REEDS SPRING, Mo. — If the 8-1 Reeds Spring Wolves were overlooking the 1-8 East Newton Patriots when they stepped on the field at the Class 3, District 4 playoffs on Thursday, the Patriots certainly grabbed them by the collars and got their attention real fast.
Despite holding the high-powered Wolves to zero points in the first half, and being within a touchdown at the end of three quarters, the Patriots eventually ran out of steam and fell 35-6.
Perhaps East Newton coach Seth Johnson said it best following the game.
"The boys played one of the hardest-fought games I've ever been a part of since I've been coaching," he said.
Indeed, the Patriots left it all on the field. There wasn't a shred of evidence that, despite the records, the Patriots ever so much as thought about rolling over and quitting on the season. If anything, they left the Wolves breathing a sigh of relief when time finally ran out on this one.
After being held scoreless in less than ideal field conditions, Wolves senior quarterback Easton Flaugh broke the scoreless tie midway through the third quarter when he ran through the sludge and into the end zone from six-yards out to make it 7-0. Flaugh later connected with receiver Blake Ball on a 78-yard strike late in the third to make it 14-0.
But the Patriots climbed right back in it when Aaron Millett returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-6 with just under three minutes left in the quarter.
The Wolves finally took control in the fourth quarter with touchdown runs by Dalton Pomeroy and Jake Hembree and scored on a 30-yard interception return by Kaz Woodward.
"It was knock down, drag out the whole way," Patriots coach Seth Johnson said. "I thought our boys played hard the entire way. I'm extra proud of our seniors. They played their guts out, as well as the rest of the boys. I'm very fortunate. I got to coach some great kids this year.
"I felt like we hit harder (Thursday) than we had hit all season long. They got our best effort. The kids, I couldn't be more proud of them. They believed they could win. They fought the whole way and that makes a big difference when you have confidence as a team. We had our opportunity and it got away from us, but I couldn't be more proud of them."
While the Patriots finished 1-9, it would be almost impossible to overlook the progress the team made on the field this season. Not only did they snap a 32-game winless streak, but they also collected the first win some of the underclassmen had ever recorded in their careers dating back to youth football. The team also held a number of good football teams close before a lack of depth (the Patriots only had 14 starters for the most part this season) seemed to play a role late in games.
Page 2 of 2 - "We feel like we're moving forward," Johnson said. "Even though they're baby steps, they're steps in the right direction. As long as we continue, and I know the kids will, they're going to continue to work hard in the weight room, we'll continue to be successful. We're going to be young next year, but they had good seniors to learn from this year, and we're going to continue to move forward and get better.
"We're going to have to have some of our young kids stepping up in key positions next year. We've got some big shoes to fill with some young kids, and I really believe those young kids matured this year."