by, Brennan Stebbins (for Ozarks Sports Zone)
PIERCE CITY, Mo. – Three weeks ago it took a touchdown in the final seconds for Pierce City to beat Miller.
The Eagles wrapped things up a little earlier on Friday night.
Chanse Ford scored five touchdowns and Trenton Kluck returned a fumble for a touchdown as Pierce City knocked off Miller 45-13 in the Class 1, District 2 semifinals.
“Tonight we just knew that it had to be a different game from the last time we played them,” said Ford, a junior running back and linebacker.
“We had the mentality that we’re going to have to come out and play as hard as we can and push the ball down the field every time we get the ball,” he said.
The game didn’t start in Pierce City’s favor.
Miller junior Joel Kleeman fielded the opening kickoff on a bounce and ran up the middle untouched for a 72-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 Cardinals lead. That was just the fourth touchdown scored all season against the Eagles.
Pierce City later tied it on a 20-yard pass from senior Colten O’Hara to Ford, but Miller answered with a 70-yard, nine-play drive and took a 13-7 lead when senior Nick Johnson scored from the 4-yard line on a fourth-and-goal play with 9:47 left in the half.
Things went downhill from there for the visitors.
Ford scored on a 37-yard run and senior Trey Sagehorn added the extra point to make it 14-13, and then the vaunted Pierce City defense went to work.
The Eagles forced a quick punt that led to another O’Hara-to-Ford touchdown pass. Then, after a long kick return and a roughing the passer penalty gave the Cardinals possession at the Pierce City 14, Kluck scooped up a fumble in the backfield and returned it for a touchdown.
“The turnover was a big deal because obviously we’re going in possibly having a chance to score there and keep the game tight,” Miller coach Jamie LaSalle said. “Anytime you have a turnover against a good football team it’s going to hurt. We wanted to limit turnovers and penalties and we just didn’t do it. That’s only our third lost fumble this season. We played 11 games, lost three balls. That’s not too bad.”
“It got us going, it got us hyped,” said Ford. “We knew after that we were going to come out and push even harder. We just had fire in our eyes.”
The Eagles led 28-13 at the half and scored on their second play of the third quarter when Ford broke free for a 40-yard score.
Sagehorn booted a 28-yard field goal later in the third to make it 38-13 and Ford added a 27-yard touchdown with 8:14 left in the fourth for the final score.
Miller, meanwhile, turned it over on downs on four-straight possessions in the second half.
“I thought the first match-up that we played about as good as we could and we still came up short,” LaSalle said of the 13-7 loss three weeks ago. “I knew it was going to have to be a herculean effort tonight. They’re an extremely good football team. They utilized Chanse Ford a little more tonight and he just tore us up. I don’t think he touched the ball near as much last game. They’re just extremely good. They’re talented. They’re a contender for state I’d say.”
“I thought we did a better job of getting our athletes out in space and spreading them out,” Pierce City coach Brad Hocker said. “They’re so big up front that it was hard to move them and they’re so physical up front so we had to try to negate that and get on the edge with some athletes that got some power and some speed and I thought we did a good job of that.”
Miller finishes the season with a 9-2 record. Pierce City improved to 11-0.
The Eagles now travel to top-seeded Thayer for the district championship after the Bobcats knocked off Cabool 20-14 in the other semifinal.
“I’m just really proud of our kids and the strides that they’ve taken and we’re excited to advance,” Hocker said.