Cougars Mark Football Senior Night
Rector's Cougars gave the visiting Marked Tree Indians all they could handle in a 28-12 setback Thursday on Senior Night at Temerian Field.
Marked Tree came into the game already headed for a Class 2A playoff spot, but they found the going tough against a Cougar team determined to post a good showing to close a disappointing season.
"We played really, really hard," Rector coach David Hendrix said. "We made a couple of mistakes that hurt us, but as far as effort, it was there all night."
The game started in tough fashion for the Cougars as they fumbled on the first possession and Marked Tree took over at the Rector 22. On fourth-and-three, D'Angelo Griffin scored on a counter play from 15 yards out to give the Indians the lead. Ramiro Rodriguez's PAT kick was good to make it 7-0 with 9:43 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars quickly established they were going to make a game of it as they moved 53 yards in six plays for their first touchdown of the game.
The score came on a halfback pass from Garrett Buck to a wide-open Danny Hager. The toss went for 36 yards with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
Bam Westbrook's run for the conversion was no good and the score stood at 7-6.
Neither team was able to mount a threat again until late in the second quarter when the Indians took over at the Rector 33. The Cougar defense was playing well at this point and it took Marked Tree eight plays to reach the Rector four-yard line as time was expiring. Griffin's run on the final play of the first half was stuffed by a band of Cougars and the score stood at 7-6 at intermission.
Rector did a good job of bottling up the high-powered Indian offense all night. Leading tacklers for the Cougars were Buck 12, Frank Herrera 10, Huston Highfill 9 and Westbrook 8.
"It was definitely one of our better efforts of the season," Hendrix said. "We played some good physical football."
The second half started with a dramatic leaping interception by Hager that halted the first Marked Tree scoring effort.
But the Cougars had a punt blocked on their first possession and the Indians moved 26 yards in three plays for their second score. The TD came on a 17-yard run up the middle by Jerome Shackleford. Rodriguez kicked the PAT for a 14-6 lead with 8:01 left in the third period.
After a Rector possession failed to yield a score, the Indians took over and moved 60 yards in eight plays for their third touchdown. The speedy Griffin finally broke away from the Cougar defense, finding paydirt from
45 yards out. The PAT kick made it 21-6 with 1:25 showing in the third frame.
Hager continued his reception heroics on the next Rector possession.
He caught a 19-yard pass from QB Lawson Ford, making a tremendous leaping grab on the fourth-down play. The reception carried to the MT 43 and 15 yards were tacked on by a roughing the passer penalty.
On third down Westbrook went around left end for 13 yards to the 11.
Hager then caught a touchdown pass from Ford over the middle. Chance Scott's run up the middle failed for the conversion, but the Cougars were right back in the game, trailing 21-12 with 9:41 showing.
Rector had trouble generating offense in the latter stages of the game and was forced to go for it deep in their territory with time running out.
Three incomplete passes turned the ball over to the Indians and they scored from 13 yards out on a run by Griffin with only 2:24 left.
Rodriguez kicked the PAT for the final 28-12 margin.
Hendrix said Marked Tree stacked their defense in the game to stop the run, leading to the aerial efforts of the Cougars that resulted in two touchdowns. Buck was the leading rusher for Rector with 53 yards.
It was the final game for nine seniors, honored before the game. Ending their Cougar careers were Gage West, Lawson Ford, Danny Hager, Huston Highfill, Bam Westbrook, Hunter Arnold, Chase Jackson, Garrett Buck and Brian Hufty.
"Of course the season didn't go like we wanted it to," Hendrix said, "but it sure wasn't because the team didn't give me all they had.
"There were so many things that happened during the course of the season. For example, both the offense and defense ended with just six of those who started at the first of the year."
Hendrix said he is extremely proud of his seniors, a group determined to get Rector football started again after a six-year run with no varsity team. "They never complained," he said. "They just came out and kept working hard."
He told his team on the field after the game that some day they can look back and be proud of their role in bringing football back to Rector High School. "They did what it took to get this thing going again. It wasn't easy." The coach also praised the community support that has been evident as the school has worked to rebuild the program.
Despite losing a good group of seniors, Hendrix believes next year's team "will be better than people think."
"We should be able to pound you a little with some physical backs," he said. He also believes sophomore quarterback Hunter McNeely will step up and do a good job.
"We need to get more physical," the coach said. "That's what we are going to have to do.
"We've got to be stronger than other people if we're going to get our offense moving." With that in mind, the Cougars will take about a week off and then hit the weight-lifting hard in preparation for the 2016 season.