Coming into Friday night's contest, the Fair Grove Eagles were a known force to be reckoned with – highlighted by one the area's best offensive units that was averaging nearly 47 points per game to pave the way to a No. 8 ranking in Class 2.
But Strafford (2-4) refused to become deterred as the Indians hung with the host Eagles (6-0) from the opening kick to the final whistle, only to come up agonizingly short by a final of 28-22 on Fair Grove's homecoming night.
“Strafford is a well-coached football team,” Fair Grove head coach Bill Voohris said following the close win. “They were ready.”
The Indians managed to catch Fair Grove off guard when it came to the aerial attack as Strafford totaled 215 passing yards – its most, by far, in a game this season.
With 6:03 to play first quarter, Strafford made it known it came to play when QB Kensen White connected with Dillon Hester for a loud 48-yard touchdown strike to open up the night's scoring.
Fair Grove was able to answer quickly, however, as the Eagles marched down the field in two plays before setting up a 10-yard TD run by senior Austin Fodge less than a minute later, which kept just enough momentum on the side of the home squad.
“The biggest thing is, you know, we had a lot of bad things happen and we never once turned on each other,” Eagles running back Dalton Cloyd said. “We stayed together. Anytime you beat Strafford when you're Fair Grove, it's a big deal.”
Both teams would again be held off the scoreboard until the 10:24 mark of the second period, when Cloyd created the biggest offensive fireworks of the night for his club – breaking through the defense and scampering for a 74-yard touchdown run to give Fair Grove a 14-8 advantage.
It would be Cloyd's lone rushing touchdown on the night as the senior carried the ball 14 times for a game-high 175 yards. Cloyd also caught a TD pass from fellow senior Brayden Lumley late in the third quarter to give the Eagles a two-score cushion at the time.
“Dalton [Cloyd] gives it one hundred percent all the time,” said Voohris. “He's got his eyes and dreams set on playing college ball someplace and he attacks every game like that. I think he's one of the better players in our conference and we've just got to keep giving him the ball.”
As much praise as Fair Grove's offense has received, it was its defense that ultimately made the biggest impact, particularly in the second half. After allowing a pair of touchdowns in five possessions in the first half of play, the Eagles forced four punts and a turnover-on-downs to start the second half and preserve the lead.
“Our defensive coaches made good adjustments at half,” Voohris said. “[Defensive coordinator] Mark Talbert does a great job of making sure our kids are in the right spot, and the kids made tackles. I was
really impressed with how well our tackling was tonight.”
With all of Strafford's offensive difficulties in the latter half of the game, the Indians still found themselves with a chance to pull the upset when, with just 1:57 to play in regulation, White threw a perfect downfield pass to wide receiver Marvy Laude that went for 63 yards and a touchdown – cutting the Fair Grove lead to 28-22.
The ensuing onside kick would be easily recovered by the Eagles, however, all but bringing an end to another competitive showdown in the Mid-Lakes Conference.
“When we play against each other, it doesn't matter what the record is,” said Strafford head coach Tim Hester. “It's usually going to be a fight and I thought the boys played hard tonight.”
Fair Grove will try to remain unbeaten when it travels to Marionville next week, while Strafford goes home to host Skyline.
Fair Grove 28, Strafford 22
Strafford 8-6-0-8 – 22
Fair Grove 8-12-8-0 – 28
Strafford – Hester 48 catch from White (2 point conv good)
Fair Grove – Fodge 5 run (2 point conv good)
Fair Grove – Cloyd 74 run (2 point conv no good)
Strafford – Novakovich 2 run (2 point conv no good)
Fair Grove – Guynn 32 kick
Fair Grove – Guynn 39 kick
Fair Grove – Cloyd 5 catch from Lumley (2 point conv no good)
Strafford – Laude 63 catch from White (2 point conv good)