By Kary Booher
Ash Grove, MO – The questions in the hallways got old months ago: Could the Thayer Bobcats repeat as district champions? Would graduating 11 seniors take too big of a toll?
Fortunately for Thayer, senior linebacker Danny Gorham and the Bobcats blocked out those distractions and, on Friday night, look what they accomplished – a Class 1 District 2 championship.
Gorham’s third-down sack late in the fourth quarter not only thwarted a tying touchdown but highlighted a tremendous defensive effort for Thayer, which beat the Ash Grove Pirates 6-0.
Thayer allowed only 72 total yards, including 14 on the ground, as the Bobcats (7-5) protected Garrett Young’s 6-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.
“We were going to come out and do what everyone thought we couldn’t do,” Gorham said. “We played our hearts out, and this means so much to us.”
The win marked the third consecutive for Thayer, which advances to play defending state champion Valle Catholic.
This on a night when Thayer won despite 85 yards in penalties (on 15 flags) and weathered four serious Ash Grove scoring threats – including three in the second half.
Those three series began at Thayer’s 24, Ash Grove’s 49 and Thayer’s 15 following, in order, lineman Max Cashio’s and Braden Trammel’s interceptions and Tyler Howell’s fumble recovery. The first series died on two incomplete passes from the 15. The next ended in an interception by Thayer’s Jett Haven two plays into the drive.
And the third series blew up on a third-down sack. Or, more accurately, blew up thanks to Gorham busting through and getting a 16-yard loss that took Ash Grove from the 16 to the its 32.
“Both defenses played great,” Ash Grove coach Ryan Long said. “I thought their defense just played a little better. Offensively, we were stuck in mud. They really clogged the middle. Number 72 (Jordan Gower) he played well and really owned that middle.”
Gower, a four-year starter, said it wasn’t just him, that Remington Childers and Dawson Russell also held their own up front. They were key in the game’s opening series, too, as Ash Grove reached the Thayer 22, only to get nothing on third- and fourth-and-1 runs.
“That’s a big part of our scheme, us D-linemen clearing lanes so our linebackers can get back there. Unfortunately, they are a little faster than us and get all the sacks,” said a smiling Gower, who was in the middle of the postgame team photo, holding the district plaque.
Young finished with 128 yards on 23 carries for Thayer. He also scored its only TD, a six-yard run at the 4:57 mark of the second quarter.
That came four plays after sophomore quarterback Ayden Stone connected with wideout Austin Bowers on a 40-yard pass play.
Basically, Bowers was in a one-one-one matchup and slipped by his corner cover man just enough to create some space. That took the drive from the Thayer 46 to the Ash Grove 14.
It also was a play the Bobcats dusted off just within the past month, after shelving it for awhile, Bowers said. Which was probably understandable, given Stone had to come in relief midseason for injured senior QB Zyman Langley.
“It’s a one-time-a-night type of deal,” Bowers said of the deep pass down the seam. “When (Stone) came to the huddle, he said, ‘Catch the ball.’”
Thayer coach Billy Webber was just glad to get out of Ash Grove with a win in an injury-plagued year.
“We’ve really become kind of resilient and gelled,” Webber said. “We’ve had injuries and continued playing a tough schedule as we do year in and year out, so it’s just incredible for our guys to do this.”
For Ash Grove, the loss ended an 8-4 season.
“We accomplished a lot. Nobody, other than us, thought we’d be at the top of our conference and we finished third in our conference,” Webber said. “We have such a big senior-heavy team, and these seniors played well all year, and led us to this opportunity. It’s just a heartbreaker for us not to pull it out.”