Encouraging Rally Marks Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Grid Loss to Unbeaten
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The proof will be in the pudding next Friday (Oct. 2) when, hopefully, the winless 2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets are to visit COVID-19-stricken St. Joseph: Lafayette, but CHS’ spirited comeback in Friday’s (Sept. 25) 42-27 loss at undefeated Kansas City: St. Pius X submitted evidence that a Chillicothe breakthrough into the “wins” column could come soon.
Deceptively trailing SPX’s Warriors (5-0, 3-0 conf.) 28-0 at halftime, due to a pair of long, long Warriors returns of takeaways for touchdowns, Chillicothe (0-5, 0-3) bowed its collective neck after the hosts technically put the “running clock” into use with another TD that made it 35-0 3:20 into the third.
Having out-gained the Warriors by about 10 yards in the opening half, the Hornets upped their offensive game the first time they got possession of the ball in the second half and sustained it the rest of the way without any turnovers.
The first CHS series of the third period lasted 14 plays and nearly seven minutes, finally reaching fruition on junior quarterback Gage Leamer’s 9-yards option keeper around the left side with 1:48 remaining in the stanza.
When the Hornets’ defense held on downs and gave the offense the ball back at the SPX 36 three plays into the final frame, the CHS momentum kept growing. An 8-plays sequence of runs ended on junior Damarcus Kelow’s 1-yard blast off right guard drew Chillicothe within 35-13 with 9:20 left.
When the Midland Empire Conference leader handled the short ensuing kickoff and followed a first-play, 36-yards wide receiver screen pass with Robbie Sharp’s 25-yards TD dash off right tackle as no Hornet came close to touching him, it seemed like the earlier Chillicothe scores would be mere consolation “blips” on the game’s radar. With still 8:33 remaining, however, the fired-up Hornets didn’t see it that way.
A 15-yards Brock Miller run around right end and, two snaps later, Tucker Wagers’ 43-yards burst around left end with a perfectly-timed-and-aimed option pitchout keyed a 6-plays scoring march Kelow completed with a 2-yards blast off right tackle. Even after another CHS 2-points conversion try was stopped, with 5:46 on the clock, the visitors had a third score of the half and trailed 42-19.
Then came the play which helped things be unexpectedly tense for the Homecoming-observing, heavily-favored hosts until the final minute.
CHS freshman placekicker James Mathew’s low, soft line-drive kick ricocheted off a front-line SPX blocker who tried to grab it on a short hop and the ball caromed right into the arms of onrushing Hornet Corbin Rodenberg at the Warriors’ 48.
On Chillicothe’s second play after that, sophomore Miller’s 10-yards gain around right end was enhanced by an intentional grabbing of a CHS blocker’s face mask, moving the ball to the Warriors’ 19.
Senior slotback Tucker Wagers gathered in another well-executed Ga. Leamer option pitchout to the left side on the next snap and, behind sophomore wide receiver Ruger Cox’s well-sustained block on the cornerback, Wagers raced to the corner of the St. Pius X end zone only 54 seconds after Kelow’s second touchdown. When Kelow powered in on the conversion attempt, Chillicothe somewhat-suddenly was within two scores at 42-27 with still 4:50 remaining.
While that still figured to be safe for the home team, that confidence took a big hit when Miller’s grab at ballcarrier Carl Ragusa caused the back to slightly lose control of the ball as he ran to the left. A split-second later, safety Ga. Leamer’s hit burped the ball free and sophomore defensive back Griff Bonderer dove on it at the SPX 37 with still 4:03 to play.
A pass completion to T. Wagers put the ball inside the 25 on the next play and three CHS runs made it first-and-10 from the 14. A personal foul on the Warriors as they tackled Ga. Leamer on a keeper made it first-and-2 from the 6 with about 2-1/2 minutes left. A Hornets touchdown within the next two or three plays, if paired with some type of successful conversion could make it a 1-score game with about 1:45 or more to go and Chillicothe still owning a couple of timeouts.
However, an illegal procedure penalty set the Hornets back to the 11 and four runs managed to only get the ball to the SPX 5, a yard short of a fresh set of downs. With 1:38 to go, the Warriors at last had subdued the stubborn CHS squad.
Statistically, the game was Chillicothe’s.
Setting a new program record for rushing attempts in a game with 67, the Hornets earned 346 yards on the ground, compared to the Kansas City team’s 86. According to the website researched and maintained by local media person Randy Dean, those 67 runs were one more than the previous high, set in a 2003 game against Kansas City: O’Hara.
Individually, Kelow had over 100 rushing yards for a second game in a row with 127 on 29 totes. Similar to the prior week’s game with Cameron, there was solid support for his output. T. Wagers totaled 69 yards on only four carries, Ga. Leamer had 60 more, and Cayden Potter another 53.
In terms of total offense, Chillicothe gained 382 yards on 75 plays – the second-most snaps in a game ever by the Hornets, three fewer than in a 1981 contest against Fulton. That surpassed SPX’s yardage total by 115 yards.
Even the turnovers total finished even – three apiece, with each side losing two fumbles and throwing an interception.
The difference in the game ultimately was the combined 89-yards fumble-recovery touchdown return by St. Pius X’s Jack Mosh and Aidan Coons on the game’s opening possession after CHS had taken the ball from its own 18 to the SPX 8 in 14 plays. Mosh scooped up the loose ball at the SPX 11 and, as being dragged to the artificial turf by T. Wagers at the 23, lateraled it to the trailing Coons, who went the remaining distance untouched for the game’s first points.
Late in the first half, a well-played interception and 22-yards return to the SPX 44 by Hornets sophomore linebacker Corbin Rodenberg, who was making his first start, lured the visitors into trying to steal a late score and get within two touchdowns at intermission.
However, after a pass to Braxten Johnson earned the Hornets a first-and-10 at the 29, an 8-yards completion to T. Wagers seemed to run out the clock at the SPX 23. However, the referee ruled that CHS had raced to the line in time to spike the ball on third down with 0.2 seconds remaining.
That seemed like a break for the visitors, giving them one more chance to reach the end zone, even if the odds were relatively long. However, St. Pius X turned it into a 7-points break for itself.
With the secondary dropped back to the goal line immediately after the snap, Ga. Leamer’s high throw toward Johnson near the goal line was easily read by 6’4” SPX standout David Deters from his safety position.
Coming from the end zone, he leaped in front of Johnson and snared the ball on his own 3-yard line and, quickly picking up a bunch of teammates as blockers, headed upfield toward the SPX sideline. Although he would go the entire game without catching a pass on offense, Deters went 97 yards untouched with the pickoff with the clock long since showing no time left, shockingly leaving Chillicothe behind 28-0 at halftime following the conversion kick.
When the Warriors received the opening kickoff of the second half and moved smartly to the CHS end zone, it seemed likely that a blowout was in the wind, but Chillicothe showed great character and resolve to turn things around in a major way. While ultimately it could not pull off the miracle comeback, it injected huge amounts of confidence into its collective psyche that could serve it well in the final month of its regular season.
The first chance to build on its stirring second-half showing is slated, as mentioned, to be at St. Joseph: Lafayette. The Fighting Irish (2-2, 1-1 conf.) were not able to play their week five game against St. Joseph: Central, due to coronavirus quarantining.
Whether LHS will be able to play the Hornets or how much of its team it will have available won’t be known for a few days probably.