By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
REPUBLIC, Mo. — His stat line included a sack, fumble recovery, touchdown reception and a host of tackles; however, Ethan Burson’s best play occurred when Willard needed it most.
With just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-5 senior blocked a game-tying extra point from Republic’s Grant Holmes to seal a 26-25 victory.
After wreaking havoc in the Republic backfield for most of the evening, Burson knew he had to make a play to prevent an overtime period, especially after Republic clawed its way back from a 20-0 halftime deficit.
“They’d fumbled twice on their extra points,” Burson said. “And every time, I was back there and so was Tommy [Tapia] and my other guys. That time, we got back there, and I got my mitt up and knocked her out of there. We knew we had to have a big stop, and we did not want to go to overtime with them.”
Thrilling finish aside, the game wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty with penalties and turnovers writing the storyline.
Willard won the unheralded yellow-flag battle on the evening, racking up a whopping 17 penalties for 165 yards; however, Republic made it a boat race with 95 yards on 12 penalties.
Between penalties and miscues, the orange Tigers dug an early hole, turning the ball over four times in the game and twice in the first half, alone.
Kenny Chambers’ 79-yard pick-six off Republic quarterback Riley Watkins got Willard on the scoreboard late in the first quarter.
The athletic Chambers jumped a route, snagged a pass intended for receiver Cameron Flood and took off down the sideline.
Chambers was quick to credit his father for helping spot tendencies during film study.
“Me and my dad, we watch a lot of film over the next team we play,” Chambers said. “And Cameron Flood, that’s their main player. I know he likes to run gos, but they also like to throw little stuff to him, and I caught it.”
After Ethan Thompson scored on a 17-yard rumble to put Willard up 13-0, Republic answered with a costly fumble at its own 23-yard line.
On the very next play, Willard quarterback Quintin Batson found Chambers on a quick strike to put the white Tigers up 20-0 heading into the half.
Willard head coach Bill Roweton praised his senior playmaker for giving the Tigers a huge momentum boost heading into the break.
“Kenny’s really special,” Roweton said. “He’s as good a defensive back as he is a receiver, and he makes all kinds of plays. [Republic] had a really special receiver, themselves, in the Flood kid, and Kenny pretty much took that part of their game away; just a big-time player making big-time plays.”
Despite finishing the game with a relatively quiet four catches for 30 yards, Flood sparked a huge Republic rally with its biggest play of the game.
Fielding the second-half kickoff at his own 2-yard line, the junior speedster found a seam and raced 98 yards to finally get the orange Tigers on the scoreboard.
After a disappointing first half, Republic head coach Dustin Baldwin was thankful for the game-breaking return.
“We didn’t play well in the first half at all,” Republic head coach Dustin Baldwin said. “Kenny Chambers is a good player and did a nice job on [Flood] tonight. Cam did end up making some catches and we did get him the ball a little bit in the second half. The play right after half was nice and got us back in the game.”
Unfortunately, a second fumble at the Republic 15 gave Willard the ball with another short field.
Following Burson’s recovery, the white Tigers didn’t waste any time getting the big, University of South Dakota University commit involved with the offense.
Four plays later, Batson found Burson in the end one for a 4-yard score, putting Willard up 26-7.
“Ethan’s a warrior in there,” Roweton said of his two-way standout. “He’s a three-year starter, 6-5, 260 and plays every snap. He gives us the physical presence that we need to be successful in this league.”
Down by three scores midway through the third quarter, Republic rallied yet again with a trio of lengthy drives.
Following Skylar Owen’s 6-yard run, Riley Watkins scored on a pair of late touchdown runs to cut the Willard lead to a single point.
While Republic’s kicking game had previously gaffed on a pair of extra point attempts in the game, Baldwin didn’t hesitate sending kicker Grant Holmes for the game-tying attempt.
“We had all the momentum at that point,” Baldwin said. “We’d played better the last two quarters, without question. They hadn’t moved the ball on offense. To me, I wanted to go to
overtime. You can look at it a hundred ways, but the bottom line is we needed to make an extra point to send the game into overtime where we have all the momentum, and we didn’t get it done.”
With the victory, Willard (5-4) locks up the No. 3 seed in the Class 5, District 5 bracket, while Republic (3-6) remains in the No. 4 position.
Willard will host Parkview next week in one quarterfinal matchup, while Republic welcomes Neosho in the other. Winners of those games travel the next week to Nixa and Carthage, respectively.
Willard 26, Republic 25
Willard 7 13 6 0 — 26
Republic 0 0 13 12 — 25
Willard – Kenny Chambers 79-yard Interception return TD (Swearengin kick)
Willard -7, Republic – 0
Willard – Ethan Thompson 17-yard TD rush (Swearengin kick)
Willard – 13, Republic – 0 (3 plays, 37 yards)
Willard – Chambers 23-yard TD reception from Quintin Batson (PAT missed)
Willard – 20, Republic – 0 (1 play, 23 yards)
Republic – Cameron Flood 98-yard kickoff return TD (Holmes kick)
Willard – 20, Republic – 7
Willard – Ethan Burson 4-yard TD reception from Batson (2-pt conversion failed)
Willard – 26, Republic – 7 (4 plays, 15 yards)
Republic – Skyler Owen 6-yard TD rush (PAT failed)
Willard – 26, Republic – 13 (9 plays, 69 yards)
Republic – Riley Watkins 4-yard TD rush (PAT failed)
Willard – 26, Republic – 19 (8 plays, 73 yards)
Republic – Watkins 2-yard TD rush (PAT blocked)
Willard – 26, Republic – 25 (13 plays, 77 yards)
Willard – 148 yards rushing, 92 yards passing, 1 TO
Batson 8-17-92 pass, 2 pass TDs
Thompson 11-58 rush, 1 TD
Rice 15-65 rush
Chambers 3-33 rec, 1 rec TD, 1 INT TD
Burson 2-20 rec, 1 rec TD
Republic – 197 yards rushing, 216 yards passing, 4 TO
Watkins 16-30-216 pass, 24-71 rush, 2 rush TD
Owen 16-82 rush, 2-45 rec, 1 rush TD
Rackley 4-70 rec
Flood 4-33 rec, 1 kick return TD