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Chillicothe (Mo.) Football Hornets Comfortably Dispatch KC: East 33-14

(Updated with quotes, final stats) Surrender only two last-minute TDs in initial 2020 victory, 33-14, at home Friday. Kelow runs for 161 yards, makes five tackles for loss in CHS' first 2020 win

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Senior running back Dan Hoel of the 2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets heads for a big hole off right guard on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second period of CHS’ 33-14 home victory over Kansas City: East Friday, Oct. 16. The touchdown was the first of the senior’s career and came during the Hornets’ first win of the season.
  • Chillicothe decisively gets in "wins" column for first time in 2020
  • Damarcus Kelow has his fourth 100-yards rushing game of season with 161
  • Defense misses shutout by less than 40 seconds
  • Tucker Wagers scores pair of TDs, one on recovery of teammate's fumble

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets weren’t a lot healthier than they have been much of the 2020 season at the 7 p.m. kickoff time of their week eight home clash with Kansas City: East.

By the time 10 p.m. arrived, they were a lot happier, however.

Playing soundly on both sides of the ball, the Hornets steadily built a growing lead over the guest Bears before two East touchdowns in the last minute put CHS’ winning margin at a deceptive 33-14.

The triumph was the Hornets’ first of 2020.

“It’s great to get a win. Let’s not overanalyze it too much,” CHS head coach Tim Rulo remarked candidly afterward.

“Happy for the seniors and the whole team – all the boys – for their resiliency to keep practicing, keep having a great attitude for this many weeks.”

CHS kept alive the possibility of finishing fourth in their Class 3 District 8 standings at regular season’s end and thus having the right to host a first-round game in the district playoffs.

To do so, they’ll also have to defeat St. Joseph: Benton on the road next Friday night and, likely, Kansas City: Central will have to lose to the strong Lee’s Summit: Summit Christian Academy squad next Saturday afternoon.

Central held the district’s fourth spot with Benton fifth and Chillicothe sixth entering week eight play. Central was to face Kansas City’s Lincoln Prep’s solid squad Saturday. Benton (1-5) lost to Cameron 42-0. 

“Again, (I) feel like the level of play, how we’re performing, is improving each week,” the Hornets coach said of his optimism about getting the fourth seed. “That’s what we want to keep doing.”

“Happy for what hopefully can spring forth from this,” he added as his closing remark.

Even with two normal starting offensive linemen sidelined – one with COVID-19 quarantine for a second-straight game and the other with an injury which, CHS coach Tim Rulo said afterward might allow him to return to action next week, the Chillicothe offense regained some of its “oomph” of the earlier part of the season.

Unofficially, the Hornets produced just over 400 yards of total offense, led by junior fullback Damarcus Kelow’s fourth triple-digits game (18 carries for 159 yards) of the season, while putting up their most points of the season to date.

Once all game statistics were totaled, it was determined Kelow not only had his best offensive game thus far, but also – statistically – his best on defense.

Utilized mostly as a down lineman, where he seems most comfortable and effective, he was credited with a team-high seven unassisted tackles (among nine total stops) with two of them being quarterback sacks and a whopping five being behind the line of scrimmage for 23 total yards of loss.

Even utilizing an altered starting offensive unit of mostly seniors for its game-opening series in the final regular-season home appearance, CHS immediately established the tone for the game.

With multiple seniors making the only varsity starts of their career thus far, the Hornets moved steadily down Bob Fairchild Field under senior quarterback Braden Constant’s leadership. A 10-plays, 67-yards march ended when Kelow cracked over from two yards out with 7:14 showing on the first-stanza clock. Despite missing the extra-point kick, Chillicothe had a lead it would preserve all night.

“We were able to get those guys on the field,” Rulo said of first-time senior starters Rudy Yutzy at end and Braden Constant at quarterback, along with occasional starter Seth Hansen at end, “and we were able to move the ball down and score, which was great. A great start to the game.”

The coach explained, “You only get one senior year … and you want to make the most of that for those guys, not at the expense of the other players, but just to make it memorable for them.”

Late in the first quarter, the Hornets gained possession at their own 44 and, in only three plays, more than doubled their 6-0 lead.

After a pair of Kelow gallops and an East offside penalty left the ball at the EHS 28, a first-and-10 toss sweep to sophomore Brock Miller saw him get a big alley to the East sideline. Carrying the ball inside the 10, he tried to cut inside one last defender to reach paydirt, but was tripped up and lost the football.

Fortunately for him and the home team, as the ball bounded forward to about the Bears’ 2, the only players nearby were two Hornets. Fellow slotback Tucker Wagers grabbed the ball and stepped forward into the end zone to complete a 28-yards scoring play 45 seconds into the second period. Kelow ran for a 2-points conversion, making it 14-0.

A defensive stand by CHS inside the Hornets’ 10 on the ensuing East series was act one of a 2-acts play that effectively determined what the game’s ultimate outcome would be.

Having moved from the Chillicothe 49 to the 8, the Bears had first and goal, threatening to cut their deficit to one score, but Hornets defenders bore down.

After two EHS runs netted only three total yards, sophomore linebacker Corbin Rodenberg dropped back into underneath pass coverage as the Bears quarterback rolled out to his right on third down and batted down a pass in the end zone.

On fourth-and-goal from the CHS 5, quarterback Christopher Thornton started toward his right with dangerous running back Deion Miles mirroring him as a seeming pitchout option. However, whether by design or improvisation at sensing Chillicothe had good defensive presence on that side of the field, the East quarterback pivoted away from the line of scrimmage after only a half-dozen strides or so, reversing his direction toward the offensive left side of the field while giving ground.

