Perhaps it’s too much to ask of any program to beat the defending state champion twice in a season.
That’s the task Grain Valley faced Friday heading into the Class 4 District 6 final against Harrisonville at Moody Murray Community Field, where ultimately, too many mistakes cost the Eagles – who used a touchdown pass with no time left to beat the Wildcats in the regular season – in a 24-21 loss.
“We just kind of got in our way a little bit tonight, and it cost us,” Grain Valley coach David Allie said. “We missed some opportunities and we thought we could have had a better first half.”
Though it had more than 60 yards in penalties, fumbled the ball inside the Wildcats 10, missed a field goal and entered the fourth quarter trailing 24-7, the Eagles still found themselves with a chance to win after recovering an onside kick at their own 49 with just under three minutes to play.
But Grain Valley couldn’t take advantage.
The Eagles failed to advance the ball on any of their four plays, turning the ball over on downs and watching Harrisonville run out the clock on the game and their season.
“We tried to make it exciting there at the end,” Allie said. “We got the onside kick, then unfortunately lost some yards on first down and had to play catch-up a little bit. But hats off to Harrisonville. That’s a very good team. They’re well-coached and they ran their triple-option offense very well tonight.”
The Wildcats (9-3) finished with 334 yards on the ground and 400 overall, senior Wyatt Reynolds finishing with 136 yards on 22 carries.
“They were on with their pitches tonight,” Allie said. “That’s the hard part about the triple option, you take away the first, we get the second, but couldn’t get the third at some points. But they had to earn it. They had one big run, but I thought our defense played great, overall.”
In a rematch of last year’s final that the Wildcats won 33-10, Harrisonville opened up the scoring when Reynolds crossed the goal line from the Eagles 4 midway through the first.
The Eagles (9-3) answered with a 69-yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Tate Collum broke several tackles on a 3-yard scoring run.
Grain Valley couldn’t take advantage of a Wildcats fumble on the ensuing possession, and Harrisonville took a lead it would never relinquish when Ryan Byrd found Nick Laughlin for an 8-yard TD pass.
The Eagles looked like they might tie the game when they drove inside Harrisonville’s 10 just before halftime, but a fumble stalled their drive.
“We had some things taken away on the offensive side that were self-inflicted,” Allie said.
Byrd scored on a 1-yard run to start the second half and Karsen Cesonis’ 31-yard field goal gave the Wildcats their 24-7 lead heading into the fourth.
Collum connected with Ethan Macoubrie on touchdown passes of 12 and 19 yards in the final frame to bring Grain Valley within the final tally.
“There was a lot of fight in the kids in the fourth,” Allie said. “Some teams might pack it in being down three scores, but our kids aren’t the type that do that. They come out and work and leave it on the field every day.”
Collum – who spent much of the night under heavy pressure – finished with 172 yards passing and 52 rushing.
Macoubrie hauled in five catches for 58 yards.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a fight,” Macoubrie said. “We prepared well all week. We got behind and just kept fighting and didn’t give up.”
After Allie gave his final speech to the team of the season, the seniors reflected on how special it is to play for Grain Valley.
“It’s just family here,” said senior running back Caleb Krell, who had 43 yards rushing. “You come out on Friday night and see all the people in the stands, see the student section, high-five all the little kids, it creates a bond with the community. When I come on this field, I don’t think I’m just playing for the other guys on offense or defense, I feel like I’m playing for everyone in the stadium and community. It creates a sense of family and I think that’s really unique.”
Added Macoubrie: “It’s awesome playing here. Our first two years we were kind of building it up, but the last two years, it’s been amazing. It’s been even more fun to see the more the community’s grown, the more people come out and watch us and how football has really come back here. You see more people talk about it and in the stands. It’s just amazing here.”
Allie credited his seniors for a lot of the success the program has had the last two years, including two Missouri River Valley Conference West titles.
“This was a special group,” he said. “They’re the freshman class this coaching staff started with here. The leadership they’ve given for two years, they’ve carried on the tradition of last year’s seniors. They lived our team motto every day. They got it and did it.”