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Undefeated Regional Nemesis Richmond Tough Test for Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Football Hornets Friday

District top-seed Spartans, 7-1, have been difficult postseason foe for CHS teams. Public attendance restricted with mask-wearing mandated by RHS

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

If the Chillicothe High School football Hornets were to pull a huge upset against the host Richmond Spartans between 7-10 o'clock tonight in the Class 3 District 8 semifinals, it wouldn’t “balance the books” in the schools’ postseason history since 2000, but it would be a highly-substantial step in that direction.

Missouri River Valley Conference-East champ Richmond, 7-1 during the regular season and the district’s top seed, will welcome the 3-7 Hornets with the right to compete for the district crown a week later as the prize.

Not only does this year’s evidence tip the scales of the projected outcome sharply the Spartans’ way, but so does history.

While the schools’ football teams have met 16 times overall, dating back almost a century (as documented by local CHS sports researcher Randy Dean), nine of those games have been played this millennium and Richmond has taken five of the nine, mostly in prickly fashion for Chillicothe.

Perhaps most regretted by CHS is Richmond’s 6-0 decision on its wet home field in 2003 only five days after the Hornets had produced their monumental, historic upset win of 3-times defending state champion Platte City on the road.

However, the following year’s 14-12 loss – again on a soggy RHS field, the 2015 38-37 Hornets loss in overtime when it missed a would-be tying extra-point kick at the end of the first overtime segment, and the 20-18 triumph the Spartans pulled out in the last minute against the outstanding 2016 Hornets after CHS fumbled the ball away with the lead in the last few minutes all stick in Chillicothe’s craw.

Then, having mentioned the often-wet weather which regularly has marked the teams’ postseason encounters, there’s the forgettable 2011 monsoon game at Richmond in which the state-title-chasing Spartans prevailed 42-8.

As if that inflicted torment wasn’t enough, Richmond extended its postseason spell over a CHS boys’ team to the basketball court last February.

A clear-cut underdog to the host basketball Hornets in the title game of the district tournament, the hoops Spartans overcame a double-digits deficit early in the fourth quarter to take its only lead of the game with about 50 seconds left and then denied Chillicothe even getting a potential winning shot off in the final seconds to stun the Hornets, 53-52.

So there’s plenty of postseason “evening up” for Chillicothe to do. Starting to make it happen tonight – in uncharacteristically mild (temperatures in the 60s) and dry conditions – will be very difficult, however.

“These guys are super-talented and definitely worthy of the No. 1 seed,” CHS football head coach Tim Rulo commented for the C-T Sunday regarding a Richmond team whose only loss was a 38-24 setback at home to Southern Boone in week four of the regular season.

“They’re athletic and they pose a big threat and challenge, but (we’re) excited for the opportunity,” the Hornets’ third-year coach stated, concerning what will be his first time coaching against the Spartans.

While the game pits two programs which have developed a significant postseason rivalry which normally would translate into a large, boisterous crowd, this meeting will be played out in front of a limited number of fans/spectators.

According to Matt Habermehl, RHS director of athletics, fan/public attendance is limited to three (3) persons only per participating playercoach/cheerleader. Each player/coach/cheerleader is allowed to select his or her three chosen attendees.

Additionally, Habermehl reports, face masks covering the nose and mouth are required to be worn by all persons attending.

Personnel-wise, RHS’ attack revolves around 6’3”, 210-pounds junior quarterback Keyshaun Elliott.

“Offensively, it all starts with their quarterback,” acknowledges Rulo. “He’s a phenomenal athlete.”

“He reminds me of (former Westran High School star quarterback) Tyler Hunt,” the CHS coach continued, referencing the future Missouri Tigers all-purpose back Rulo’s strong South Callaway High teams faced back in the early 2010s. “… He could do it all for them and that’s what Elliott reminds me of.”

While having some throwing capability, Elliott primarily does his damage running the ball from a variety of offensive formations, as well as on scrambles. A review of game video shows him seemingly eager, when initially looking to pass, to quickly pull the ball down and run it.

“They mix up a lot of different offensive styles,” the CHS coach shared. “It kind of reminds you of (unbeaten Midland Empire Conference champion Kansas City) St. Pius X.

“… They do a lot of things and they definitely are going to keep us on our toes.”

While none of the other RHS offensive skill players consistently produce big plays like Elliott, they can’t be disregarded, Rulo cautions.

Among those is 5’7” “possession” receiver Layne Cavanah, grandson of legendary Missouri high school football Hall of Fame coach Shane Cavanah and nephew of CHS teacher and former Hornets assistant coach Brad Cavanah. Layne Cavanah played a critical role in RHS’ basketball comeback against Chillicothe last February with multiple 3-points shots in the second half.

Rulo also notes that Richmond’s offensive and defensive lines have very good size, including a 6’4”, 265-pounder and a 6’8”, 270-pounder on defense.

The Spartans’ defense generally aligns in a 3-4 look, but does some 4-4, as well, the Chillicothe coach disclosed. Given the Hornets’ proclivity for running the ball a very high percentage of the time, it’s likely the Spartans will have that eighth man “in the box” often.

“They seem really aggressive,” Rulo says.

As for the keys to his team’s prospects for springing the big surprise and extending the 2020 season to a 12th week, Rulo’s responses were no surprise.

“Being physical” is foremost, he delineated. “I think that’s the one thing we’ve been doing a really good job of this year, being physical up front.

“That style of play – that’s Chillicothe football, right? It’s physical football, ‘downhill’ football on both offense and defense, and we’ve got to ‘hang our hats’ on that. That’s the tradition here… and we’ve got to really lean into that even more so against these guys.”

Adding further specifics, the Hornets’ head coach detailed, “It comes down to taking care of the football. It comes down to tackling. It comes down to swarming to the ball. It comes down to blocking well and blocking to the whistle. It comes down to limiting penalties.”

A potential positive for the CHS cause, compared to last week’s overtime squeaker over St. Joseph: Benton, is that most of the approximately-half-dozen Hornets starters or top reserves who sat out – fully or partially – last week’s overtime win with injuries are likely to be fully available for this week’s game, according to Rulo.

Top ballcarrier Damarcus Kelow, who was held out until the second quarter last Friday, figures to be available throughout the game, including at least some defensive action.

Additionally, key backs Tucker Wagers and Bryce Dominique, running back/defensive “adjustable wrench” Brock Miller, and starting offensive tackle Josh Watterson likely will be back in uniform and able to play after brief injuries made them miss the district opener.

Doubtful is sophomore offensive lineman Carson Rhodes, who filled in for Watterson last week, and finished for the season is junior would-be-starting linebacker Brock Ward with a re-broken collarbone, according to the coach.

“I feel like our team is getting better,” Rulo made the case for his team’s chances of getting the upset.

“I feel like our guys are continuing to practice really hard. I feel like we’re going to get healthier, so these are all good things. … We’re quote-unquote ‘peaking at the right time,’ which is exactly what you want.”

“It’s going to be a battle,” he admitted, “but one we’re excited about and excited for the challenge.”