Central zaps Zizzers in thriller

Friday, October 27, 2006
Central's Michael Brown, left, broke to the outside of West Plains' Gary Gastineau on a return during Thursday's Class 4 District 1 game at Houck Stadium. (Don Frazier)

McNabb's field goal on final play lifts Tigers to 34-31 win

Central junior kicker Tyler McNabb had made just two of seven field goal attempts through eight weeks.

McNabb was 2-for-2 Thursday night against district opponent West Plains, and his second field goal as time expired gave the Tigers a 34-31 win at Houck Stadium.

The game-winning kick, which McNabb called the "biggest of my life," came after his first attempt from 22 yards went just wide. West Plains was called for roughing the kicker, and a penalty on the Zizzers' coach moved the ball to the 3-yard line. The second attempt was a no-doubter.

"I've been working on it all year in practice, just concentrating," McNabb said. "I knew it was good."

With the win, the Tigers (4-5) are set up in Class 4 District 1 at 2-0. Two-time defending district champion West Plains moved to 1-1.

The Tigers will travel to Sikeston next Friday with a chance to clinch the district title. Sikeston is 1-7 heading into tonight's game at home against Poplar Bluff, and a win by the Mules would seal the district for Central.

"We can't have a letdown of any kind," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said. "We haven't earned the right [to think like that]. Central and Sikeston kids get excited about playing each other. Sikeston, they'll be ready to play no doubt about it no matter what kind of season they've had."

Thursday's game had the look of a shootout from the very beginning. West Plains scored on three of four first-half drives, while Central scored on two of its first three drives before kneeling down to end the half.

The teams earned their points in opposite ways. West Plains (3-6) was methodical with its offense. Running back Evan Moffis carried the ball 18 times in the first half, and West Plains ran 39 plays in the first half compared to just 17 for Central.

"I was scared to death," Brookins said of see-saw play. "As you saw, they just drove the ball so well. Some they earned, and some we didn't wrap up and tackle. There are just so many areas, even in Week 9, we have to improve."

Playing without starting running back Hykeem Hammonds for the second straight week, Central's running game was nearly nonexistent. Blake Slattery led the Tigers with 10 carries from the quarterback spot.

Central's passing game picked up the slack. Derek Walker was the early go-to receiver, with touchdown catches of 15 and 10 yards in the opening half.

"It became, for us, with our lack of size up front between the tackles, it feels like every week a battle between the boxer and the puncher," Brookins said. "So we try to call plays and pass protection which legally cheat for our size or call plays which take advantage of our speed."

West Plains led 18-14 at the end of the first half, thanks to an 80-yard drive which ended with Moffis' touchdown run with 31.1 seconds left in the half.

Slattery answered less than 3 minutes into the second half with an 11-yard scamper. The touchdown run was set up by a circus-like catch from sophomore George Hamilton that covered 33 yards.

The Zizzers had a rare quick drive to follow, scoring less than 3 minutes later on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Schmitt to Ryan Mear. Mear beat Central track standout Tyler Terry on the play.

"I had to make up for that. I was hurting," Terry said.

Central gave Terry his chance to make amends, giving him a rare handoff on the following possession. Terry took his fifth rushing attempt of the season 90 yards for a score to put Central ahead 28-24 with 6:43 remaining in the third.

"I knew when I got a chance I'd bust one," Terry said. "That's what I've been waiting for."

The Tigers' defense used the momentum to force West Plains' second punt of the night when the Zizzers stalled at Central's 45.

Central's offense went to work quickly.

A 55-yard screen pass to Joe Uhls gave Central a first-and-goal at the eight early in the fourth quarter. But a penalty and a sack later, the Tigers were backed up to the 37, and they were forced to punt after a pair of incomplete passes.

"It killed me," Brookins said of the sequence. "It crushed me. That's one moment I'll sleep on and dream about."

West Plains made the Tigers pay for their mistakes with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to take a 31-28 lead with 6:40 remaining. Moffis carried the ball seven times for 65 yards on the drive, and he finished with 175 yards on 33 carries.

Hamilton took the ensuing kickoff to Central's 40 to give the Tigers good field position. The Tigers drove deep into West Plains territory, but an offsides penalty on a third-and-1 killed Central's momentum.

Brookins opted to send out McNabb for a 40-yard field goal try instead of go for the fourth down play with 3:02 remaining. McNabb's kick snuck over the crossbar to tie the score 31-31.

"In warmups, I hit a 52-yarder," McNabb said.

Brookins said he had no doubts about going for the field goal.

"If you watch him like we watch him, every day in practice he demonstrates he can hit from deep distances," Brookins said.

After the game-tying field goal, Central held West Plains to a three-and-out, just the second three-play drive for the Zizzers. A weak punt gave Central the ball at the Zizzers' 47 with 1:31 left.

Slattery ran the ball three times to pick up 11 yards and a first down but the plays ran off nearly a minute off the clock. After an incompletion and a short completion to Hamilton, Slattery hit Terry for a 25-yard pickup to set up the final kicks with 6.8 seconds on the clock.

Overall, Slattery completed 17 of 23 passes for 288 yards. Hamilton had eight catches for 127 yards.

Central now has a chance to end a two-year run of sub-.500 records with a win next week. The Tigers have split with Sikeston the last two seasons, winning 33-20 last year at home.

"We're 4-5, that ain't going to scare many people," Brookins said. "But the kids can feel good that we're ending the season a lot stronger than we started."

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