For the second time this season, Harrisonville and Grain Valley went down to the wire.
The Eagles pulled out a win as time expired during the first meeting on Sept. 22, but the Wildcats came up with a crucial stop during the final two minutes Friday, Nov. 3, at Grain Valley to win the rematch 24-21 with the Class 4, District 6 championship at stake.
“We feel like we’ve gotten quite a bit better (since the first meeting),” Harrisonville coach Brent Maxwell said. “We’ve kind of found out who we are a little bit from week five, I think it was. They’ve been putting some points on the board here as of recent, so we knew they’ve gotten better, too, and we had to play the best football probably this year up to this point if we were going to be able to win this game, especially here at their place.”
Tate Collum gave the Eagles a chance with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Macoubrie, pulling within 24-21 with 2:46 left.
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Grain Valley then recovered an onside kick at midfield to give itself the chance at stealing another win from the Wildcats.
Instead, Harrisonville’s defensive pressure against Collum helped force a turnover on downs, sealing the victory with a tackle for a loss and two incomplete passes.
“I know they’re tired,” Maxwell said of his defense, “and they’re ready to get out of here, but you just dig a little extra deep whenever you know you’re a couple minutes away and 40 yards from either continuing your season another week at least or turning your stuff in on Monday. Awful proud of them. They did a great job.”
The Wildcats (9-3), who the defending state champions, advance to a quarterfinal showdown against undefeated Webb City (12-0) on Friday, Nov. 10, at Memorial Stadium in Harrisonville.
Leading 14-7 at halftime, the Wildcats seemingly took control on the opening drive of the third quarter. Quarterback Ryan Byrd’s 2-yard sneak for a touchdown opened up a 14-point lead.
“I think that was huge,” Maxwell said. “We missed an opportunity, maybe two, in the first half that would have helped, but knowing that we get the ball coming out second half was somewhat comforting. ... They weren’t able to just be content running the football quite as much as they were in the first half. They’re a good team. They executed well. They gave us everything we wanted.”
From there, Harrisonville controlled the clock with the running game in the third quarter, adding a 27-yard field goal from Karsen Cesonis for a 24-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Running back Wyatt Reynolds was the Wildcats’ workhorse, finishing with with 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
“As a senior, I had to step up, take care of business,” Reynolds said. “That’s what we were trying to do.”
The Eagles, who won the Missouri River Valley Conference West, refused to go quietly.
Collum and Macoubrie connected for a 12-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, which pulled Grain Valley within 24-14.
Tanner Bailon intercepted Byrd in the red zone with 3:30 remaining as Harrisonville tried to put the game away. That led to the tense final few minutes after a quick Eagles score made it a one-possession game.
Byrd finished 6 of 10 for a modest 70 yards passing with two total touchdowns, including an 8-yard TD to Colin Caruthers during the first half.
After Harrisonville force a four-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Reynolds capped off a 69-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Grain Valley answered with a 3-yard TD run from Collum, who escaped a couple of tackles on fourth-and-goal in tying the game at 7-7.
Joe Bowers added 84 yards rushing on 10 carries for the Wildcats.
“When we played the first time, we had been so run-oriented early,” Maxwell said. “Using Wyatt’s speed, Joe’s power to go up there, plus being able to throw the pass in there lately is a nice balance. It has really been the key along with the great defense.”