Survive and advance
By David Svoboda PrepsKC staff writer
Oak Grove continued its perfect season with a hard-fought 21-17 win over Pembroke Hill Wednesday night. Sophomore running back Aaron Graham had 180 yards on the ground on 28 carries to pace the Panthers to the victory, which vaults Oak Grove into a Monday matchup with Center.
That the Panthers, now 11-0, were able to “survive and advance” said a great deal about their toughness, according to Coach Pat Richard.
“It’s been since the Harrisonville game that we had to battle for four quarters,” he recounted, looking back to the 21-14 win over the Wildcats on Oct. 5. “We’ve owned every second half we’ve played in all year, and I thought we did that again tonight.”
Indeed, after trailing at the half by three, Oak Grove scored the only points of the second half on a drive midway through the fourth quarter and stiffened defensively and on special teams against a Pembroke Hill team that seemed to have all the answers in the first half.
“They got after us,” Richard said of the Raiders, who saw their season end at 9-2. “That’s how you sneak up and win playoff games. Milk the clock, play your hearts out, and at the end of the night you might get one.”
Pembroke Hill was oh, so close to doing just that for Coach Sam Knopik, but had just three second-half possessions – and saw one end on downs inside the Oak Grove 20, one end on a punt following a 3-and-out, and one end on a painful fumble that occurred moments after Oak Grove had grabbed the lead for good.
“Those 35 kids and these seven coaches were probably the only people in the state of Missouri who thought we could play with these guys, and we did,” Knopik said of his team, which was valiant in defeat.
Oak Grove scored the winning touchdown at the tail end of a 9-play, 58-yard drive that was capped when Graham went over from 6 yards out with 7:43 to play to make it 21-17.
The drive was a result of Richard’s decision to go back to his core offensive principles.
“We just went back to the basics,” he said. “We quit doing a bunch of unbalanced stuff. We quit doing a bunch of tricky stuff. We just ran what we run.”
And it was plenty good enough. Four plays later, the Panthers had the ball back, due to a fumble by Pembroke Hill on a handoff near midfield. Oak Grove proceeded to eat the final 5:55 of clock to hang on for the win.
The second half was in stark contrast to the opening 24 minutes, which were filled with trickery, lead changes and a ton of physicality.
“They took away some things we wanted to do,” Richard said of Pembroke Hill’s effort in the first half. “They did a great job of controlling the clock and keeping the ball out of our hands.”
It was a see-saw opening stanza, with Pembroke Hill jumping on top early, only to watch Oak Grove score 14 straight points before the Raiders scored the final 10 points of the half to lead 17-14 at the intermission.
Pembroke Hill came out aggressively, with an onside kick on the opening kickoff. The Raiders were able to recover, and needed to go just 43 yards in 7 plays for the initial score. Senior QB Ben Gallagher hit running back Charlie Mueller on a 10-yard scoring strike for the points, and after the PAT, Pembroke Hill led 7-0.
Mueller ended the night with 18 carries for 104 yards to lead the Raider offense.
“I thought we did a really good job with tempo,” Knopik said of his team’s initial drive and first-half performance in general. “That’s part of our philosophy. It’s not a play call that wins games. It’s execution. It’s coaching them from August to November.”
Oak Grove responded as one would expect of an undefeated team, running off the next two scores to take the lead.
The first TD came at the end of an 8-play, 37-yard drive that was set into motion by a poor Pembroke Hill punt. Oak Grove got in the end zone when Graham bowled over a defender and scored from 5 yards out to tie the score at 7-7 following the PAT.
After a quick Pembroke Hill 3-and-out, the Panthers went on an impressive, 11-play 42-yard drive to grab the lead at 14-7. Oak Grove’s TD came when junior running back Ethan Fugitt made a 9-yard run on first and goal with 6:36 left in the second quarter.
Pembroke Hill took absolutely no time in responding, using a long kickoff return to spark a 2-play, 53-yard game-tying effort. Mueller’s 22-yard TD dash followed a Gallagher to Jak Kittoe pitch and catch for 31 yards to open the drive.
Having tied the contest, the Raiders rode the momentum into a quick defensive stop, and went on a 9-play drive prior to a 27-yard FG by Alec Hursh made it 17-14 Pembroke Hill as the time ran out in the opening 24 minutes.
Sign up to receive the latest high school football news from PrepsKC!
Royal Valley Panthers
Blue Springs South Jaguars
Lincoln College Prep Tigers
St. Joseph Benton Cardinals
Bishop Miege Stags
Olathe East Hawks
Bonner Springs Braves
Afrikan Centered College Prep Knights
Lees Summit North Broncos
East Buchanan Bulldogs
Blue Springs Wildcats
Fort Osage Indians
St. James Academy Thunder
St. Pius X Warriors
University Academy Gryphons
Bishop Ward Cyclones