By Jason Hoekema
Author’s Note: First half statistics may be inaccurate or incomplete due to extra innings at the Lady Bears’ District Championship game.
With a late start for softball goers, many walked into CE Harlan Stadium to witness Kayden Myers top off a 70-yard drive with a touch down from the Cabool three and again for the two-point conversion with 7:06 left in the first quarter.
Followed shortly after was Spencer Skyles and Dylan King pushing the Bulldogs into negative yardage on their possession before punting with 5:00 left.
The ball bounced and was returned to the Cabool 38, excellent field position had it not been for an illegal shift costing the Bears five yards, extending their drive to 43 yards for a 13-yard touchdown reception by Josh Bray then a Nate Swofford-Skyles connection for the extra two points.
Quickly Ava gained a 16-point advantage over five first downs – one passing – with just 6:43 of possession time in the opening quarter.
As hot as the Bears were in the first, they were polar opposites in the second quarter as defenses went to work against each other.
It did not help Ava’s case – neither did two missed calls – to be called on passing ahead of the line of scrimmage; squandering 4:51 of clock and a 74-yard drive to turnover on downs at the Cabool three when Bray fell short of the endzone.
If not for the laundry, the Bears’ final push could have resulted in scoring.
The next possession was also tainted with penalties when the Bears started on their own 47. Meyers rushed for 30 of the 53 yards and three rushing first downs before Ava caught a break.
Another flag had been thrown onto the field, this time a pass interference call against Cabool on a play from the Bulldog 15.
The result was half the distance to the goal (to the seven) and a fresh set of downs as a result of the penalty. This was also Ava’s first, first down on penalty yards this season.
Bray bobbled the ball in the endzone, resulting in an incomplete pass on first-and-seven. The Bears coaching staff tried to execute a trick play but were read well by the Cabool defense who held the Bears to no gain on second-and-seven and the end of the first half.
In the first 24 minutes the Ava offense charged for more than 232 yards resulting in two touchdowns and conversions, putting 16 points on the board during their nearly 16 minutes of possession time. Those 16 points were scored on turnovers by Cabool but were hard-earned over at least 26 plays averaging at just shy of 9 yards per snap.
The Bears had more passing yards than rushing in the first half but 27 were returned over four penalties.
Out of the locker room with renewed focus the Bears drove for 157 yards resulting in two more touchdowns over seven-and-one-half minutes of possession time in the third quarter.
Through four first-down conversions- two from Myers and one from a pass reception by Bray and then another with a 44-yard keeper by Swofford – the Bears tacked on another 16 points tearing open the lead to 36-0.
The Bears first possession of the third quarter was a lengthy, 58-yard drive with three of those first-down conversions. First was 12 yards by Myers, then 13 yards in a combined air and ground advance, then the third on an eight-yard pass to Skyles which drove the Bears inside the Bulldogs’ 20.
Swofford found Myers for another 11 yards before he kept the pigskin and rushed for a six-yard touchdown with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
The Bears’ next scoring drive was a one-minute and 41-second sprint for 60 yards. Swofford snagged the first conversion with a 44-yard blast on the keeper followed by Myers pushing and carrying defenders over 16 yards for the Bears’ fourth touchdown.
Since Myers had already rushed to the pay dirt, the Bears gave it to him again from the three for the two-point conversion, now 36-0 for Ava.
The Bears defense blanked the Bulldogs in the third holding them to 14 yards over two possessions as they tried in vain to get their passing game to break away from defenders like Zach Mendel, Myers and Blake King. Two offensive penalties on the Bulldogs attributed to minimizing gains.
The Bears took the ball into their third possession with 1:52 left in the third and quickly found themselves in Bulldog territory with a seven-yard sprint from Swofford then a 28-yard rush by Myers to the Cabool 22.
Swofford tried to connect with Mendel twice, but only moved up four yards to the Bulldog 18 before the horn flipped the field.
12 minutes on the clock and in the red zone, Swofford handed off to Myers for three yards to the 15 then pitched out to Mendel on the right side for 11 yards and a first down to the Cabool four-yard line.
It took a fight to find the pay dirt on three snaps. Initially the Bears lost two yards when Swofford was stuffed behind the line but gained three on a left-side pitch to Mendel to the Cabool three.
Swofford and the offense rolled the play to the far side of the field allowing Blake King a moment to break out of coverage for a touchdown reception at the back of the endzone.
The fan base was taken back a bit when the Bears set up for a field goal attempt. The only other time the Bears have tried to put it through the uprights was against Mountain Grove in Week 3, and it went low and left.
Myers’ kicking has improved from unsure 25-yard bunts to longer and more accurate kicks in Week 8 with one kickoff resulting in a touchback and another landing at the Cabool 12 after a touchdown. A 38-yard kickoff.
This time it crossed the crossbeam and made it through the uprights at Silvey Field for an unusual 7 points in the books because of a successful field goal attempt. Ava’s first PAT of the season.
After burning 3:21 off the clock at the start of the fourth, Ava’s lead ushered in a fourth quarter clock drain with Cabool on the verge of a shutout.
Nearly a minute elapsed before the Bulldogs got their hands on the ball and returned it to the Ava 44.
Daniel Hutcheson rushed for 20 yards and one first down before Cabool quarterback Quincy Flannagan connected with Will Johnson for a 29-yard pass and a first down at the Ava seven.
A short rush on first-and-ten against the Ava junior varsity pressed into the Ava seven yard line. Hutcheson, the Cabool equivalent of Myers, wrestled his way through the defense for a four-yard rushing touchdown.
Hutcheson took the ball again from the three but failed to convert for the extra two points.
With 4:21 left in regulation Zach Richards took the helm and rushed for 23 yards and a first down at the Ava 49. The underclassmen offense pushed as hard as they could against the Cabool Varsity defense but were held to zero gain because of a delay of game penalty.
No matter though. The play clock for the final snap was just shy of a second behind the game clock, once Ava realized this it was game up and Ava’s eighth consecutive win of the season and sixth SCA win.
At the end of 48 minutes the Bears accumulated 436 yards (268 rushing/168 passing) and were 92-percent in pass completions. Averaging just over eight yards per snap the Bears scored all 39 points from turnovers and kept penalty yards to a minimum at 47 over seven calls.
To date the Bears have taken 177 points from turnovers by opponents and have allowed only 42 points to be made off the Bears’ offensive blunders. The offense has averaged 12.7 yards per snap through Week 8 gaining 2,692 yards on offense this year, 1,906 on rushing alone.
This week is the final game for the Bears in the regular season before moving on to playoffs. In the SCA they continue to be perfect with Thayer one step behind them at 7-1 in the conference. Meanwhile they continue perfect in MSHSAA Class 2 District 3 football with a record of 8-0, leading four SCA teams that share the same competitive classification. The only competitors that Ava has not faced this season are Strafford (4-4), East Newton (1-7), and Forsyth (2-6).
Tomorrow the Bears take to the road to face Willow Springs, also known as the “Bears” for an away game scheduled for 7 P.M. Willow Springs is currently tied for 4th Place in the SCA with a record of 3-3 and also trail heavily in the MSHSAA District at 4-4.
In the SCA, Ava can achieve a hypothetical best of 7-0 with a win over Willow Springs and would take the conference outright with Thayer trailing at a possible best of 6-1 this season.
Willow Springs has trailed Ava in the last six meetings with a point margin no less than 26 under the Blue and Gold Bears. Since 2010, Ava has maintained a 7-2 record and are on a six-win streak.
Ava leads Willow Springs in points per game (34.6 vs. 17.9) and have allowed fewer points this season (14.8 vs. 20).