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The Ava Bears scored on their first possession here last Friday night and held a 17-6 lead at halftime. It looked as if they were on their way to a big SCA victory in the final home game of the season.
Willow Springs had other thoughts, however.
The Willow Springs Bears came out after halftime with a new determination and obviously a different game plan. The visiting Bears shut Ava out in the second half and took a 28-17 win to drop the Bears to 4-5 on the year, 3-4 in the SCA.
District play begins this week, and the Ava Bears will be traveling to Eldon tonight (Thursday) for a first-ever meeting with the Mustangs.
If the Bears can defeat Eldon on Thursday night, their next opponent would likely be the No. 1 seed, Springfield Catholic, which is playing No. 8 Buffalo on Thursday night. That game would be played at Catholic on Halloween night, Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Ava seniors were recognized prior to the start of the game on Friday night. When the game began, Ava won the coin toss, deferred, and kicked off to the visiting team. Ava’s defense stood strong on the opening drive and took over on downs at the Ava 42-yard line after a big stop on fourth down.
The Bears ran five minutes off the game clock and advanced the ball 58 yards to score on a 2-yard run by Kyle Clinkingbeard with just over 5 minutes on the clock. Ben Loge kicked the extra point to give the hometown Bears a 7-0 lead.
Willow ran out of downs late in the first quarter and Ava took over at their own 18-yard line with less than a minute on the clock. The Bears quickly moved the ball upfield and at 10:25 in the second quarter Clinkingbeard scored on a 15-yard run and Loge’s kick gave Ava a 14-0 lead.
Ava’s defense once again frustrated Willow Springs and because of penalties and hard tackles, the Willow Bears were forced to punt the ball away on 4th down and 30 at the Willow Springs 15-yard line.
Ava took over in Willow Springs territory and moved the ball to the Willow Springs 21-yard line, but facing a 4th-and-8 it was decision time for the Bears’ coaching staff.
Coach Swofford said, “I asked Ben (Loge) if he could kick it.” He said Loge assessed the distance and said, “I think I can.” And he did – a 38-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright to put the Bears up 17-0 with 7:16 left in the first half.
With that field goal, Loge broke his own Ava school record of 36 yards kicked last season at Thayer.
Following the field goal, each team saw a possession end with a punt before Willow would begin its first scoring drive of the night.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 at their own 46-yard line, Willow called a time out with 1:34 on the first half game clock. After the time out, quarterback Lucas Combs completed a pass to Dwayne Stanley at the 25-yard line for a first down, then advanced the ball to the 18-yard line on a quarterback keeper. Combs then passed to Stanley again for an 18-yard touchdown completion with 1:07 left. Dylan Gale’s kick failed and Ava would have what looked like a comfortable 17-6 lead at halftime.
Ava’s senior band members were honored during the halftime show, and at the same time, Willow Springs’ Coach Matt Perkins must have had some inspiring words for his team, because they came out in the third quarter a changed team.
Ava received the kick to start the second half and punted four plays later.
Willow Springs picked up one first down at their own 45-yard line but set up to punt the ball away on 4th-and-3 at the Ava 48. Instead of punting, however, the ball was handed to Stanley who picked up the first down for Willow Springs. The Willow Bears would get another first down at the 22, and on 4th-and-4 at the 16, Steven Davis would get the call and picked up a first-and-goal inside the Ava 10-yard line.
The Willow Springs team would continue to dig and claw to the 2-yard line where, on fourth down, Davis would get the ball again, and scored the touchdown. Combs passed to Stanley to cut Ava’s lead to 17-14 with 4:17 on the third quarter clock.
Willow Springs recovered an Ava fumble at Willow’s 39-yard line to set up another score that would come at 11:45 in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard keeper by Combs. Simon Self kicked the extra point to give Willow Springs its first lead of the night, 21-17.
Ava’s hope was still alive as the Bears were moving the ball upfield on the ensuing drive, only to see the drive end when the ball popped out of the grip of Caleb Miles and right into the hands of Willow Springs’ Logan Wake at the Willow Springs 40.
Combs ran the ball to the 15, and Willow picked up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line before Davis scored with 7:29 left in the game. Self’s kick gave the Willow Springs Bears their game-winning margin of 28-17.
Ava fans came to their feet on the ensuing kick-off when Austin Gastineau received the kick and returned it 81 yards before being brought down at the Willow Springs 7-yard line. From there the Bears went the wrong direction, however, and on 4th-and-12 turned the ball over to Willow Springs when a halfback pass from Miles to Gastineau fell incomplete.
The Bears would get the ball back again with less than a minute showing on the clock, but time would run out with Willow Springs holding the lead, 28-17.
Clinkingbeard carried 34 times for 164 yards Friday night and Miles had 52 yards on 13 carries.
Jesse Dean had nine tackles for the Bears and Buster Davis and Dylan Stout had eight apiece.
Zach Taylor had three tackles for loss.