by Michael Smith
Tristin Pouncil said he wanted to prove some doubters wrong before Friday’s Class 5 District 7 matchup with Sedalia Smith-Cotton.
It didn’t take him long to do just that.
He returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and also recovered a muffed punt return by the Tigers as the Eagles rolled to a 47-3 victory.
“I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I had doubters before the game,” Pouncil said. “I just wanted to prove myself and give it 100 percent.”
“I caught it and I knew my guys were going to block for me. I believed in every single one of them and knew they were going to block their assignments.”
He led a special teams unit that came up huge for the Eagles.
“Tristin has been returning the ball for us a little bit,” Grain Valley head coach David Allie said. “He showed what he could do. That was almost a 100-yard return. Logan Pratt is our fastest guys but Tristin is pretty close. He’s been a big special teams contributor to us.”
Later in the second period, when Grain Valley was up 13-0 following a 4-yard touchdown run from running back Jaxon Wyatt, Baker and Camden Nelson tackled the Tigers’ punter after he bobbled the snap at the 3-yard line. Larson punched it in from there on a run. And Pouncil recovered a muffed punt at the Tigers 37 with 7:56 left in the first half. Larson later scored on a 35-yard on an option play, taking advantage of the short field Pouncil helped create.
“Coach (Dominic Giangrosso) talked about how it was going to be up to the special team tonight,” Allie said. “They came out and set the tone and kept the tone for us.”
“Coach G does a great job of motivating our special teams guys. He gives those guys dog tags for if you are on a special team or are on six or more, you get a gold one.”
Not only did the Eagles special teams stand out, so did a defense that was missing three starters, including the teams leading tackler in senior Gage Forkner, who was out with a hand injury. The Eagles gave up a 37-yard field goal to Smith-Cotton kicker Sam Cash.
Other than that, the Grain Valley defense was lights out, holding the Tigers to only 137 yards total.
Sophomore linebacker Brody Baker shifted from outside linebacker to inside in place of Forkner and had a standout game with 13 tackles. Defensive end Rhylan Alcanter led with two sacks and junior linebacker Cole Elliott had a team-high two tackles for loss.
“We have been through adversity all season and have had injuries all season,” Alcanter said. “Honestly, we just practiced our butts off all week. Our coaching has done a good job getting us where we are at.”
Alcanter is someone who has gotten consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback all season and someone Grain Valley head coach David Allie has high expectations for.
“He’s really growing and getting into his own,” Allie said. “He’s going to be a special player for us. He’s got a huge upside.”
The defense also took advantage of Smith-Cotton going for it on fourth down a lot. The Tigers converted only two of their 11 fourth down attempts.
The Eagles had three drives that started inside the Tigers 40 yards line. Those possessions resulted in a 39-yard scoring strike from junior quarterback Larson to senior wide receiver Logan Pratt, a 16-yard TD pass from Larson to sophomore Anthony Greco and a 1-yard TD run by Christian Lanear.
“It caught us off guard a little bit," Alcanter said of Smith-Cotton going for it on fourth down 11 times. “The coaches kept on calling the right calls and we just did our thing.”
The Eagles now turn their attention to Suburban White Conference rival Raytown, which defeated Belton 50-23 in the other semifinal game. The two teams met each other earlier in the season and Grain Valley prevailed in that one 21-14.
“It’s going to be in our house, which we feel good about,” Allie said. “It’s hard to beat a good team twice. They are going to be loaded and ready to go.”
Senior Tristin Pouncil returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and also recovered a muffed punt return by the Tigers as the Eagles rolled to a 47-3 victory. Photo credit: John Overstreet
Photo credit: John Overstreet