on the Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II scoreboard clock.
The second quarter produced more of the same – the occasional good gain by Benton’s offense, usually coming from talented senior Chol Ater on a reception or run, but mostly lots of no-yards or negative-yards plays for the visitors, while Chillicothe offense bulled or burst its way toward paydirt in good-sized chunks.
A 65-yards Hornets touchdown series on the first four snaps of the second period featured a 24-yards catch-and-run by senior end Julius Humphrey and a 26-yards TD reception by senior Colten Sewell of a perfectly-measured Winder fade-route throw at the 11:06 mark.
Utilizing the lanky Ater as the lone setback in a “wildcat” formation, Benton had its best offensive possession of the night following Sewell’s second receiving score of the year. However, after going from their own 35 to the Chillicothe 34, the Cardinals lost the ball on downs and Chillicothe responded with another lengthy scoring drive.
With four double-digits gains along the way, including senior Kam Ward’s 12-yards touchdown run off left guard with 3:42 remaining in the opening half, the Hornets’ 9-plays series left them owning a 28-0 lead at halftime.
The Hornets’ defense forced another 3-and-out by the opposition at the beginning of the third stanza and the Chillicothe offense continued chugging along.
Taking over at their own 32, they charged to the Benton end zone in eight running plays, each of which netted at least four yards. Senior fullback Dawson Wheeler’s 5-yards carry added to the CHS lead and Carr’s kick made it 35-0 at 7:03 of the third quarter, inaugurating use of “running clock” timekeeping procedures.
Those likely would have remained in effect through the end of the game, but, with an all-reserves offensive unit on the field in the middle of the fourth quarter, a pass from Chillicothe sophomore quarterback Gage Leamer to Carr was ruled complete and then fumbled. Benton safety Malique Bennett, who recovered and returned a fumble caused by the late Gromowski 88 yards for a score the week before, quickly grabbed this loose ball and scurried to the CHS end zone 48 yards away, putting the Cardinals on the scoreboard.
Following kicker Joe Ford’s successful point-after try, CHS’ offensive backup and deeper reserves methodically reestablished the 35-points spread.
Play after play, senior third-string fullback Allen Eakins pounded straight ahead on inside runs, one of which ended with a Cardinals player forcefully slinging him to the artificial turf by the face mask of his helmet. That drew two 15-yards flags – one for grabbing the face mask and one for unsportsmanlike conduct for using that grasp to hurl Eakins backward to the ground.
Three plays later, from the BHS 24, the CHS senior back got a big hole and galloped to within inches of the goal line before being pulled down. A snap later, Eakins capped the march with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone for the first varsity touchdown of his career and a 42-7 CHS lead with 4:04 remaining.
With the clock again running non-stop, Benton’s offense got off a handful of plays before time expired and Chillicothe’s fifth victory in its last six games officially entered the books.
Statistically, the score highly-accurately reflected the yardage and other numbers.
Preliminary numbers showed Chillicothe not only having six separate players score its six touchdowns, but four ballcarriers gain between 65 and 80 yards, including 75 by Eakins on 10 carries. Another Hornet had 55 more on only three rushes.
Overall, the Hornets racked up about 375 rushing yards and another 80-plus through the air on four completions in five attempts.
“You’ve got to give credit to the guys up front,” Rulo lauded the Hornets’ interior linemen, a group which included some senior reserves getting more use than normal.
“I was really happy with how we brought some different guys in in different situations and how well they were able to do.”
On defense, preliminary numbers had Benton netting only 120 total yards and losing yardage on nine of its 37 total snaps. By contrast, CHS had only two negative-yardage plays – its early fumble and a second-quarter run that was immediately followed by Ward’s TD jaunt.
“Our defense has stepped up really well these last couple of weeks,” Rulo praised.
The game even saw Chillicothe avoid an enforced major penalty for the first time all season, being whistled for only four 5-yards markoffs.
“A good end to the regular season,” the CHS head coach said, in summary. “… Really happy for our seniors on ‘Senior Night.’”