Grain Valley edges Raytown to put itself in district driver's seat

Michael Smith
Special to The Examiner
Grain Valley quarterback Caleb Larson, right, follows a block by running back Jaxon Wyatt on a run in Friday's home game against Raytown. Larson threw a late touchdown pass to help the Eagles claim a 21-14 win that maintained their lead as the top seed in their district.

Grain Valley was coming into one of its most important games of the regular season Friday. 

Not only are the Eagles fighting for a share of the Suburban Middle Six Conference title, they are trying to hang on to the top seed for the Class 5 District 7 postseason. 

Raytown entered Friday’s game as the No. 2 seed in the district. Thanks to the help of a stout defense and stellar game from wide receiver Logan Pratt, Grain Valley put itself in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye and home field advantage for districts following a 21-14 victory at Moody Murry Memorial Field. 

Next week, the Eagles will face off against Belton, who leaped Raytown for the No. 2 seed following a 42-28 win against William Chrisman. With a win next week, Grain Valley can clinch the No. 1 seed. 

“The last four games have been really physical for us, so that bye is really important for us,” Grain Valley head coach David Allie said. “Having that No. 1 seed is important, but we have to take care of business against Belton. 

“Offensively, they run the ball right at you and defensively, they have three really good linebackers from last year. We control our own destiny.” 

His team also trails Fort Osage by one game in the conference standings as the Eagles (5-3) are 3-1 in league play and the Indians are 4-0. Next week, the Indians will play Chrisman. 

A big reason for the Eagles' success this year has been the defense. It came up big once again as Grain Valley has held six of its eight opponents to 14 points or less. On Friday, the Eagles held Raytown to just 219 yards of total offense. 

“Coming into the season, we knew we had some experience coming back up front and in the secondary,” Allie said, “but the linebackers were inexperienced. They’ve really shined and helped put our defense in the right position. They got some big tackles for loss when we needed them.” 

The Eagles came up with two critical stops when it mattered most. Raytown was ahead 14-13 early in the fourth quarter and had the ball at the Grain Valley 32 after getting a first down on a pass on third-and-18. 

Grain Valley’s defense tightened up and was aided by a pair of Raytown penalties. Senior middle linebacker Gage Forkner, who had a team high 8.5 tackles, sacked quarterback Nate Whitebear for a 12-yard loss. On third-and-30, defensive end Rhylan Alcanter brought down Whitebear in the backfield for another 7-yard loss, forcing a punt on fourth down. 

“We had a heck of a night and played smash-mouth football,” said junior defensive end Jake Allen, who had 6.5 tackles, two of which went for a loss. ”It’s not about the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog.” 

Pratt came through, running a similar fly route to his second-quarter touchdown on the go-ahead score with 5:28 left in the fourth. He beat a Raytown corner by a step and caught a perfectly thrown ball by quarterback Caleb Larson for a 41-yard score. Wide receiver Brek Sloan ran it in for a two-point conversion to put the Eagles ahead for good at 21-14. 

After that score, the Grain Valley defense got its most important stop of the game. Raytown had fourth-and-2 at its own 30-yard line and Allen and linebacker Brody Baker read the option run by Whitebear and stopped him before he could reach the first-down marker to get a turnover on downs with 2 minutes left. 

“I saw their back roll out and I read the guard,” said Baker, who had five tackles. “The defensive tackles did a great job up front, which allowed us linebackers to roam free. 

“Jake has a lot of energy. In the locker room, he’s a different animal.”  

The Grain Valley offense ran the clock down to 55 seconds on offense before punting the ball back to the Blue Jays. Raytown didn’t cross midfield as time expired. 

It wasn’t a perfect day for the Eagles defense, however. They were up 13-0 late in the second period when Raytown converted on three fourth down plays and a pair of personal foul penalties extended the drive for the Blue Jays. They finished with an 18-yard catch and run from Whitebear to Zhamari Gray on a screen pass with 26 seconds left. 

After the Eagles went three-and-out on the opening possession of the third period, Raytown had a long drive that Gary finished with a 1-yard TD run out of the Wildcat formation for a 14-13 lead. 

However, the Grain Valley offense did just enough to win and was powered by wide receiver Logan Pratt and kicker Austin Schmitt, who made field goals of 40 and 47 in the first half. 

Pratt, who finished with 120 yards on six catches, caught a 25-yard pass from Larson in the second quarter on a fly route from Larson. 

The senior wide receiver is a critical part of the Eagles offense as he is recovering from an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the year. He said it felt good enough to play well in last week’s game against Chrisman. Against Raytown, he and Allie said he’s close to 100 percent health. 

“The struggle he has been through the last few weeks with his ankle being hurt, and not being able to play the full season last year, this game was one where he showed out,” Larson said. “He came in here with heart and passion even with his ankle hurting a little bit.” 

Pratt said he’s starting to feel like he did before the injury. 

“It feels good to finally connect with the QB and feel healthy again,” Pratt said. “After the game last week, the pain started to go away and I was thinking, ‘All right, I can push through this.’ This week, it felt good.”