Leamer, football Hornets shine despite first loss

With dubious penalty call, Maryville slips away 36-25 week three winner; Cameron next

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Whether the Chillicothe High School football Hornets find out – much, much too late to right a possible wrong – that a critical officiating crew’s ruling which shifted the momentum to the visiting Maryville Spoofhounds was incorrect, 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 2021 week three defeat last Friday.

“They just kept fighting, kept working hard,” Chad Smith, rookie head coach of the Hornets, praised his team, which scored on the game’s final play to slightly benefit itself in the district ratings. Chillicothe appears to clearly have planted itself among the top contenders for the top seeding in its Class 3 district playoffs at regular-season’s end, so every bit of positive impact could be valuable over the next six weeks.

The contest not only was up for grabs well into the final quarter, but unveiled the Hornets, in near-record-setting fashion, 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.

Finalized game statistics certified that the senior quarterback, completing five of six passes for 70 in the first quarter alone, threw for 265 yards on the night with two TDs and two interceptions on 12-of-21 accuracy. 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, exceed what the current Hornet did against archrival Maryville last Friday.

“It is something we had to do,” coach Smith said of the more-balanced run-to-pass ratio (46:21) than Chillicothe had exhibited in a half-dozen years. ”They will bring eight and nine guys into ‘the box’ (to try to slow the rushing game). So we spend a lot of time working on our passing game.

“Gage did a good job getting it downfield and does well in our sprint-out throws. Griff, Max, Braxton (Johnson) and Brock Ward did a good job getting open and catching the ball.”

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.

While not anywhere near a record, Bonderer’s 101 receiving yards marked the first time a Hornets receiver had triple-digits yardage in a game since Brett Shaffer did it against Kirksville in 2017.

Chillicothe’s newfound passing prowess should cause some deep concern among their nearest Midland Empire Conference neighbor and next opponent, Cameron.

The Dragons (1-2, 0-1 conf.) were crushed 48-0 last Friday by Kansas City: St. Pius X, which likes to pass the ball extensively.

Cameron opened its season with a 34-0 shutout of woeful Kansas City: Northeast before getting ripped by KC: Lincoln Prep 60-7 in week two.

The Dragons had, by far, their best season of recent vintage last year, finishing 7-4, including dispatching the Hornets 48-21 in Chillicothe.

However, 2020 star quarterback Ty Campbell was a senior then and, in a further crippling blow to hopes for this season, a couple of would-be-returning seniors with multiple years of playing experience enrolled elsewhere this school year.

While Cameron still has a capable ballcarrier in senior Dominic Hurst, it doesn’t have much back around him, suggesting the Hornets will have an outstanding opportunity to get back on the winning track prior to hosting St. Pius X next week.

Game time Friday at Cameron will be the customary 7 p.m.

Last Friday against Maryville, 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 them the lead again, the Hornets saw the pivotal officials’ decision hugely benefit Maryville. It led 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.), who ran only two offensive plays in the opening quarter and then merely one in the fourth, a 35-19 cushion halfway through the fourth stanza, effectively defining 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 on Damarcus Kelow’s 1-yard run. By doing so, they both signaled the desire to play to the game’s final whistle and gained confidence in 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,” coach Smith said with a note of defiance in his voice during a post-game discussion with the C-T.

Ga. Leamer’s unanticipated aerial exploits might have risen to 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.

What seemed certain to be ruled offsetting penalties committed by each team during the return of that kickoff instead were ignored by the officials, who stunningly let the infraction-aided MHS return deep into Hornets territory stand.

Had not Maryville been handed that excellent field position on which it capitalized to regain the lead, CHS might still have been in front – perhaps even farther – in the fourth quarter. If that had been the case, two passes the Hornets threw which were intercepted – one run back 34 yards for a touchdown by Cooper Loe and the other followed immediately by a 12-yards Maryville TD throw – might not have been thrown at all, likely eliminating those 14 easy ’Hounds points.

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

When a trap play run by Maryville on its first offensive snap after a lengthy, but points-less, Chillicothe possession sprung a spinning Caden Stoecklein 72 yards to the end zone with 7:06 left in the first period, some Hornets faithful might have worried another blowout loss to the ’Hounds was in the works.

The Chillicothe players wouldn’t have that, though.

On their third possession, after 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, the blockers popped him free off left guard for a 14-yards touchdown run early in the second quarter.

Bonderer’s interception at the Hornets’ 18 and return of five yards halted the next Maryville march and, a couple of plays later, the Hornets had the lead.

On a second-and-8 play from their own 25, coach C. Smith called a play-action pass from a double-tight-end formation. 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 and Wagers made the catch and strode in for 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, Chillicothe went to its locker room convinced it had a great chance to win.

That was reinforced when the ’Hounds’ extended drive to begin the last half ended in a fumble partially forced by quick-charging defensive end Cameron Fleener and recovered 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.

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

Statistically, in addition to Ga. Leamer’s and Bonderer’s big air numbers, Potter ran for 94 yards and a score on 20 carries.

Chillicothe ran 67 plays to Maryville’s 36 and out-gained the visitors 402-265.

“I felt our guys did a good job (of blocking and running),” coach Smith praised. “We found places and ways to score. … We were able to move the ball on the edges pretty well.”

Holding the Spoofhounds to less than 200 yards aside from the first-play anomaly also was a major plus for CHS.

“After (Stoecklein’s long TD run), we settled in,” coach C. Smith reflected. “I feel like the defensive coaches had an excellent game plan.”

“I felt like our secondary tackled well,” he added.

CHS also won the turnovers battle, losing the ball twice on interceptions, but recovering two MHS fumbles and making one air theft.

“They’re doing a great job,” coach Smith saluted. “We spend a lot of time in practice working on creating turnovers and just being more aggressive.”

For the second time in three games to date, Chillicothe had over 100 yards in penalties, getting 10 flags that cost it 115 yards. Maryville was whistled six times and lost 50 yards.