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Hornets bow out reluctantly at Richmond

Notable underdog CHS trailed district top seed Spartans by only three points late in third period before losing 62-41. Hornets amassed about 475 yards of total offense. Season ends with 3-8 mark

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

RICHMOND — Even though it was about a week after Halloween and despite a far-inferior season record, Chillicothe High School’s football Hornets gave Class 3 District 8 top seed Richmond a real scare last Friday night.

On the Spartans’ own field, the Hornets were within three points with less than 13 minutes to go before falling 62-41 in district-semifinals play.

“A great game. Not one you want to see come to an end for those seniors and for us, just because we didn’t come out on the right side of it, but, again, a great battle, for sure,” reflected Tim Rulo, CHS third-year head coach, about 20 minutes after game’s end.

“Super proud of our boys for how they played.”

The highly-entertaining, offenses-dominated contest saw CHS trailing only 38-35 in the final minute of the third quarter.

The eventual defeat closed the door on the Hornets’ fast-finishing season with a 3-8 record. Richmond (8-1) moves on to host Maryville for the district crown next Friday.

“This game was such a culmination of just how much we progressed and how well we played this year,” Rulo said.

However, he added, “It still stinks to lose.”

The CHS head coach said this season’s outside circumstances and challenges made playing a full schedule and showing the clear and substantial improvement the team made were highly-laudable accomplishments, regardless of what the won-lost record eventually might look like on the pages of history.

“All the different things that these guys handled and battled through – and hats off to our guys, we played 11 games; I’d be curious how many teams played… their entire regular season, (I am) just super proud of our guys for handling all that adversity,” Rulo remarked.

“I would agree, if you’re just going to look at the (won-lost) record, people will maybe say we didn’t have a good record, but I think our seniors did a great job of leading.

“I thought they did a great job of continuing to push on through the adversity of quarantine and COVID(-19) and injuries and some early tough games, but we got better. We were playing our best football at the end. … That’s exactly what you want of any program, any team. I think ‘hats off’ to these seniors. I think they left an amazing mark for how we want to go (forward).”

Starting with CHS’ 9-plays, 73-yards drive capped by Tucker Wagers’ 30-yards toss sweep around left end behind perimeter blocks from fellow senior slotback Dan Hoel and end Braxten Johnson, the teams scored on each of the game’s first six possessions before both came up empty the last time they had the ball in the opening half. Because the hosts converted for two points on each of their three touchdowns, they had a 24-21 advantage at intermission.

Twice after seizing the initial 7-0 advantage, Chillicothe reclaimed the upper hand.

An 8-plays, 69-yards march, highlighted by a perfectly-thrown Gage Leamer to Johnson pass for 41 yards to the RHS 5, was completed by Damarcus Kelow’s 3-yards touchdown run with 1:35 left in the first period. Even with an unsuccessful conversion-run attempt, CHS had a 13-8 advantage after one stanza.

Following an answering Richmond score not quite three minutes into the second frame, back came the underdogs.

Taking possession at their 35, the Hornets again surprised the Spartans with a 41-yards pass pickup – this time featuring a spectacular 1-handed catch by T. Wagers on the dead run. While he was brought down at the Richmond 19, his 16-yards run around right end two plays later left the football a foot away from the goal line, a distance Ga. Leamer covered with a sneak on the next snap.

When the CHS junior quarterback slipped into the end zone on an option keeper on the conversion attempt, Chillicothe was back in front, 21-16, with 6:31 remaining in the opening half.

The lead – the Hornets’ last, as it turned out – lasted only 55 seconds before RHS junior quarterback Keyshaun Elliott, the 6’3”, 210-pounds grandson of former National Football League running back Lenvil Elliott, wrapped up a 3-plays, 51-yards quick-strike drive with a 9-yards keeper. 

Despite the robust scoring pace of the opening half, it actually accelerated for a while when play resumed.

Before the third period was 2-1/2 minutes old, three more TDs had been put on the scoreboard, including a 65-yards gallop by Hornets junior fullback Damarcus Kelow on the only offensive play CHS had in that flurry.

However, after Elliott dashed 29 yards to the end zone for the third of his four touchdown runs at 9:35 of the third stanza, the visiting Hornets calmed the frenetic scoring pace while still putting the ball in the end a fifth time themselves.

A 15-plays, 75-yards CHS march which ate up – pleasingly from the Hornets’ point of view – virtually eight minutes of game clock was capped by Kelow’s 7-yards TD carry with 1:35 left in the third period. His successful conversion run after his third of four scoring carries drew Chillicothe within 38-35.

“Very happy with how our guys executed offensively,” saluted Rulo verbally.

However, with a CHS onside-kick attempt unsuccessful, Richmond needed only three snaps to go 45 yards for yet another Elliott touchdown 26 seconds before the quarter ended and this time the Hornets were unable to answer.

Two more Spartans scores on Elliott passes to Layne Cavanah swelled the lead to 62-35 before Kelow found paydirt a fourth time with 61 ticks left in the season to close the scoring.

“The last four games, we went 3-1,” Rulo stressed. “When it started to matter and we had to pick up that momentum at the end (of the season), they did it and they helped lead us there.

“I think that does allow a trampoline effect into next year, but right now I’m just super-proud of these seniors (and) sad that their senior year is over. … It’s been an honor to coach them.”

Statistically, Chillicothe unofficially amassed 476 yards of total offense, a tribute to the excellent blocking that came despite the illness absence of usual right guard Trace Rardon, who became ill Friday morning, Rulo revealed.

Of those 476 yards, 231 came on 27 Kelow runs, another 121 from Tucker Wagers carries and catches, and 101 on Ga. Leamer aerials, on which he connected five times in eight tries, including two 41-yards pickups.

“Proud of how our ‘O’ line played. … Really proud of those guys,” said Rulo of the primary group of seniors Trey Tipton and Landon Swift on the left side, senior Josh Watterson and Rardon’s junior replacement Nick Greenslate on the right and junior Anderson De Jesus at center. They were able to step up and get the job done and help us take care of the ball and be physical up front.”

With his new career-best output at Richmond, Kelow unofficially finished the season with just over 1,330 yards. Of that total, 680 came in the final four games and nearly 400 after sustaining a shoulder injury a few plays into the second half of the regular-season finale at St. Joseph: Benton.

If not for that injury, he’d likely have added at least 50 more yards in that game and earned a nice chunk in the first period-plus of the following week’s rematch with Benton – time he was held out of action because of the injury.

Richmond’s Elliott did plenty of damage with his legs – finishing with 142 rushing yards on only 13 carries, but unexpectedly was even more effective throwing. He hit on 12 of 15 throws for 222 yards and three scores – all to sophomore Cavanah – with only one inconsequential interception.

“He threw the ball well,” the Chillicothe coach admitted.

Cavanah, nephew of CHS teachers Brad and Sarah Cavanah and grandson of Missouri high school football coaching legend Shane Cavanah of Marceline, snared 10 of Elliott’s passes for 203 yards.

The host Spartans finished with 437 total yards on only 41 snaps. CHS’ greater yardage amount came in more than 50% more plays (66).

“Our defense made some plays,” Rulo assessed. “We had some nice tackles for loss or no gains, which is exactly what you want.

“I thought our defense again played well. I know maybe the score doesn’t show that. I thought they battled … against a very athletic team.”

The game’s 103 total points made it Friday’s highest-scoring 11-man football game in the state in week two of postseason action. Only one 8-man game – ironically, Chillicothe’s Livingston County compatriot Southwest Livingston’s whipping Concordia 88-22 – produced more points on Missouri gridirons Friday.