Another slow start stymies Grain Valley in loss to Park Hill South

Michael Smith
Special to The Examiner
Grain Valley quarterback Caleb Larson (8) points at his helmet after it was ripped off by the face mask by Park Hill South defender Elano Alvarez (28) in Friday's game at Grain Valley. Alvarez was flagged for face masking as Larson and the Eagles rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit but fell short 38-28.

The home crowd at Moody Murry Memorial Field erupted in cheers. 

Grain Valley quarterback Caleb Larson just tossed a perfect pass over the middle to wide receiver Keagan Hart for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in Friday’s game against Park Hill South. 

“Why can’t we start games like this?” one Grain Valley player shouted rhetorically. 

Grain Valley head coach David Allie is trying to figure out the same thing. The TD pass capped a second half in which the Eagles outscored Park Hill South 21-14. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome a 24-7 halftime deficit as Grain Valley fell 38-28. 

It was the third consecutive game to start the season that Grain Valley got off to a slow start. In a 35-14 win against Oak Park last week, the Eagles offense sputtered in the first quarter. 

The Eagles’ first drive made it into Panthers’ territory but it eventually stalled and they were forced to punt. On the next three possessions, the Eagles struggled to move the ball.

Grain Valley tight end Trent Weber is congratulated by teammate Anthony Greco (14) after scoring the Eagles' first touchdown in Friday's game against Park Hill South. The Eagles fell behind 24-7 at halftime and went on to a 38-28 loss.

“We moved the ball a little bit on the first series then went into a funk on the next three. We need to get rid of that,” Allie said. “(Park Hill South) did a great job of throwing different fronts at us. We knew they were going to do that, but we didn’t think they’d do it as often as they did.” 

Meanwhile, the Panthers built a 17-0 lead with 8:48 left in the first half. Quarterback Nathan Ricco found a wide-open Mudia Reuben over the middle of the field for a 50-yard scoring pass, Mason Love made a 32-yard field goal and Darrian Jones punched it in from 5 yards out. 

Grain Valley had its best first-half drive on its fifth attempt. It was capped by a 3-yard pass from Larson to a wide-open tight end Trent Weber on a play-action toss to cut the deficit to 17-7 with 2:35 remaining in the second quarter. 

But when it seemed like the Eagles (1-2) finally got some momentum, South quashed it quickly. On its first play of the ensuing possession, running back Briggs Bartosh, who had 198 yards rushing on 18 carries, took a sweep along the right sideline and got around the Grain Valley defense and went 80 yards to the end zone for a 24-7 lead that held until halftime. 

A pass is out of the reach of Grain Valley receiver Logan Pratt (11) as Park Hill South's Jayvius Smith defends Friday. Grain Valley suffered a 38-28 loss.

The Eagles tried to seize momentum once again in the third period. Linebacker Cole Elliott intercepted a pass along the right sideline for his second of the season and he returned it 65 yards for a TD, making it 24-14 at the 6:48 mark. 

“I was reading the quarterback’s eyes and I knew there was a wide receiver close to me,” Elliott said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.” 

The play even surprised Allie as he chuckled about it. 

“He’s a ball hawk and he showed some speed going down the sideline for us,” Allie said. “That kind of surprised me even.” 

But that’s as close as Grain Valley got as the defense struggled to prevent big plays. Running back Lucas Oitker, who had 84 yards rushing on just six carries, had scoring runs of 30 and 20 yards to cap the scoring for the Panthers. They outrushed the Eagles 367-198 and had the edge in total yards 528-356.

Grain Valley receiver Logan Pratt (11) looks for extra yardage against Park Hill South's Dylan Love in Friday's game. Grain Valley suffered a 38-28 loss.

Larson threw a 54-yard pass on a short cross to Hart to set up his 2-yard TD run and Larson tossed the TD pass to Hart in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough. 

“We could have easily rolled over and died,” Allie said. “This team has a lot of heart and fight and a lot of belief. 

“There’s no such thing as moral victories or a good loss. But if you can learn something from a loss, and correct our errors, if we do that, who knows what the scoreboard says?” 

Senior running back Jaxon Wyatt led Grain Valley in rushing with 97 yards on 22 carries. Larson added 66 yards on 15 carries and he also completed 11 of 17 passes for 158 yards.