The postgame comments of Fulton head coach Pat Kelley were interspersed with bouts of frazzled silence and uncertainty.
The most glaring example was his response to the effect an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty called against senior receiver Jordan Reynolds late in the fourth quarter had on the Hornets while they were trying to drive and tie Friday night's game against Kirksville.
Already in a second-and-long situation, the penalty put the Hornets in a third-and-24 dilemma. Kelley refused to blame Reynolds, but he also couldn't seem to give an explanation.
"I don't know," Kelley said. "I don't think it changed the game.
"I don't know; it's frustrating and I'm not going to comment on an individual kid."
The chain of events led to a Fulton punt and seemingly turned the field around for the Tigers. Kirksville used the opportunity to add a late field goal and come away with a 17-7 North Central Missouri Conference victory over the winless Hornets on Friday night.
It's been that kind of season for Fulton (0-6, 0-4 NCMC), an admittedly young team that was held scoreless through the season's first three games but has come along offensively in recent weeks. Yet, the Hornets have rarely been able to cash in on their opportunities.
However, Fulton's first three minutes of play Friday night suggested that Kelley's team might be past those days. Hornets senior defensive end Tyler Threet recovered a fumble by Kirksville sophomore quarterback Mitch Kriegshauser on the game's first play.
Then on third-and-9, a wide-receiver pass from senior Deon Galbreath to senior tight end Jermaine Gray for 31 yards gave Fulton a first-and-goal at Kirksville's 2-yard line. Senior running back Ryan Fritz powered his way into the end zone on the next play to help put Fulton up 7-0.
"We were able to take advantage of that mistake," Kelley said. "Kirksville was playing up and reading the dash motion on the sweep, and it really worked for us."
The recovered fumble was the first of two for the Fulton defense, which allowed a season-low 197 total yards. Meanwhile, Kirksville (3-3, 1-1) took some time to get going but eventually used a no-frills, split-back running attack to score on a 4-yard run by senior back Keaton Farnsworth.
The Tigers missed the extra point, then put themselves in a first-and-21 on their next possession with holding and false-start penalties on back-to-back plays.
Those ended up being moot two plays later when sophomore running back Scott Schwend took a short pass from Krieghauser, broke two tackles and scooted to the end zone for a 24-yard score. A two-point conversion by Farnsworth made it 14-7 at halftime.
"We had chances and chances and chances, and we just couldn't take advantage of them, and to Kirksville's credit, they did," Kelley said. "We played hard and played tough, but just didn't make the right plays when we needed to make those plays."
Kelley has noted in the past that his team hasn't been able to overcome its own mistakes. Friday night's contest was a glaring example of the Hornets' struggle to bust down a door when the other team leaves it cracked open.
Junior quarterback Jake Matthews returned to the lineup after sitting out last week's game with a sore back. Matthews was an efficient 11-of-18 for 76 yards and an interception.
Two long passes to Gray put the Hornets down in the red zone. However, an overthrown 12-yard fade pattern to Galbreath in the back corner of the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter ended up being the last whiff of points the Hornets would have all night.
With Fulton's futility continuing, it's now up to Kelley to get the Hornets ready for a game that doesn't need any more hype. The rival Mexico Bulldogs visit this week for Fulton's homecoming, and it represents the Hornets' last chance for a win before the start of district play.
Mexico defeated St. Charles 37-14 on Friday night.
The Bulldogs beat the Hornets twice last season, including a 14-13 sectional playoff win to end Fulton's season. Kelley might have had little to say himself Friday night, but as far as he is concerned, the importance of every remaining game on his team's schedule should speak louder than he ever could.
"Any game right now better get the focus back," Kelley said. "We're struggling right now and we really need to get back."