Pierce City and Sarcoxie, two undefeated Spring River Valley Conference rivals, battled toe-to-toe that lived up to expectations on Friday in Don Keebaugh Stadium in Pierce City. Holding within two points of each other for most of the game, the Eagles saw time run out on their comeback effort to lose 54-44 in a game that tallied 113 plays and over 900 yards gained.
The two teams played practically to a standstill in the first half, a nearly even exchange of exploding rockets.
It started slowly, with Pierce City ending its first possession with what would be the Eagles' only completed punt of the game. They got the ball back on a fumble three plays later and on the first play, senior running back Cedric O'Hara ran 48 yards to score.
Sarcoxie then mounted an eight-play drive to score, setting the game's pattern by exchanging runs between running backs Logan Jones and Ryder Cox. Both teams missed their extra point kicks, and never tried another for the rest of the game.
Pierce City's next drive went six plays and scored on a 61-yard cross-field sprint by quarterback Kole Kelley. O'Hara got the two-point conversion, making the score 14-6 with less than four minutes left in the first quarter.
The Eagles got the ball back on a fumble three plays later. When the drive stalled eight plays later, a low snap prompted the punter to put his knee down before the kick, giving Sarcoxie possession on the Eagles 20 yard line. Five plays later, Jones scored from the 2-yard line then made the two-point conversion, tying the score at 14-14 with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Pierce City scored again in eight more running plays, including Kelley's first completed pass in four attempts. O'Hara scored on a 9-yard run and the extra point failed.
Sarcoxie answered with a six-play drive, including two runs totaling 47 yards for Jones. Cox ran in the last five yards, then scored the two-point conversion that put the Bears up 22-20.
Kelley connected with wide receiver Zack Hyde on a 12-yard pass that ended in a 45-yard gain to open Pierce City's next drive. O'Hara ran in from the 8-yard line two plays later, then scored the two-point conversion to rachet the score to 28-22.
With nearly three minutes left in the half, Sarcoxie put its running game to work, earning four first downs in eight plays. Jones scored from the eight yard line and Cox ran the conversion to lead the halftime score at 30-28.
Asked what his strategy was for the second half, Eagles head coach Matt Holt said, "We've got to stop them."
The need increased as the Bears took the opening kick-off and scored in five plays. Quarterback Conor Jones broke free on a 56-yard run to score, and Logan Jones ran in the two-point conversion.
Behind 38-28, Pierce City mixed up its offense. A completed 17-yard pass to wide receiver Caleb Laswell and a double reverse hand-off to Hyde propelled a 10-play drive that scored on a 5-yard run by O'Hara with less than five minutes left in the quarter. On the extra point, O'Hara was stopped, putting the score at 34-38.
Sarcoxie, using time in its favor, mounted a 14-play drive, adding hard-to-stop running back Jade Bloss in the mix. The Bears scored two minutes into the fourth quarter on an up-the-center run by the quarterback, with two points added by a Logan Jones run, making the score 36-46.
Starting from their 20, the Eagles scored in seven plays, with passes to Laswell and tight end Michael Vincent, capped by a one-yard run by O'Hara.
Ahead 46-44 with six minutes left, Sarcoxie launched the pivotal drive of the night. Runs by five ball carriers kept the Eagles off-balance, leaving Conor Jones to score on a one-yard run and an extra point conversion by Logan Jones, for a 44-54 score.
With only 1:28 left and down by 10, Pierce City went to the air, gaining 50 yards in two plays. Two plays later Kelley was pulled down at the line of scrimmage and time expired.
"We didn't take care of business," Holt said. "We got a little too confident, thinking we could score on every drive. We need to take more pride in our defense. Too many kids are subbing themselves out. It's not the end of the world; it's only week four."
The Eagles had 496 yards on 53 plays, including 146 yards on six of 10 passes and 17 first downs. O'Hara led the Eagles with 204 yards on 22 carries. Kelley had 109 yards rushing.
The Bears had 423 yards, all rushing, on 60 plays with 20 first downs. Logan Jones led the team with 157 yards on 19 carries. Conor Jones followed with 111 yards on 11 carries.
The Eagles travel to Diamond on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.