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The Bears had ample opportunities to win the football game, but each time came up short, failed to make the defensive play, or fumbled the ball at a crucial time.
The Ava Bears found themselves trailing the Willow Springs Bears 10-0 in the first quarter, but closed the gap to 10-6 early in the second quarter of play on a 15-yard touchdown run by Taylor Coonts.
The Bears chipped into the lead more with under 2 minutes left in the third quarter when junior Chance Deal sacked Willow quarterback Cole Johnson in the end zone for a safety, creating what would be the final score of 10-8.
After Willow Springs fumbled the fair catch of a punt early in the fourth quarter, Ava’s Brock Mitchell attempted a 35-yard field goal which was on line but came up just short of the crossbar.
A few minutes later, Charles Bruton intercepted a Willow Springs pass and returned the ball to the 8-yard line, but was called for pass interference, returning the ball to the Willow Bears.
The game ended with the nose of the ball nearly touching the Willow Springs goal line, but the win would go to the home team.
Following the interference call that allowed Willow Springs to keep the ball at the Willow 14-yard line, the Willow Bears punted and Ava returned the ball to the Willow 35.
Brett Lambert took the ball to the 17-yard line and Coonts advanced it to the 15, then picked up a first-and-goal at the Willow 6-yard line.
Ava got the ball inside the 1-yard line, and an encroachment call on the Willow Springs defense moved the ball half the distance to within inches of the goal line. On fourth down, Quarterback Garrett Baird was kept out of the end zone and Willow took over at the same location.
On Willow’s first attempt to move the ball forward, everyone in the stadium except the game officials thought Ava had stopped the play behind the goal line for a game-tying safety. After Coach Swofford had a discussion with the referee, the play stood, and after one more play, the game ended 10-8 in favor of Willow Springs.
Willow Springs’ first score of the night came early in the game, on the home team’s first possession.
Ava had received the opening kickoff and ran four plays and punted. Willow Springs returned the ball to the mid-field stripe, and on the first play from scrimmage Brandon Pitts ran for a 50-yard score. Allen Brasier added the extra point for a quick 7-0 lead.
Ava’s next possession also resulted in a punt that netted only 13 yards, and Willow Springs would have excellent field position on their own 43-yard line.
Willow’s offense stalled out at the 16-yard line, but Brasier had no problem booting a 33-yard field goal to expand his team’s lead to 10-0.
Coonts, who was Ava’s leading rusher with 85 yards on 20 carries, scored his team’s only touchdown with exactly 11 minutes on the second-quarter clock. As Brock Mitchell prepared to boot the point-after, one of his teammates moved, causing the ball to be backed up five yards, and the kick from the 16 hit the left upright and fell no good.
Ava got the ball back with excellent field position on the ensuing series when a Willow Springs punt was blocked and the Ava Bears took over on the Willow Springs 12-yard line.
Coonts carried to the 6, then to the 4, and Lambert picked up a first-and-goal at the Willow Springs 1-yard line. On the next play, however, Lambert fumbled at the goal line and Willow Springs recovered at the 3 to end the Ava scoring threat.
Ava would get the ball again at midfield before the first half ended, when the defense held and Ava took over on downs at the Ava 49.
A nice pass play from Baird to Pete Leonard would have given the Bears a first down at the 21-yard line, but an Ava penalty erased that gain. Willow Springs intercepted an Ava pass with under a minute left in the half, and quarterback Johnson took a knee to let the clock run the final 6 seconds.
Ava had 199 yards rushing Friday night and 228 total yards of offense, according to Coach Swofford’s stats.
This week the Bears will host Cabool in SCA action. The Bulldogs are 1-1, having defeated Houston in the first game of the season and losing to Mtn. Grove last week. Coach Swofford says Cabool is a “solid team.”
This week’s game will be preceded by the annual Donna Cox Memorial Walk, sponsored by National Honor Society, FBLA and Student Council. All money raised at this 30-minute walk, which begins at 6:15, will support the scholarship named for the former Ava High School business teacher who lost her battle with cancer in 2001.