by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley football team came into Friday’s game against Belton with some key injuries.
That included cornerbacks Jordan Jones and Keagan Hart, both of whom are dealing with hand injuries. If that already wasn’t bad enough for the Eagles, senior wide receiver Logan Pratt re-aggravated an ankle injury that he’s dealt with since a Week 4 game against Truman.
It slowed the Eagles No. 1 receiver some, but he was able to play through it. Someone had to step up.
Enter sophomore wide receiver Anthony Greco.
He, along with quarterback Caleb Larson helped guide the offense to a strong performance. Greco’s 145 yards on seven catches and a touchdown helped boost Grain Valley to a 34-26 victory Friday at Belton High School.
The winner of this game was going to earn the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Class 5 District 7 Tournament. With all the injuries the Eagles had, it was pivotal that they win this game.
“The advantage of getting that bye is we get to scout our opponent,” Grain Valley head coach David Allie said. “And you get to heal up some of your injuries.”
The Eagles (6-3) normally use Saturday to study film, but in the post-game huddle, Allie told his team they could take the weekend off.
“This is big for us, it gives us a chance to get everyone healthy,” said Larson, who completed 12 of 18 pass attempts for 182 yards and two scores through the air and rushed the ball 19 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. “I got banged up a little today, too, but it was worth it. We got the win.”
And the Eagles got the win with a huge assist from Greco, who had several key receptions, including a touchdown in the third period that gave his team a 27-6 lead at the 4:32 mark.
The sophomore made a catch reminiscent of the famous helmet catch made by former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree Super Bowl XLII. He bobbled the ball, pinned it against his helmet and fell into the end zone for a 37-yard TD.
“It was the best game of my life,” Greco said. “(Larson) and I are finally figuring things out between each other. We are finding out what we are best at, and we came together to get that one-seed. (Larson) is doing great back there. I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Like Greco, Larson has made some big strides since the beginning of the season, but the junior deferred the credit to his pass catchers and praised Greco.
“If it wasn’t for my receivers, I wouldn’t be in this position,” Larson said. “I give all the credit to Greco. He went up and got the passes for me. He makes me look good. I will take it.
“He’s fast, he’s strong and he can go up and get it. He’s not the tallest or the biggest, but he’s reliable.”
Allie was certainly impressed with his sophomore receiver.
“He’s that quiet kid that has been overshadowed a little bit by Logan,” Allie said. “Logan hurt his ankle on our first running play, but Anthony stepped up and had a great game. Caleb threw him a great ball but that was also a heck of a catch (on the touchdown).”
Grain Valley senior defensive back Tristan Pouncil recovered a fumble on Belton’s opening drive when wide receiver LaQuanta Crawford coughed it up after catching a quick out from quarterback Gio Mack.
The Eagles took advantage of the turnover on a drive that started on the Pirates 31-yard line. It was capped by senior running back Jaxon Wyatt finding a huge hole up the middle for a 17-yard TD run on third-and-13 for a 6-0 lead following a blocked extra point at the 7:30 mark in the first period.
Grain Valley was unable to take advantage of another Belton fumble that was recovered by Eagles linebacker Nathan Testa. Belton made the Eagles pay for not doing so when it tied the game at 6 apiece with 5:33 remaining in the second period. The Pirates ran a double reverse and wide receiver Crawford hit Mack for a 20-yard scoring pass. On that drive, Grain Valley gave up first downs on third-and-13 and third-and-8.
After the Eagles offense sputtered for much of the first half, they got something going late in the second period. Wyatt had to take a few plays off after hurting his arm. That opened the door for third-string running back Christian Lanear to contribute as he carried the ball three times for 32 yards on the drive. It was capped by Larson’s 2-yard jaunt on fourth down that made it 13-6, a score that held until halftime.
“We have really good backs and Christian is No. 3,” Allie said. “You saw tonight, he runs the ball hard.”
The Eagles scored on their opening drive of the third period following a 5-yard scoring run from Larson that was set up by his 32-yard toss to Greco. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Grain Valley made it 27-6 following Greco’s TD reception from Larson.
Belton wouldn’t go away, however. Mack hit running back Javon Minor on a screen pass that went for 13 yards and a score to make it 27-12 with 11:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Grain Valley seemingly put the game away on the ensuing drive when the Belton defense left freshman running back DJ Harris uncovered in the flat as he waltzed into the end zone from nine yards out after a pass from Larson to extend the lead 34-12 with 9:32 left.
Belton managed to make it a game late in the period after Mack connected with Crawford for a 13-yard TD pass and hit running back Kayson Novacek for the 2-point conversion. The Pirates got within eight points 2:08 left after another pass from Mack to Crawford for a 40-yard score.
But the Eagles recovered the onside kick and milked the rest of the clock for the win.
The Eagles got the win with a huge assist from Anthony Greco, who had several key receptions, including a touchdown in the third period that gave his team a 27-6 lead at the 4:32 mark.
Photo credit: John Overstreet