By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It was Homecoming on Friday night in Branson as the Pirates (2-5) hosted Ozark Conference rival Nixa Eagles (3-4). Branson was leading until the Eagles staged a furious comeback in the second half fueled by a trick play known as “magic”. Nixa used their momentum in the second half to squeak by the Pirates, 18-14.
The game started with both teams running the ball effectively between the 20’s but having very little success in the red zone. Branson ran the ball with junior Jay Hill carrying most of the load. Hill scored late in the first quarter from six yards out to put the Pirates up 7-0.
Both Branson and Nixa played the ground control game in the first half but neither could punch it through the goal line. Nixa did get a field goal when junior Andrew Anello put one through the uprights with 3:53 to go in the first half. At the end of the half, Nixa attempted another field goal but it went wide right, leaving the score at the half 7-3 in Branson’s favor.
The second half opened with Branson quarterback Gabe Sylvester hitting Hunter Wood for an 82-yard touchdown pass, giving them the 14-3 lead. Nixa and Branson swapped opportunities on third down but Nixa finally capitalized when Sean Sample ran one in from 4 yards out. Nixa converted a screen pass to Logan Ayers for the 2-point conversion. It was a play that they would use again later in the night. At the end of three, Nixa had cut the Branson lead to three, 14-11.
“I love getting the ball a lot, just trying to help my team out as much as possible,” said Sample. “I feel like I can help my team out the most when the ball is in my hands so I love it, yeah. I was happy with how we did.”
It was in the fourth quarter that ‘magic’ happened for the Eagles. Nixa had the ball at mid-field but a penalty pushed them back, making third and long. That’s when Coach Rehagen listened to his son, also one of his defensive back coaches, when he suggested they run ‘magic’. Quarterback Hunter Crabtree hit his wide receiver, Reid Potts, with a lateral pass and then Potts tossed it to a wide-open Lukas Roemen who was sprinting down the field. Roemen caught the ball and ran uncontested into the end zone for a 58-yard score. The lead and the momentum were now in Nixa’s favor, 18-14.
Sample, who was not involved in the trick play, was impressed that his team ran it so well.
“That trick play, we’ve practiced that every year for as long as I’ve been in high school and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it ran and it worked,” said Sample. “I’m so happy it did, it won the game for us. That was a fun game, it was fun to watch.”
Nixa had a golden opportunity after the Roemen touchdown when they recovered a pooch kick on the kickoff. They did nothing with it, though, and Branson took over on downs with 6:30 to go. The Pirates would work the ball down to the 15-yard line but their drive stalled and they turned it over on downs. With only two timeouts left, the Pirates could do little to stop Nixa. When Nixa’s Crabtree hit Ayers with the same screen pass they had used earlier in the game for two points, it gave them a first down and Branson was out of timeouts. All Nixa needed to do was run the clock out for the victory.
“We’ve been working on it, Coach drew it up, man it’s a dirty play,” said Ayers. “It’s a nice play, we executed perfectly, and I caught the ball, 2 point conversion, that’s game. I pride myself on my defense; I’ve been getting a lot of work in this summer, trying to get out to some coaches and colleges. Every week I get better, know what to hit, when to hit. It’s awesome, I love it. We went 1-0 this game, we just win one game at a time.”
On his team’s lack of execution on third and fourth down, Branson head coach Anthony Hays was disappointed.
“We didn’t get some third down conversions when we should have gotten some third down conversions,” said Hays. “I think a big part of the game was third and fourth down and we didn’t get the stops that we needed or the conversions that we needed to put the game away. We need to have a killer instinct in those situations and we didn’t. They were going to punt the ball to us and we have an off-sides and then we gave up a double pass. Without that it is probably a different game. That’s undisciplined football and we need to fix that. Mistakes shouldn’t happen but when they do you’ve got to be able to bounce back and recover. We didn’t. We had a chance and we didn’t put it in. We’ve got to correct some mistakes and go back to work, that’s all you can do.”
On the screen play to Ayers, Coach Rehagen was pleased with the execution.
“We broke that play out, we’ve been working on that for weeks and just haven’t had a chance to run it,” said Rehagen. “We’ve been working on it, it is something we work on every Thursday and just finally had a chance to run it in a spot and it really worked, it was really good. It’s a tough play to defend, that’s why we run it.”
“This win is really satisfying because I thought our kids played really hard, they worked really hard all week,” said Rehagen. “We’ve had some bad luck in some games, a play here and a play there that hasn’t gone our way. They keep battling, they keep listening to me, keep listening to their coaches. I’m just happy they found a way to come up with a win. I’m really happy with the way our team played, I really am. We were down 14-3 and didn’t look that good and to come back for an 18-14 win? I’m real proud of them.”
Nixa 18, Branson 14
Nixa 0 – 3 – 8 – 7 18
Branson 7 – 0 – 7 – 0 14
Branson—Jay Hill, 6-yard TD run (PAT good)
Nixa—Andrew Anello, 20-yard Field Goal
Branson—Hunter Wood, 82-yard TD pass from Gabe Sylvester (PAT good)
Nixa—Sean Sample, 4-yard TD run (2-pt conv pass to Ayers from Hunter Crabtree)
Nixa—Hunter Crabtree to Reid Potts to Lukas Roemen, 58-yard TD pass (PAT good)