YORK TWP. — Coach Al Young’s postgame speech was short but pointed. Andrew Vaughn rambled negatively for 2 minutes. Austin Phillips reiterated “we can’t have these close games every fricking time.”
Black River had every reason to be upset Friday except for one undeniable fact: The Pirates beat archrival Buckeye 28-27 in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division opener.
Other than that, a complete meltdown was only avoided when Ryan Grauel missed an extra point with 9:40 left after Buckeye (1-5, 0-3) scored 27 unanswered points and Vaughn came through with the biggest pass breakup of his career 5 minutes later.
“First off, a win’s a win. We’ll take it any way we can get it, but we played ugly,” Vaughn said. “I think we just got satisfied and said, ‘Oh, we’re playing well.’ We were thinking it was going to carry over, but (Buckeye) never gave up. We knew the second half was when they played their best.
“We just need to play four quarters of football and not one half of football. We can’t just turn it on whenever a time calls for it. We’ve got to be at 100 percent, pedal to the metal all game.”
Despite the Bucks getting to within 28-14 on a pair of short touchdown runs by gutsy quarterback Alex Green (7-for-15 passing, 93 yards, TD), the Pirates (3-3, 3-0) had plenty of wiggle room midway through the third quarter.
Then, Buckeye’s Rick Monroe (12 carries, 69 yards, TD), who moved from tight end to fullback in the second half, changed the momentum instantly.
Monroe took a fourth-and-inches handoff from his own 30-yard line, spun out of a tackle at the line of scrimmage and rumbled for a 30-yard gain. He capped the drive by scoring from 2 yards away just minutes later, and suddenly Buckeye was down 28-21 at the end of the third.
But the emotional 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior wasn’t done.
On the next play from scrimmage, Phillips (19 carries, 211 yards), who was playing with a fractured vertebrae, tried to bulldoze his way up the middle, only to have Monroe wrestle the ball away at the Black River 36.
Green found wide-open Christian Petek for a 19-yard TD strike shortly thereafter and the homecoming crowd was chanting, ‘It’s not over. It’s not over,’ but the normally steady Grauel pushed the extra-point attempt to the right.
“I’m not satisfied with our second-half play this year at all,” Phillips said. “We always seem to doze off or whatever in the second half.”
Despite Grauel’s miscue, Buckeye gave itself another chance when it got the ball back on its own 29 with less than 6 minutes to go — that is, until Vaughn finally put an end to the madness.
On fourth-and-6 from the Bucks 42 with 4:07 left, everyone at Edwin Steingass Field knew what was coming. Wide receiver Alex Stanley (4 receptions, 81 yards) was unstoppable all evening, and Green rolled right, looked back across the middle and slung a near-perfect pass.
Stanley beat his man and initially snared what appeared to be another diving catch, but Vaughn came over the top and cleanly drilled Stanley in the upper chest to jar the ball free.
Two Black River first downs later — the Pirates only had two over the first 20 minutes of the second half — and quarterback Cody Elsten kneeled out the clock inside the Buckeye 25.
“I saw they were going to hit the slant because that No. 80 (Stanley) was making catches all night,” Vaughn said. “I saw him out of the corner of my eye, so I knew I had to make a play. I just stuck my helmet in there and broke up the pass.”
Considering the Pirates’ dominance over the first 1½ quarters, it was a borderline miracle the ending even played out the way it did.
When Phillips broke free on a trap from 70 yards out just 14 minutes into the game, Black River was up 20-0 and outgaining Buckeye 184-7. The Bucks also did not have a first down running or passing until running back Matt Hritz scampered for 6 yards with 4:16 left in the second quarter and Buckeye down 28-0.
The second half was a completely different story, however, as the Bucks finally figured out how to stop Phillips on the fullback trap, which Black River was executing like it was the greatest play in football history. Buckeye, which was led defensively by Monroe and plucky linebacker Trevor Thome (3 tackles for loss), outgained Black River 175-62 over the final 24 minutes, with 19 of the Pirates’ yards coming on its game-ending drive.
On the other hand, Buckeye wasn’t without blunders. Thome fumbled away a first-and-10 from the Pirates 36 in the third quarter and Petek, who completed a key 29-yard halfback pass to Stanley, lost a muffed punt that led to Phillips’ first touchdown.
But somehow, some way, the Bucks nearly pulled off a stone-cold stunner on little else than heart in front the homecoming crowd.
“We challenged ourselves to step up because we felt we were the better team coming into this game, but Black River’s a great team,” Monroe said. “Ever since last year (losing) 14-0 (at Black River) in the driving rain, we all were looking forward to this. We circled this game on our calendar on two-a-days.
“We were trying to teach these freshmen what Buckeye-Black River means. … To come out slow like that and fight back, it shows how much character we have.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black River 28, Buckeye 27
BLACK RIVER 14 14 0 0 — 28
BUCKEYE 0 7 14 6 — 27
BR — Andrew Vaughn 42 run (kick failed), 10:08.
BR — Austin Phillips 5 run (pass failed), 3:14.
BR — Phillips 70 run (Vaughn run), 10:09.
BR — Phillips 29 run (Phillips run), 5:56.
Bu — Alex Green 2 run (Ryan Grauel kick), 0:57.
Bu — Green 5 run (Grauel kick), 9:24.
Bu — Rick Monroe 2 run (Grauel kick), 0:00.
Bu — Christian Petek 19 pass from Green (kick failed), 9:40.
First downs 19 14
By rush 14 8
By pass 4 5
By penalty 1 1
Rushing att/net years 45/304 39/158
Rushing average 6.76 4.05
Passing completions/att. 5/10 8/16
Passing yards 50 122
Total plays/net yards 55/354 55/280
Punts/avg. yards 5/34.8 4/36.8
No. penalties/yards 3/29 4/37
No. fumbles/no. lost 2/1 2/1
RUSHING: Black River — Phillips 19-211, Vaughn 14-90, Aaron Schmitz 8-9, Cody Elsten 4-(-6). Buckeye — Monroe 12-69, Trevor Thome 11-28, Matt Hritz 7-23, Green 8-35, Petek 1-3.
PASSING: Black River — Elsten 5-10-50-0. Buckeye — Green 7-15-93-0, Petek 1-1-29-0.
RECEIVING: Black River — Phillips 1-15, Dakota Kuntz 1-15, Nick Sas 1-11, Vaughn 2-9. Buckeye — Alex Stanley 4-81, Petek 4-41.