Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Football Hornets Miss Out on Potential Key Win

Eventual 35-26 home loss to Maryville pivots on disputed third-quarter officials’ ruling

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Junior end Max Wagers of the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets secures a long pass reception from Gage Leamer at about the Maryville 45-yards line on his way to a 75-yards score in the second period of the teams' Sept. 10, 2021, game in Chillicothe. CHS took a 12-7 lead with the play, but wound up losing, 35-26.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Whether the Chillicothe (Mo.) High School football Hornets find out – too late to change anything – or not that the officiating crew’s ruling on a multiple-infractions play which was critical to shifting the momentum to the visiting Maryville Spoofhounds was correct, they still harvested a bounty of positives – including a near-CHS-record passing night from senior quarterback Gage Leamer – from what, justly or unjustly, went in the books as a 35-26 week three defeat Friday, Sept. 10.

Having had clearly the better of the first-half play, even though a late MHS touchdown left them trailing 15-12 at intermission, and then striking for a 50-yards mid-third-period touchdown pass that gave the home team the lead again, the Hornets saw the pivotal administrative decision that hugely-benefited Maryville lead to three Spoofhounds touchdowns in a row in which the MHS offense had to do little or no work.

That gave the ’Hounds (1-2, 1-0 conf.) a 35-19 cushion halfway through the fourth stanza and effectively defined the outcome, not that Chillicothe did a fadeout in the face of near-certain defeat.

The Hornets reached the end zone on their ensuing possession after their deficit grew to 17 points, but did so as time expired. By doing so, they did manage to shave the margin-of-defeat total element of the state’s district-seedings rating system below the maximum 13-points deduction. While unlikely to ultimately come into play in determining the Hornets’ playoffs seeding, the don’t-say-die drive both signaled admirable resolve on the team’s desire to play to the game’s final whistle and was positive evidence of their capacity to execute well in a dwindling-time situation.

“We had nothing to gain by (figuratively) ‘taking a knee’” and letting the clock run out without doing everything possible to try to score on the last possession,” CHS first-year head coach Chad Smith said with a note of defiance in his voice during a post-game discussion with the C-T.

Junior end Griff Bonderer of the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets makes a great, leaping catch with his fingertips on a third-quarter, third-and-18 play deep in CHS territory. The catch converted for the firs down and a half-dozen plays later, Bonderer caught a longer throw from Gage Leamer for a 50-yards touchdown that put the Hornets up 19-15 over Maryville. Maryville eventually won, 35-26.

The contest not only was up for grabs well into the final quarter, but unveiled the 2021 Hornets as a team far from restricted to gaining yards and scoring points only via the run.

Ga. Leamer fired touchdown passes of 75 yards to junior end Max Wagers in the second quarter to give the Hornets a 12-7 lead and 50 yards to junior Griff Bonderer to regain the upper hand at 19-15 in the middle stages of the third quarter.

Initial tally of unofficial game statistics had Ga. Leamer and Chillicothe completing five of six passes for 70 yards – in the first quarter – and, on the night, throwing for 265 yards with two TDs and two interceptions on 12-of-21 accuracy. He was five of six in the first half for 145 yards with one score. For the night, he had four hookups for 27 or more yards.

Ga. Leamer’s yardage total is the second-highest by an individual in Hornets history in CHS records collated or researched by local sports reporter Randy Dean. Only Brent Anderson’s 315 against Macon on Oct. 24, 1969, exceeds what the current Hornet did against archrival Maryville.

The 265 yards also are fifth-most as a team in Chillicothe annals, being the most since the 1987 team – with quarterback Brent Scholl accounting for 248 of them, according to listings on Dean’s CHS sports website – had 270 in a game against St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond.

Ga. Leamer’s 12 completions match the most by a Hornet or the team since Tyler Clampitt and Jared Lauhoff connected 13 times (in 35 tries) in a 2013 loss to St. Joseph: Lafayette. The 21 attempts are the most since Cade Snyder fired 27 passes in a 2015 contest against Smithville, a C-T search of its files disclosed.

Prior to Friday’s defeat, the last time Chillicothe had passed for 200 or more yards in a game was when Clampitt did it against Marshall in 2012 in the debut game of Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Clampitt was 11 of 19 that night for 217 yards in a defeat.

