by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley football team’s offense struggled.
In a game in which the Eagles wanted to feature the run during the Class 5 District 7 championship against Raytown, they didn’t have much success in that regard.
A pair of turnovers and the offense sputtering allowed Raytown to hold a 17-10 lead with 52 seconds left in regulation. Up to that point, junior quarterback Caleb Larson had only thrown the ball three times.
But in this situation. He had to throw it and he came up clutch.
On a final drive in regulation that started at the Grain Valley 45-yard line, Larson connected on 5 of 7 of his passes, with the biggest one coming on a 11-yard strike to junior wide receiver Keagan Hart with no time remaining to tie the game at 17-all sending it to overtime.
He connected with Hart again on Grain Valley’s third overtime possession on a 10-yard TD pass, and after Raytown scored on a touchdown, the defense got a crucial stop on a 2-point conversion attempt by the Blue Jays for a thrilling 38-37 overtime win Friday at Moody Murray Memorial Field.
For the second year in a row, Grain Valley advances to the Class 5 quarterfinals where it will meet Suburban White Conference foe Fort Osage next Friday.
“It’s been a long road,” said Larson, who is in his first year as the starting varsity quarterback. “In my first game, I was nervous and couldn’t focus. But as the season has gone along, I have grown and have been able to handle pressure.”
In the overtime period, freshman running back DJ Harris scored on runs of 15 and 9 to help set up the game-winner between Larson and Hart.
Raytown senior running back Zahmari Gary scored on runs of 6, 7 and 6. Raytown decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Gary, who had found a lot of success on the outside run, tried one more.
Sophomore linebacker Cole Elliott read the play and wrapped Gary up to slow him down. That allowed three other Eagles to come in and finish the tackle at the 3-yard line.
“I looked ahead of me and their guy was looking at me,” Elliott said. “I knew he was going to come and block me. I knew it was coming outside, so I just got my keys, read it and made the play.”
The defense was strong all game, only allowing 10 points in regulation. During that time the offense struggled, but Larson and Co. came up clutch when they needed to. The junior was 8 of 13 passing for 137 yards and two scores. He also ran the ball 18 times for 66 yards.
“Our game plan was to hammer the run,” Larson said. “We saw some weaknesses in their run defense. We needed to execute in the first half and we just couldn’t do it. We came out in the second half with a different plan and just really handled the pressure.”
So did Hart.
He missed the last two games with a broken finger, fought through the pain and had his hand wrapped up. He has mostly been featured as a safety throughout the season and played receiver a few times early in the season. He got more snaps at the position due to an ankle injury that sidelined Grain Valley’s No. 1 receiver Logan Pratt.
“I knew what I could do from practice,” Hart said. “If it wasn’t for our people up front, I wouldn’t have been able to do it."
“I fought through the pain but it has had time to heal with the bye week and playing against … no offense … a not as good team last week. It helped my hand get better.”
Grain Valley head coach David Allie praised Hart for stepping in for Pratt and thriving as a receiver despite not having played the position in many weeks.
“That’s just the kind of athlete he is,” Hart said. “He knows what to do. We even put him in at tight end, too. We got him on the post corner in overtime and Larson got it to him to send it to overtime. He’s a great competitor.”
The junior came up huge with 93 yards on four catches for two touchdowns.
“He was our weapon,” Larson said. “He was under the radar because I don’t think Raytown knew if he was going to play or not and that worked in our favor there.”
A Grain Valley turnover led to Raytown’s first score. Tamarian Cashier recovered an Eagle fumble at the Grain Valley 26. That eventually led to a 31-yard field goal from Maziah Hamchsoui to make it 3-0.
Grain Valley’s defense held strong in the first quarter, forcing two turnover on downs when Raytown had the ball on the Eagles’ side of the field. The latter stop came on a fourth-and-1 from the Grain Valley 39.
After Grain Valley failed to get a first down on its first three possessions, Larson hit Hart on a 5-yard out, and he outran the defense along the left sideline for a 61-yard catch-and-run to put the Eagles ahead 7-3.
Late in the first half, Grain Valley still led by four, but a muffed exchange on a handoff between Larson and running back Jaxon Wyatt led to a fumble. It was recovered by Raytown senior linebacker Derrick Buycks and he took it into the end zone from 24 yards out to give Blue Jays a 9-7 lead with 31 seconds left in the first half after a missed extra point.
Later in the third period, Austin Schmitt punted after a three-and-out, but Hart was able to recover a muff from the Raytown returner to set up Grain Valley at the Raytown 25. Grain Valley kicker Austin Schmitt later made a 36-yard field goal to put his team up 10-9 with 11:21 left.
The Eagles lost the lead after Gary’s 77-yard TD run at the 11:01 mark in the fourth before Larson’s, Hart’s and the defense’s heroics unfolded.
On a final drive in regulation that started at the Grain Valley 45-yard line, quarterback Caleb Larson connected on 5 of 7 of his passes, with the biggest one coming on a 11-yard strike to junior wide receiver Keagan Hart with no time remaining to tie the game at 17-all sending it to overtime. Photo credit: John Overstreet
Junior wide receiver Keagan Hart celebrates a last second score.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Scenes from the District Championship game.
Photo credit: John Overstreet