PREP FOOTBALL: Bear River tops Center in OT, earns spot in playoffs (VIDEO)
Special to The Union
ANTELOPE — Behind the hard running of Austin Baze and clutch defensive stands, the Bear River football team topped the Center Cougars, 35-27, in overtime Friday night to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Baze bashed his way through the trenches 25 times for 194 yards and four touchdowns, including a 3-yard scoring plunge in overtime. The senior then powered through Center’s offensive line for a strip sack to send the Bruins back to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
With the win, Bear River (7-3, 2-3 Pioneer Valley League) landed the No. 6 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V bracket and will open the playoffs on the road at 7 p.m. Thursday against No. 3 Capital Christian (7-3).
“It was team effort, we couldn’t have done it without everybody, I had a great game, but I couldn’t have done it without everybody else,” said Baze. “We came into this game knowing it was do or die. We had to win this game to make it to the playoffs and everyone wanted to make it to the playoffs. Nobody wants the season to be over, so we knew we had to come out and play like no other.”
And play like ‘no other’ the Bruins did.
With the game knotted 27-27 and headed into overtime, Bear River took the first offensive possession and fed Baze the rock three consecutive times before breaking the goal line on third down. Quarterback Luke Baggett then found a sliding Tre Maronic at the front corner of the endzone to convert the two-point-try and give the Bruins a 35-27 lead.
On Center’s first offensive snap in overtime, senior quarterback Tavion Pickett dropped back to pass, but was stripped by Baze and Bear River pounced on the fumble to clinch the win.
“Yeah we had a one-year hiatus,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue. “To go from 3-7 to 7-3 is an eight-game change in wins and loses. It’s pretty amazing. Our kids worked hard all year. We’ve lost some tough games to some really good football teams. But, that’s what it’s all about, two great high school teams battling it out to the last second.”
Bruins co-head coach Scott Savoie added, “I’m just so proud of my guys man. Last year (in) game 10 against Center we took them into overtime and we came up short. That was just sweet. Sweet way to finish it.”
The classic Bear River-Center match up provided the suspense like it had years prior. Friday night it was the Cougars who struck first, with starting quarterback Michael Wortham connecting with receiver Lorenzo McGill for a 50-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6 to go up 7-0. Wortham finished the game 10-of-13 passing for 135 yards with a score and an interception. He would leave the game early in the second half due to injury.
Bear River punched right back, marching 66 yards on an eight-play drive capped with Baze blasting into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line to tie it up 7-7.
Forced into a third-and-32 on its ensuing possession, Wortham was picked off by Baggett and the Bruins were in business.
Ten plays later, it was Baze plowing in for a score, this time from 2-yards out. The Bruins led 14-7 midway through the second quarter.
“No one gives the line enough credit,” added Baze. “Without them blocking or even the wing backs blocking, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere. Half the time it was them getting me that extra yard that did it.”
The Cougars roared right back, overcoming fourth-and-long thanks to a pass interference penalty that gave them a fresh set of downs. Senior running back Robbie Donnell then raced in for a 6-yard score. The two-point attempt failed however, and Bear River stayed out front 14-13.
Donnell ended his night with 17 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Cougars rushed for 144 yards on 32 attempts.
After a Bruins punt, Center scored just before the half with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Emari White. The Cougars made good on their two-point try and held a 21-14 lead at the break.
The momentum continued to favor Center midway through the third quarter as Bear River drove 41 yards over 20 plays and ate up six minutes of clock and came away empty after a 38-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
Rallying for their playoff lives, the Bruins defense buckled down and stopped Center in its tracks, forcing a punt. Bear River took over at their own 42 and found itself in a pickle at the Cougar 49 facing a fourth-and-one.
Rolling the dice, Bear River went all in. Baze took the handoff and got a yard, then two, breaking a tackle on the right side, and another, then suddenly daylight, as the bruising back jetted 49 yards for a touchdown to knot the game 21-21.
“I think everyone would have to agree that Baze came alive today,” Savoie said. “He was beastly out there.”
The Bruins had the Cougars on their heels, and Baggett seized the moment on defense grabbing his second interception of the night. Four plays later on third-and-13, Baggett hooked up with Tre Maronic for a 24-yard touchdown to give Bear River a 27-21 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Cougars wouldn’t go quietly, as Pickett faked the handoff and scored from 13 yards out, going around the left edge on a bootleg to square things up 27-27 with just one minute remaining. Without its kicker, Center tried a two-point conversion, but was stuffed, which eventually led to the overtime period.
Baggett finished the game 3-of-8 passing for 68 yards and a touchdown. Maronic had all three catches for 68 yards a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Josh Zimmer also got in the mix rushing 11 times for 39 yards.
“Man we fought, we fought, we fought,” said Baggett. “Man it feels good to flip that record and get another week with my brothers. I just told them that it’s our time. We’ve battled some close games and we just never really finished them. Just fight for each other. Make sacrifices for each other. We came out on top. Just had to make sure we were all in.”
Defensively, Bear River was led by senior linebacker Travis Carpenter, who wrapped up 10.5 tackles, followed by Baze with eight tackles, including two sacks and a forced fumble. Baggett had 5.5 tackles to go with his two interceptions. Zimmer tallied 6.5 tackles.
JV: BEAR RIVER 28, CENTER 22
The junior varsity Bruins (3-6, 1-4 PVL) ended its season with a big road win, knocking off the Cougars 28-22.
Center scored first to go ahead 6-0, but Bear River dialed in and took charge the rest of the way.
Joe Knowlton got the Bruins on the board with a 2-yard power sweep and quarterback Colton Jenkins dove in, converting the two-point try to give his team an 8-6 lead.
Jenkins later added another quarterback sneak to extend the Bruins advantage to 14-6. Zachary Fink found pay dirt on a 2-yard run and eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the game, as Bear River held a 22-6 lead at the half.
Jake Ayestaran nabbed an interception late in the first half to halt a potential Cougars scoring drive.
In the second half, Jenkins hooked up with receiver Tyler Knox for a 15-yard score to push the lead to 28-14 and the Bruins buckled down from there, only surrendering one final score. Jenkins put the game away with an impressive run on fourth down to get the first down and set up victory formation.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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It’s just good to be back playing.