For the past two seasons, it was clear the Thayer Bobcats had the upper hand in their battle with the Mountain Grove Panthers on the grid iron.
After all, the Bobcats outscored the Panthers, 70-22, in those two contests.
The tide changed this past Friday on Senior Night as the Panthers jumped out to a 21-0 lead before holding on late for a 21-14 victory over the Bobcats.
The win locked down a second place finish in the South Central Association (SCA) as the Panthers’ early season loss to Ava gave the Bears the conference title.
Meanwhile, the win also secured for the Panthers the No. 3 seed in the Class 3, District 6 Tournament.
Mountain Grove will host Cassville at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29. The Wildcats were a state quarterfinalist a year ago who beat Buffalo in the state sectionals round.
This year, the Wildcats are 3-6 overall with wins over Mt. Vernon, Monett and East Newton.
Aurora is the No. 1 seed. The remaining match-ups include Seneca (No. 4) and Buffalo (No. 5), along with Hollister (No. 2) and Reeds Spring (No. 7).
In the win over the Bobcats, Mountain Grove’s defense set the tone early as they forced Thayer to go three-and-out. Gaven Moore’s sack on third down was good for a 10-yard loss and gave the Panthers the momentum.
Unfortunately, a fluke play took place three plays later, giving the Bobcats back the ball. Quarterback Tyson Elliott connected with Jase Dowden on a passing play, but a hit on Dowden caused the ball to be popped up into the air and intercepted by Thayer. The Bobcats returned the ball to the Panthers’ 19, though they ended up losing 10 yards for an illegal block on the return.
Mountain Grove’s defense responded by forcing the Bobcats to turnover the ball on downs in four plays. Hunter Means’ huge sack for a six yard loss gave the Panthers’ offense back the ball.
This time, the Panthers marched 68 yards on 14 plays eating up 7:58 off the clock. Elliott hit Dowden for 12 yards and Hollen Glenn had a 13-yard gain. Isiah Hellbusch finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run. Hoyt Mathews’ kick gave the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
Thayer’s offense would end up getting one first down on their next drive before Bryce Stenzel intercepted a pass on a ball that deflected off a wide receiver’s hands deep in Mountain Grove territory.
A questionable personal foul call ended Mountain Grove’s next offensive drive.
Mountain Grove’s defense maintained their momentum. Brendon Rogers had a big sack for a three yard loss. Six plays later, Means’ stripped the ball from a Bobcats’ ball carrier and Moore recovered the fumble on Mountain Grove’s 40.
The Panthers’ offense would strike again as Elliott hit both Glenn and Dowden for a pair of 12-yard gains. Hellbusch then capped off the 11-play drive with a second five-yard touchdown run. Mathews’ kick gave Mountain Grove a 14-0 lead with 15 seconds left in the first half.
At halftime, Mountain Grove’s defense held Thayer to just 25 total yards of offense. The Panthers’ offense had 73 yards passing and 80 yards on the ground for 153 total yards of offense.
Both teams came up with big defensive plays early in the third quarter. Thayer sacked Elliott for an eight-yard loss to end the Panthers’ first drive. Mountain Grove overcame an 18-yard passing play by holding their ground and forcing Thayer to punt on their first drive in the second half.
With 5:33 left in the third quarter, Mountain Grove started a drive with Elliott’s 38-yard pass to Stenzel. Four plays later, the Panthers converted a fourth-and-long with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Elliott to Dowden. Mathews’ kick gave Mountain Grove a 21-0 edge.
Thayer’s players showed some resolve a little more than 30 seconds later when they scored on a 63-yard touchdown pass. The good kick cut the lead to 21-7.
Mountain Grove’s offense tried to respond as they drained the clock for the rest of the third quarter. They reached Thayer’s six when Elliott’s pass on the goal line, intended for Stenzel, was picked off and returned all the way to Mountain Grove’s 33 after a great hustle play by Elliott saved a touchdown.
Seven plays later, Thayer scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Another good kick cut the lead to 21-14 with 8:42 left in the game. Though the Panthers’ offense didn’t score on their next drive, they managed to drain nearly four minutes off the clock.
Thayer’s offense pushed the ball into Mountain Grove territory when Stenzel intercepted a pass that went in-and-out of a wide receiver’s hands. Mountain Grove was unable to do much on their drive though they ran the clock down to 1:09 left in the game. Thayer had a big 45-yard passing play to get to Mountain Grove’s 27 when the defense picked up a nine yard loss on a sack.
On the final play for Thayer, the coaching staff sent Colton Allen on a blitz at just the right time. Thayer had a reverse, setting up a pass, but the thrower was hit instantly by Allen, sending the pass incomplete.
The Panthers went into victory formation for the win. Mountain Grove’s offense had 183 yards in the air and 142 yards on the ground for 325 total yards of offense. Thayer finished with 251 yards passing and minus one yards rushing for 250 total yards.
Elliott connected on 13-of–24 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown.
Hellbusch had another big game on the ground as he had 23 carriers for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Glenn added 14 carries for 44 yards and two catches for 29 yards. Dowden hauled in four catches for 62 yards and one touchdown. Stenzel added six catches for 92 yards.
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