Head coach Chad Smith of the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets pleads his case with the referee over a critical, dsputed penalties-enforcement decision during the third period of CHS' Sept. 10, 2021, home game against Maryville. Maryville seized the break it got on the call to score the go-ahead touchdown and eventually prevailed, 35-26.

His amazing and unanticipated aerial exploits might have been almost legendary had they come in a victory over the recent tormentor and long-time rival. That had a very good chance of being the case until the momentum-ratcheting call on the kickoff following the lead-reclaiming bomb to Bonderer with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

With the CHS defense having forced one of its three takeaways to halt – inside the CHS 25 – Maryville’s long drive to open the second half and the offense then delivering with its 8-plays, 77-yards possession capped by the Ga. Leamer-to-Bonderer lightning bolt, the momentum and belief was heavily in Chillicothe’s favor as Max Wagers booted the ensuing kickoff.

It was fielded by Drew Burns at about his 15 and, as he angled to his right toward the center of Bob Fairchild Field, then cut upfield to his left, the referee’s penalty flag was fired toward that area, ultimately revealed as due to a holding infraction by a MHS blocker.

With Burns still on his feet, he weaved back and forth across the artificial turf evading tacklers, almost like the electronic Bo Jackson in the old Tecmo Bowl video game of the 1980s, all while most fans of both teams in the grandstands assumed his advance would be for naught, due to the penalty back at about the MHS 25.

Eventually, as Burns was surrounded and dragged down just inside the Chillicothe 35, another penalty flag flew, due to a CHS player grabbing Burns’ helmet facemask.

Additionally, in the aftermath of the tackle, another official fired his yellow handkerchief in response to post-play misbehavior of some type by a Hornet.

Understandably, multiple members of the officiating crew gathered with the referee to sort through all of the calls and determine what the result would be.

Incredibly, after a surprisingly-short confab between them, considering the complexity of the situation – with the fact that it happened on a kickoff also mixed in, the referee eventually stepped out and signaled the three infractions, but conveyed to the crowd with his signals that the officials’ decision was to consider the two penalties committed during the live action as canceling each other out as if they had not occurred and awarding Maryville possession at the spot where the tackle had been made.

The officials then enforced the dead-ball foul against Chillicothe, moving the ball down to the CHS 17, from where the Spoofhounds used five plays to punch it into the end zone to recapture the lead at 22-19 with 2:49 to go in the third quarter.

CHS’ coach Smith said he questioned the officials’ decision on the non-enforcement of what figured to be offsetting penalties that totally negated the runback and required a re-kick, but could not dissuade them. Although he had the option to file an official protest of the call, which would have stopped the game for up to 10 minutes while the protesting team attempted to find the rule it believed applied in the case in the rulebook and present it to the referee, the first-year coach opted not to, perhaps wanting to showing his players he had faith in them to stop the ’Hounds anyway.

A post-game e-mail message by the C-T to the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s main office at Columbia to gain clarity on whether the situation had been ruled correctly or incorrectly had not received a response at the time of this story’s initial posting. However, an inquiry the paper made to a retired, long-time high school football referee produced a caveated response that, as many fans had been anticipating, the pair of live-ball fouls during the play should have led to the entire play being ruled moot, due to offsetting fouls, and the ball kicked off again by Chillicothe, albeit after a 15-yards walk-off against CHS for the post-play penalty.

While what might or might not have occurred during and after a re-play of the down/kickoff is purely conjecture, barring another long return by Maryville, the momentum the Chillicothe defense had established with its prior stop and the offense’s follow-up score could have led to another defensive stop of the Spoofhounds.

Had that happened and the CHS offense extended its game-long success at moving the ball and possibly scored another touchdown, it could have been the Hornets with a 2-possessions lead late in the third period or early in the fourth. In that case, the two later passes intercepted by MHS with Chillicothe trying to rally – the first of which was run back about 35 yards for a touchdown that made it 29-19 with 9:45 left – might never have been thrown and the 14 points those “picks” became wouldn’t have existed.

Prior to the game-twisting officials’ ruling, Chillicothe had exhibited the type of moxie and resiliency it often has lacked when facing – and too often being smoked by – Maryville over the past decade.

The Hornets won the pre-game coin toss and elected to accept the opening kickoff. Starting from their own 24, they used two first-down pass completions to fuel an advance to the MHS 28 before losing the ball on downs.

