By PAUL STURM, Constitution-Tribune Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE «» Tyler Burgess displayed the St. Joseph: Lafayette Fighting Irish's big-play potential by returning a punt 52 yards for a touchdown the first time an Irish player handled the ball Friday night, igniting a 62-28 Midland Empire Conference high school football victory over the Chillicothe Hornets.
Apparently catching the Hornets' punt coverage team relaxing as Zach Alperin's punt bounced twice, Burgess scooped the ball up in front of his own bench, dashed past a pack of slow-to-react Hornets up the right sideline, and then angled back to open space at about the CHS 25 to give Lafayette (4-2, 2-2 MEC) a 6-0 advantage after only 2:10.
By the time Chillicothe's offense produced its third gain of 10 or more yards early in the second quarter, Lafayette was out the door to a 20-0 lead. While the Hornets would use a record-breaking play late in the first half to close its intermission deficit to 27-14, the Fighting Irish never were in particular danger of being overtaken despite Chillicothe's eventually racking up 28 points and over 350 total yards.
Receiving the second-half kickoff, the north St. Joseph team moved 60 yards in nine plays to reestablish its original 20-points lead, then went 60 yards again after a Hornets 3-and-out – this time in only two plays as quarterback Drew Cortez with lanky receiver Cody Massey down the left seam on a second-and-10 – to make it 41-14 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
A week after being shut out at home by St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond and managing less than 140 yards of total offense, Chillicothe (3-3, 1-3) exceeded that both in rushing and passing yards against Lafayette, but had given the Irish far too much of a head start to avoid losing for the third time in four games.
The host Hornets' 353 total yards was their second-most of the season, behind only the 387 they had in their week two blowout of Kirksville. It included 199 on the ground, led by DeEll Midgyett's 120 on 16 carries, and 154 via the air.
Chillicothe's touchdowns came on a 10-yards hookup between quarterback Tyler Clampitt and tight end Hayden Major, a 22-yards Clampitt-to-Walker Thomas strike, a 37-yard Clampitt-to-Mason Hayward catch-and-run, and Midgyett's 1-yard carry.
The Hornets somehow lost by 34 points even though they were outgained by only 83 yards, had a 2-1 advantage in the takeaways-giveaways category, and had 70 less yards in penalties.
One of Chillicothe takeaways was a record-setter.
With Lafayette trying to expand on its 27-7 lead in the final two minutes of the first half, senior free safety Tyler Clampitt leaped and made a 1-handed interception of Cortez' deep-middle pass intended for Burgess. Not only did Clampitt pick off the throw, but he returned the ball 50 yards to the LHS 35, leading to his hookup with Thomas for a score four plays later.
Page 2 of 2 - The interception was Clampitt's four of this season following nine in less than a half-season of playing defense last year. That total of 13 broke the tie he'd been in with Doug Switzer as Chillicothe's career leader in picks for a couple of weeks. Switzer played only as a senior, competing in 12 games; Clampitt's 13th came in his 10th game of starting in the secondary plus playing sparingly there a few times the first half of last season.
Lafayette's nine touchdowns against Chillicothe came from Burgess, Cortez, Massey, Dakota Pummell, Koby GIllenwater, and Rowdy Wilkinson. Burgess, Cortez, and Pummell had two apiece.
The Irish's previously-moribund running game gashed the Hornets for 179 yards and six scores.
Chillicothe heads on to visit Savannah next Friday, while Lafayette has Homecoming against Cameron, which took Savannah to overtime before losing Friday.