While initially appearing to have room and possible blocking that might let him get to open space on the left, Thornton was unable to outflank the lone CHS defensive player in that area – Miller. The athletic sophomore cut Thornton off, hitting him at about the 15 and getting him to the artificial turf there for a 10-yards loss that gave the Hornets the ball.

“I thought our defense did a great job of containing them,” Rulo said of that unit’s play not only in halting that drive, but all game.

The offense took its cue, earning a couple of first downs on four runs in a row before going to the air for the first time on the night.

Faking a handoff for a left-side running play, junior quarterback Gage Leamer rolled slightly to his right and launched a long throw across the field to near the East sideline where sophomore Max Wagers was trying to get past a defender.

The defender had good coverage, but M. Wagers, knowing the pass would come his way, saw it was short and backtracked toward it a bit. As the ball hung in the air, the defender quickly reacted to M. Wagers’ altered path and, spying the ball, tried to cut in front of the Hornet to knock it away or intercept it.

He arrived just a split-second late, however, missing his swipe at the ball, which, with good concentration, the Chillicothe receiver gathered in at about the EHS 30-yard line and headed back upfield.

Although other Bears eventually got over in time to prevent M. Wagers from getting to the end zone, he advanced it to the Bears’ 6 for a 56-yards gain – by far, Chillicothe’s longest play from scrimmage this season.

All told, CHS had a highly-uncharacteristic 16 plays that gained dual-digits yardage – 14 of them runs.

“It takes a lot of stress off a team when they’re able to get more yards per play,” Rulo reflected, acknowledging the obvious logic of that assessment. “… When you’re able to do that and you have that capability to be explosive or to gain more yards per play, it definitely does not put as much pressure on the team to be able to execute consistently at such a high level.”

The coach said he’d encouraged his offensive-unit players to push themselves for a little more each snap, perhaps in the form of straining to break a tackle or blocking a little bit longer.

“That’s something we really focused on this week in practice, so I was really glad to see that fruition,” he disclosed.

Three snaps later, with the ball at the 1, senior slot back Dan Hoel, aligned this time as a “broken wishbone” halfback, took Leamer’s handoff and strolled through a huge gap off right guard for the first varsity touchdown of his career. Griff Bonderer’s barely-high-enough point-after kick made it 21-0, Chillicothe, 3:19 before halftime.

The Hornets looked like they might add to that before intermission following senior defensive tackle Trey Tipton’s sack that forced a fumble which teammate Cameron Fleener fell on at the CHS 49 with 1:33 on the clock.

A pair of double-digits gains on runs by T. Wagers and Kelow soon had the ball inside the EHS 30 with just under a minute to play, but, on a run in which Kelow looked destined to power the ball inside the 15, the ball was knocked loose and East recovered at its 19.

When the visitors lost yardage on their first two offensive plays at the start of the second half, leading to a punt, Chillicothe’s offense showed it hadn’t lost its rhythm during intermission.

Starting from their 33, the Hornets rode three double-digits gains by Kelow to create a first-and-10 in the “red zone.” After three more runs made it first-and-goal from the 5, a first-down toss sweep to T. Wagers to the left side saw him use Braxten Johnson’s sustained block on the EHS cornerback to cut inside and then angle to the corner for his second touchdown of the game. Another missed extra-point kick left the score at 27-0, which would eventually lead to East being able to avoid being shut out.

Forcing another turnover on downs by the Kansas City team at the CHS 37 late in the third period, the Hornets smartly covered the 63 yards in seven plays.

Including only their second pass attempt of the night – and second completion – on a 16-yards hookup between Leamer and T. Wagers, Chillicothe increased its advantage to 33-0 when Leamer kept on the left-side option and angled to the pylon 32 seconds into the final quarter.

Although he could have had his team try for a 2-points conversion to get a 35-points lead that would have accelerated the timekeeping for at least some of the remaining time, Rulo courteously opted to have a kick try that would have left the gap at 34, if successful. It wasn’t.

The starting Chillicothe defense forced a 3-and-out and then a first-play turnover on the next two East possessions, creating a chance for the offense to either add to the lead or use up most of the remaining time. However, after a failed 34-yards field-goal attempt gave the Bears the ball at their own 22 with 3:50 remaining,the Kansas City team managed to finish a drive.

In 13 plays – the key one being Thornton’s 18-yards scramble to the CHS 2 inside the final minute, East moved the 78 yards, scoring on Thornton’s 1-yard keeper with 31 seconds left. He also carried the ball in for a 2-points conversion.

Chillicothe then missed the catch on the ensuing short kickoff, ricocheting the ball far back upfield toward the onrushing East coverage unit. A Bear easily fell on it at the CHS 37.

After an incomplete pass and illegal-procedure penalty on the KC team had the ball at the CHS 42 with about 15 seconds left, Thornton rolled to his right to buy time, then lofted a perfect strike to tall end David Toban at the Hornets goal line. The reception with seven seconds left inconsequentially reduced Chillicothe’s margin of victory to 19 points as the conversion try failed.

Statistically, Chillicothe rushed for 335 yards and threw for 72 more. Its 400-plus yards of total offense compared with East’s approximately 250, nearly 110 of which came in the game’s last four minutes.

“Very happy with how our team played on offense and defense,” Rulo said.

EHS’ Miles was netting about 117 on 25 rushes.

Each team had three turnovers – all on fumbles.