By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
MANDATA — The Line Mountain Eagles and their fans are accustomed to their team using week 10 of the regular season as a springboard into the District 4 Class A playoffs.
The young Eagles fell short this year, entering Friday night’s finale with rival Tri-Valley at 3-6. But before the game, Line Mountain coach Rodney Knock told his guys that this was their playoff game.
And what a playoff game it was.
The Eagles scored first and saw a couple of opportunities go for naught in a 14-7 loss to the District 11 Class A playoff-bound Bulldogs.
The home team was not out of this one until, with less than a minute to play, a wide-open junior wide receiver, Cory Paul, in his first game of the season, slipped and fell and junior quarterback Ryan Reed’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
“They played their hearts out tonight. I told them this was their last game and to treat it like a championship-caliber football game,” Knock said. “They left everything on the field.”
The Eagles came out in a new look on offense, with trips to both sides and, for most of the night, an empty backfield.
Reed, who had attempted only 87 passes in the first nine games, chucked it 32 times in this game alone, and senior running back Cory Warford, who came in with more than 1,000 yards rushing, carried only five times for 20 yards.
“We just said, ‘what do we have to lose?’ and we had some guys banged up. Cory was banged up, he hasn’t been 100 percent since week two and our starting tailback, Hunter (Hojnacki) he was banged up most of week two, and we got Cory Paul back (from an injury) last week and he gives us a vertical stretch,” he said.
“It worked for us for the most part tonight.
“Ryan threw the ball well tonight. He had a couple of interceptions there, but there were tipped balls and drops. He’s progressed nicely,” Knock said,
Tri-Valley coach Mike Ulicny said, “They had us on the seat of our pants, you’ve gotta give them credit.”
Ulicny said, “They could have easily folded up ship but they didn’t.
“We didn’t seem them run empty (set) all year,” he said, “and we got a little frustrated in the first half, but we settled down and kept things under control (in the second half).”
The Eagles drew first blood thanks to an interception of a Hunter Harner pass by busy middle linebacker Rayce Boyer, who seemed like he made the tackle on about every third Tri-Valley play.
“He’s played like that all year long, making plays all over the field,” Knock said,.
From there the Eagles drove 65 yards on 10 plays with Warford taking it up the gut for a 13-yard score. Warford booted the PAT for a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Although the Eagles defense played tough all night, Harner burned them with a 49-yard keeper for a TD just three plays later and John Snyder’s kick made it 7-7 with 10:52 left in the half.
Line Mountain appeared poised to take the lead into halftime, driving to the Tri-Valley 16 in the final minute. But freshman Gary Laudenslager’s interception, stealing the ball from Paul on a pass from Reed, ended the threat at the 3-yard line.
An Anthony Snyder interception set the Bulldogs up for the winning score, on another big play. Halfback Tanner Coleman rambled 52 yards to put the Bulldogs up 14-7 with 6:15 left in the third.
“We did well across the board. Defensively we made big stops,” Knock said. “We made plays, we forced turnovers, which we didn’t do a lot this year.”
The Eagles forced and recovered four fumbles and had two interceptions.
“You can’t expect those breaks to happen, you’ve got to make them happen, and we made them happen tonight,” he added.