By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Miller, Mo. — Both Miller and Pierce City entered Friday’s week eight clash undefeated and in the hunt for a conference title.
It was only fitting for the heavyweight battle to live up to its hype.
With two seconds remaining in regulation, Pierce City quarterback Colten O’Hara scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to secure a hard-fought, 13-7 victory for the Eagles.
After his team shut out its past six opponents 268-0, Pierce City head coach Brad Hocker knew Miller would present a significant challenge with a least a share of the Southwest Conference championship on the line.
“These kids are used to playing four quarters,” Hocker said. “And these kids showed that they were ready for that. They fought all night against a great team, a well-coached team, and I couldn’t be happier.”
While Pierce City’s defense has been making headlines all season, it was Miller’s squad making noise in the first half.
Twice Pierce City drove into the red zone only to turn the ball over on downs and come away empty-handed.
The game was scoreless at the half, and then the Eagles got a huge break in the third quarter.
A Miller punt deep in its own territory was blocked by Jackson Kleiboeker, giving Pierce City the ball at the Cardinal 25.
Four plays later, Chanse Ford rumbled into the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown rush.
Miller would answer on the very next possession.
After returning the kickoff to midfield, the Cardinals put together a six-play, 48-yard drive that ended with Nick Johnson’s 7-yard touchdown rush to tie the game at 7-7.
From that point on, neither team was able to do much with the ball until Pierce City took over at its own 22 with 1:23 remaining in regulation.
On the sixth play of the series, a 26-yard pass from O’Hara to Ford set the Eagles up at the Miller 21 with under 30 seconds left on the clock.
Two plays later, O’Hara hit Trenton Kluck on a screen pass over the middle.
The senior tight end rambled all the way to the one-yard line, setting up O’Hara’s game-winning plunge.
With his team running a hurry-up offense, Hocker noticed something right before the snap.
“We do a lot of no-huddle in practice,” Hocker said. “When we called the screen pass, the guy that was over our number two receiver, he was way off the ball. So we went ahead and ran a middle screen on him because we knew they thought they were going to pass the ball. We led him upfield, and we got the ball to the goal line.”
Prior to the game-winning drive, O’Hara told his teammates they were about to win the game.
“I just told my guys, ‘This is it,’” O’Hara said. “‘This is what we’re going to remember when we’re 30 years old; we’ll remember this drive.’ They buckled in, we had heart and we were telling ourselves that we were going to get that touchdown.”
O’Hara finished the game with 152 yards passing and another 52 on the ground. Pierce City gained 334 yards as a team, and Miller finished with 192.
While the victory guarantees Pierce City at least a share of the Southwest Conference title, a possible rematch with Miller looms three weeks down the road during districts.
Should the likely seeding play out, Pierce City would host the semifinal showdown, with the winner to move on and play top-seed Thayer for the Class 1 District 2 title.
Hocker plans to have his team ready for a possible second act with the Cardinals.
“These guys are a really good football team and we’re going to have to take advantage of some opportunities that we had early on,” Hocker said. “If we can do that, maybe we’ll visit Thayer again.”
In the final week of the regular season, Pierce City (8-0) travels to Pleasant Hope, while Miller (7-1) visits Marionville.
Varsity Final: Pierce City – 13, Miller – 7
Pierce City 0 0 7 6 — 13
Miller 0 0 0 7 — 7
Third quarter scoring
Pierce City – Chanse Ford 2-yard TD rush 0-7
(Trey Sagehorn kick)
Fourth quarter scoring
Miller – Nick Johnson 7-yard TD rush 7-7
Pierce City – Colten O’Hare 1-yard TD rush 13-7