Monarchs suffer road loss to Clay Center
By AUSTIN COLBERT
CLAY CENTER -- Improvement isn't always measured in wins and losses for the Thomas More Prep-Marian football team, but also in the way it responds to failure. In this case, a 51-yard touchdown run by Clay Center running back Ricky Huse on the first play of scrimmage for the Tiger offense in a 22-7 win over visiting TMP on Friday.
"That's happened to us in the past where we give up the big play early and we just lay down the rest of the game," TMP senior Michael Schulte said. "For us to be able to drive down and punch it in after that was big for us."
TMP (1-1) opened the game with a quick three and out on its first possession before giving up the one-play touchdown drive to Clay Center (2-0).
But the Monarchs made plays in their second possession, taking advantage of a good kickoff return by Jeffrey Richmeier and 5-yard facemask penalty on Clay Center.
The drive hit a snag at the Tigers' 35-yard line with TMP facing a fourth-and-7, when TMP junior quarterback Max Megaffin hit senior wide receiver Ryan Mayorga on a picture-perfect fade to the left side of the field.
Mayorga was brought down at the 1-yard line, and Schulte finished off the last yard by bulldozing his way into the end zone, his only carry of the game.
"I'm not sure if Ryan was in or not, but I was glad to be able to punch it in," Schulte said. "That's the first touchdown I've ever scored. It was pretty special."
The score gave TMP a 7-6 lead midway through the first quarter after Clay Center had failed its 2-point conversion attempt.
The lead was short-lived as Clay Center answered on the next drive, going 54 yards on eight plays -- all runs -- and finished it with a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kody Gregory.
TMP had opportunities to respond on a drive late in the half that took the Monarchs from their own 5-yard line to Clay Center's 15. But Tiger defensive lineman Daniel Graves sacked Megaffin on third down for a 10-yard loss, and Megaffin's fourth-down pass to the end zone was knocked down.
TMP trailed Clay Center 14-7 at halftime.
The opening drive of the second half was a gem for Clay Center. The Tigers went 81 yards on 13 plays -- again all rushes -- and faced only one third down. Gregory scored from a yard out and completed the 2-point conversion by finding Graves in the end zone while being dragged down by a defender.
"Certainly we wanted to come out and get a stop, but it didn't work that way. They came out with a little bit of fire and they brought it to us," TMP coach John Montgomery said. "The way that we battled and didn't pack it in when it got to 22-7 is a testament to where this team is and how far we've come over the last year and a half."
TMP kept battling, but of its three possessions over the final quarter and a half, two ended with a failed fourth down attempt and the other on a Megaffin interception by Huse.
Megaffin and the offense were brilliant at times early in the game, getting 102 yards passing on 6 of 7 attempts. Mayorga had three of those grabs for 80 yards.
But Megaffin went 4 of 12 for 51 yards in the second half with one interception, and Mayorga was limited to one catch for 20 yards. Megaffin, in his second career start, finished 10 of 19 for 153 yards.
Key to the passing struggle in the second half was the push Clay Center got up front with three sacks on Megaffin, five for the game.
"They changed their defense a little bit to cover up our wide receivers and their defense line started pushing a little bit more as ours got tired down," Mayorga said.
The Monarch defense also got worn down. Clay Center only completed one pass on four attempts for the entire game, but amassed 264 rushing yards on 44 attempts, compared to only 62 yards for TMP.
Despite the lopsided numbers, the fact TMP was still competing late in the fourth quarter Friday was enough reason for Montgomery to feel good about his team's 1-1 start to the season.
"I've said all week this will be a great test to see where we stand -- Clay Center is a perennial (Class 4A) playoff team," Montgomery said. "We gave them some of our best football and yet we still see things that we can fix. I'm extremely pleased with how the boys came out, kept their heads in the game, kept their composure when we had a few ups and had a few downs, and played until the final whistle."
TMP will host Larned (2-0) next week in its home opener at Lewis Field Stadium. It will also be homecoming for the Monarchs.