When a trap play run by Maryville on its first offensive snap sprung a spinning Caden Stoecklein into major open space, he went 72 yards to the end zone untouched. With the conversion kick was made, the visitors led 7-0 with 7:06 left in the first period, spawning trepidation among some Hornets faithful that another blowout loss to the ’Hounds was in the works.

The Chillicothe players wouldn’t have that, though, not even after a second offensive series produced a 14-plays, 64-yards march into the Maryville “red zone” before another fourth-down play was stopped.

When Maryville gained nine yards on the first play of its ensuing possession, first-quarter time expired with Chillicothe holding a crazy 24-2 advantage in the number of offensive plays run, but Maryville possessing a 7-0 lead.

The home team’s defense then showed that the initial touchdown play had been a bit of a fluke, forcing the foe to punt from its own 29 after having earned a first down with its 1-yard gain on the opening play of the second period.

The CHS offense came out even stronger on its third possession, bursting junior Cayden Potter loose on a perimeter run for 13 yards and then an inside carry for 12 more to put the ball at the MHS 23.

Junior fullback Cayden Potter of the 2021 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets uses his 215-pounds stature to run through the tackle attempt of Maryville linebacker Kyle Stuart and score on 1 14-yard run in the second period of the teams' Friday, Sept. 10, game in Chillicothe. Maryville won, 35-26.

Four plays later, once more, Chillicothe faced fourth down in MHS territory, but this time would not be denied on fourth-and-1. Angling Potter off left guard from a formation that was unbalanced to the right, the Hornets popped him quickly through a crease and he barged all the way to paydirt from 14 yards away, cutting the Maryville margin to 7-6.

After the MHS offense set up shop at the CHS 48 to start its next possession, a second-and-long pass gained 20 yards to the Hornets’ 35, but, on second down from there, some pass-rush pressure forced an off-line throw which Bonderer intercepted at the Hornets’ 18 and returned five yards.

Following an illegal-procedure penalty before their first play, the Hornets sent Potter off left tackle for seven yards to the 25, seemingly setting the stage for another running play, given the preceding 9-plays touchdown march had used all runs to cover 64 yards.

Coach C. Smith had other thoughts, though.

From a tight formation, the second-and-8 call was for faked handoff and deep pass down the middle. Buying time with the play-action fake, Ga. Leamer set his feet and lofted a strike toward junior end Wagers right at midfield. Even though there two defenders close by, the throw was so well-placed that neither MHS player could get a hand on it, while Wagers had it land in his hands in full stride. Making the catch, he had clear sailing to the north end zone 50 yards away, completing a 75-yards touchdown connection that suddenly surged Chillicothe in front, 12-7 3:35 before halftime.

Even though Maryville had a strong response of its own, fashioning a 9-plays, 71-yards drive that consumed nearly 3:20 before Drake hit Stoecklein on a flag route from 20 yards out 16 seconds before halftime. With a conversion run by Stoecklein easily successful, the road team went to the locker room in front 15-12, but with Chillicothe convinced it had a great chance to win.

That sense was reinforced after the ’Hounds’ extended drive to begin the last half reached the Chillicothe 21 with a first-and-10 after a 19-yards pass to running back Stoecklein, only to have a bobbled handoff on the ensuing first-down play turned into a fumble by quick-charging defensive end Cameron Fleener and recovery by tackle Damarcus Kelow.

After a first-down sack of Ga. Leamer, his perfectly-placed, third-and-18 pass to Bonderer picked up exactly enough to move the yardsticks to the CHS 33. After a 10-yards run around the right side by Johnson a few plays later, Bonderer went deep right down the seam from his right tight end spot and gathered in Ga. Leamer’s on-target throw for the 50-yards score which jumped the Hornets back in front, 19-15, after James Mathew’s successful point-after kick. Bonderer unofficially had 101 yards on three receptions, including a tremendous run after a catch on the final possession that turned about a 15-yards pass into a 33-yards gain.

Then came the disputed kickoff return that helped spin the game back toward the Spoofhounds.

Despite the scoreboard defeat, Chillicothe figures to take tons of momentum and confidence into its week four trip to winless Cameron next Friday. Cameron, hurt by graduations and transfers after its best season in years in 2020, fell to Kansas City: St. Pius X 48-0 Friday.