by Michael Smith
Through three games, the Grain Valley football team has had issues with getting off to slow starts.
Against Park Hill South on Friday, the Eagles offense sputtered in the first half and the defense surrendered big plays in a 38-28 loss at Moody Murry Memorial Field.
The Eagles were unable to overcome a 24-7 halftime deficit, but can build off some positives of the second half in which they outscored the Panthers 21-14.
After being down by 17 points, Grain Valley linebacker Cole Elliott helped the Eagles get some momentum when he undercut a South receiver and intercepted a pass from quarterback Nathan Ricco. He returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-14.
“I was reading the quarterback’s eyes and I knew there was a wide receiver close to me,” Elliott said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
The play even raised the eyebrows of head coach David Allie.
“He’s a ball hawk and he showed some speed going down the sideline for us,” Allie said. “That kind of surprised me even.”
The Eagles scored a couple of later touchdowns in the fourth quarter to cap off a big second half. Caleb Larson hit wide receiver Keegan Hart on a short crossing route that resulted in a 54-yard play. That eventually set up a 1-yard scoring run from quarterback Caleb Larson with 4:25 left in the game.
South, however, never let the Eagles (1-2) get any closer than 10 points. Touchdown runs of 30 and 20 from running back Lucas Oitker kept Grain Valley at arm’s length. After Oitker’s second score, Grain Valley scored its final TD with 18 seconds left when Larson lofted a perfect pass over the middle to Hart for a 29-yard score.
Both players ended up with strong games. Hart caught four passes for 119 yards. Larson added 66 yards on 15 carries and he also completed 11 of 17 passes for 158 yards. Running back Jaxon Wyatt chipped in with 97 yards on 22 carries.
“Caleb threw the ball, especially in the second half,” Allie said.
The Eagles totaled 356 yards of offense and had three offensive touchdowns against a South team that allowed just one touchdown in its first two games combined.
“We could have easily rolled over and died,” Allie said. “This team has a lot of heart and fight and a lot of belief. The guys fought until the very end and that will be a great character builder for weeks to come.”
“There’s no such thing as moral victories or a good loss. But if you can learn something from a loss, and correct our errors, if we do that, who knows what the scoreboard says?”
The scoreboard didn’t end up in Grain Valley’s favor, though. Park Hill started the game on a 17-0 run. Ricco found a wide open Mudia Reuben over the middle of the field for a 50-yard scoring pass, Mason Love made a 32-yard field goal and Darrian Jones punched it in from 5 yards out.
Grain Valley got the ball into South territory on its first drive, but it eventually stalled. The next three possessions were a struggle for the Eagles. It wasn’t until the fifth drive when the Eagles scored.
It was capped by a 3-yard pass from Larson to a wide-open tight end Trent Weber on a play action toss to cut the deficit to 17-7 with 2:35 remaining.
The Panthers immediately responded to quash any momentum the Eagles gained. On its first play of the ensuing possession, running back Briggs Bartosh, who had 198 yards rushing on 18 carries, took a sweep along the right sideline and got around the Grain Valley defense and went 80 yards to the end zone for a 24-7 lead that held until halftime.
The Eagles celebrate a touchdown in the first half, on a 3-yard pass from quarterback Caleb Larson to tight end Trent Weber. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Coach David Allie addresses the team following the 38-28 loss to Park Hill South.
Photo credit: Michael Smith