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Examiner
  • Panthers' last gasp falls short

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  • Trailing 22-6 at halftime in Saturday’s Class 3 state quarterfinal, Oak Grove unveiled a new offensive package that gave itself a puncher’s chance against defending state champion Maryville.
    With running backs Ethan Fugitt and Aaron Graham side-by-side, each poised to take a shotgun snap, and two other backs joining them behind a double-tight line, the Panthers had two touchdown drives in the third quarter going against the wicked wind from the south.
    But the Panthers couldn’t find a tonic against Maryville’s wing-T offense, which countered both Oak Grove scores with its own TD drives as the Spoofhounds advanced to the state semifinals with a 42-20 victory.
    While top-ranked Maryville (13-0) had 265 rushing yards, it was 5-of-6 passing for 137 yards by Trent Nally – all attempts coming with the wind at his back in the middle two quarters – that proved especially crucial.
    “Like champions, they responded and made plays. I thought we did a pretty good job against the run, but the passing game killed us,” said Oak Grove coach Pat Richard, whose fourth-ranked team bowed out at 11-2. The quarterback hadn’t shown much passing (on film), but he made plays. He made throws, and that’s why they won the ballgame.
    “We didn’t capitalize on their fumble, and that was huge. The second quarter they got the wind and made three plays in the passing game.”
    That fumble came with 4:07 left in the first quarter with score knotted at 6. Maryville scored just four snaps into the game, as Nally’s 23-yard keeper on the first play and Brody McMahon’s 52-yarder up the gut set up Nally’s 1-yard TD sneak.
    Oak Grove responded with a 67-yard drive in 13 plays, the last a 1-yard plunge by Tyler Brown. Jacob Cacek blocked Scott Jones’ PAT kick to keep the score tied 6-6, but the Panthers had a golden chance to take the lead when Skyler Hulse fell on a fumbled snap at Maryville’s 24. After a false start penalty, the Panthers managed just a 43-yard field goal try that missed.
    A second-quarter Panther punt traveled just 13 yards into the wind, and Maryville immediately took advantage as Nally connected with Payden Dawson out of the backfield for a 42-yard touchdown pass, then added the conversion run (the Spoofhounds didn’t attempt a PAT kick all afternoon) at the 8:42 mark.
    Twice Oak Grove elected to attempt a fourth-down conversion instead of punting again into the wind and failed, and the second time it gave Maryville possession at the Panther 39. The Spoofhounds scored in five plays, with McMahon (17 carries, 136 yards) getting a 2-yard touchdown and Dawson adding a conversion run with 25 seconds left in the half.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Obviously the wind was a big part of this game,” Maryville coach Matt Webb said. “When you had it you wanted to throw it. It was smashmouth, big-boy football.”
    Facing the wind to open the second half, Oak Grove came out with its “Tiger” formation, with DaWaun Johnson and Kyle Martin flanking Fugitt and Graham in the backfield. Johnson’s 38-yard sprint around left end capped a six-play drive, and Graham’s 29-yard burst started a nine-play drive that traveled 73 yards and ended with Fugitt’s 2-yard score at the 4:21 mark of the third.
    “We had a blast with it,” Richard said. “It was the perfect offense with (going against) the wind.”
    Graham said the package was something the Panthers practiced sparingly throughout the season in case they ever needed it.
    “It gave them a new look and let us come back into the game,” he said.
    Added Fugitt: “(The Spoofhounds) have a great coach, so we knew if we used it in the first half they would adjust.”
    They also had equal replies to Oak Grove’s scores. On third-and-9, Nally lofted a 32-yard touchdown to McMahon to make it 28-14. After Fugitt’s score, they drove 67 yards in eight plays, with Nally scrambling 13 yards for the TD. McMahon added the conversion run to make it 36-20 with 1:22 left in the third.
    “When they had the wind against their back, they’d throw it deep and we broke our coverage a couple times,” Fugitt said. “We win as a team and lose as a team.”
    Oak Grove got no closer than the Maryville 24 in the fourth quarter, and the Spoofhounds put together a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive to ice the game. Dakota Beemer (11 carries, 67 yards) scooted 37 yards to set up Nally’s TD sneak with 2:53 remaining.
    “That was two very good football teams laying it on the line,” Webb said. “That’s a dynamic Oak Grove team, and they had some formations we had to adjust to.”
    Graham’s 33-yard carry in the final minute capped a 32-carry, 194-yard afternoon. Fugitt added 45 yards on 16 tries, as the Panthers totaled 318 rushing yards but were just 2 of 9 passing. Tandy Hall led the defense with a sack and seven tackles.
    “The kids went out and really responded,” Richard said. “We’ve got such a great group of kids. Down 22-6 at halftime to the defending state champs, a lot of teams would’ve folded up the tent.
    Page 3 of 3 - “We just couldn’t get a stop when we needed. We had a lot of errors that we don’t usually make, a lot of flags. We couldn’t capitalize on their mistake, and they sure capitalized on the ones we made. Tough ending to a great year.”

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