Beaten by 35 five week ago, CHS hopes to stun Savages tonight (Friday, Nov. 15, 2019), take district title
Once again tonight, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets don’t require an elaborate scouting report, detailing what plays, sets, schemes, and personnel they are likely to face when they take the field. All they need, more or less, is their memory.
On the heels of taking on St. Joseph: Benton for a second time in three weeks in their Class 3 District 8 playoffs semifinal last Friday, the Hornets this evening will square off with the Savannah Savages for a second time in five weeks.
The stakes are higher this time around. This CHS-Savannah contest will pit teams with identical 9-2 records against each other to decide which advances to the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs and which calls it a season.
While tonight’s 7 o’clock game at Savannah is a rematch, just like the Hornets’ clash with Benton and Savannah’s with Cameron a week ago were, for Chillicothe there is a big difference in the task it faces.
Against Benton, they were seeking – successfully, it proved – to replicate a decisive victory; against SHS’ Savages, the Hornets will try to solve an opponent which dispatched them 49-14 barely a month ago.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and gained a lot of confidence, as well,” Tim Rulo, second-year CHS head coach, shared at mid-week. “We know that we’re a better team than we were a month ago when we played them the first time.
“We still have to … go out and execute and perform. … I think our guys are very aware of how efficient they need to be and how perfect they need to be from here on out, because there are going to be no easy games the rest of the playoffs.”
In the previous Chillicothe-Savannah meeting, poor pursuit-angle decisions and lax tackling by the Hornets led to the third offensive play of the game – on a third-and-6 – turning into a 56-yards touchdown run by wingback Noah Bodenhausen, rather than a very short gain that likely would have been followed by a punt.
Then, on Chillicothe’s first offensive series, a poor throw was intercepted around midfield and returned to the Hornets’ 36-yard line, setting up a short touchdown run five plays later.
Despite being behind 14-0 less than 2-1/2 minutes into the game, the Hornets didn’t collapse.
A long pass completion set up a Kam Ward touchdown and a SHS 3-and-out was followed shortly by a 48-yards touchdown burst by CHS’ Dawson Wheeler, pulling Chillicothe back even with still two minutes to go in that opening stanza.
The fireworks of the first period weren’t over, though.
On the second play of the ensuing Savages series, Bodenhausen somehow was left uncovered as he lined up in the slot on the right side for the formation. That made for an easy hookup between standout senior quarterback Chase Spoonemore and his fellow senior, who took the ball the 63-yards distance to restore the home team to the lead.
Savannah stayed in front that time with fullback Evan Yount ripped his way to 158 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while the SHS defense blanked Chillicothe the last three quarters, despite a couple of effective CHS marches.
“We saw some stuff offensively and were able to do some things, but we weren’t able to put the ball in the end zone,” reviews Rulo. “We had some drives where we stalled out (at the SHS 24 and 16) at the end of the first half and, even in the third quarter, we moved the ball down inside the red zone,” reaching the Savages’ 4 before failing on a fourth-down play.
On paper, then, sounder defensive execution that eliminates avoidable big plays like Bodenhausen’s two scores and a bit better offensive execution that gets points out of good or excellent scoring chances that were missed previously, if achieved, could make for a tighter contest.
Transferring that from paper to the field is another thing, given the capabilities of SHS senior quarterback Chase Spoonemore. He only threw six passes (completing four) and ran the ball only on nine times for 48 yards in the first 2019 clash. A year ago, however, with CHS keying on fullback Titan Irvine, he torched Chillicothe for 243 yards and three touchdowns on the same number of carries. If, “picking its poison,” CHS overloads inside to slow Yount this time, it might open more lanes for Spoonemore.
Not making that defensive task any easier will be the absence this time of Hornets senior linebacker/defensive lineman Isaih Kille, who got hurt in the third quarter last Friday and likely won’t play again. His versatility and mobility will be missed after he was in on seven tackles – four unassisted – in the previous game against the Savages.
Both teams will be targeting better ball security this time. Chillicothe lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions in the prior meeting, while Savannah somehow avoided any damage from three lost second-quarter fumbles in its own end of the field.
“That has to be the main thing we go about taking care of is we eliminate the mistakes and we play clean, good football,” Rulo confirmed Wednesday.
Although Chillicothe had multiple scoring chances after the first quarter of the regular-season meeting, it didn’t move the ball all that well. The Hornets amassed 133 yards of total offense in the opening period in October’s game, then managed only 164 more the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t the best play-calling I’ve ever done,” Rulo acknowledged Wednesday, regarding his team’s inability to follow up on its first-stanza scoring in the October game. “I definitely realized that afterward. I kind of got away from our own identity some. We didn’t execute all that well on some plays and Savannah made some adjustments.”
With that in mind, as well as with all of tonight’s game being played in sub-freezing temperatures that figure to make the football slick and hard to keep a good hold on, a conservative offensive approach with fewer risky ball-handling situations would not be surprising from both sides.
“Better execution, staying within our identity of what we do well is going to be the key to (offensive) success,” Rulo asserts, will be integral to his club’s approach.
While Chillicothe will be without Kille, 2-ways starter Kam Ward, who it was feared after last week’s game might have an injury that would jeopardize his participation tonight, is expected by Rulo to be fully available.
In addition, senior Deon Reynolds, a top reserve in both backfields and a special teams participant, should return after missing a month with an injury.
Given the wide scoreboard margin from the first contest they had this season, Savannah is a decided favorite this evening. Chillicothe’s best hope figures to lie in its defense limiting big plays, the offense avoiding turnovers and being able to sustain several scoring drives, and, overall, being in contention going to the fourth quarter and seeing if the pressure of expectations might cause Savannah to falter and make a key mistake.
“Savannah’s a good program and they’ve got a good team right now, so we’re going to have to play good football and you have to play smart, Hornets football to make sure to come out with a win,” summarizes Rulo.