Staley found itself 99 yards away from the end zone late in the third quarter of Friday night’s Missouri Class 5A quarterfinal at Fort Osage, and one bad play away from maybe seeing a perfect season fall apart on a frosty evening.
The Falcons didn’t hesitate. They hit the throttle, drove down the field and punched in the go-ahead score in what turned into a 28-14 victory.
The nine-play drive showcased a bit of everything Staley (12-0) does well, starting with a 47-yard pass from John Raybourn to Rod Criss II.
“We knew we were going to take our shot,” Criss said. “I didn’t know it was going to be to me. We were all running verticals, and as soon as I saw it up in the air, I knew I had to go up and get it. It’s what sparked us.”
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Aaron Keast plowed ahead for 5 yards, followed by a 13-yard run by Raybourn, who finished with 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He also threw for 187 yards and a touchdown.
JD Benbow turned a simple catch in the flat into a 21-yard gain to get the ball in the red zone for Staley.
And it was only fitting that Raybourn willed his way into the end zone from 5 yards out on 4th-and-2.
“We work those situations every week in practice,” Raybourn said. “We know we have the capability to make those drives, and it’s a momentum breaker. We hadn’t had a big play the whole night, and that sort of gave us the momentum, and we needed that.”
Fort Osage (9-3) was playing Staley for the second time this season, falling 22-15 to the Falcons in the first meeting.
This one seemed destined for another classic finish until Staley’s game-changing drive.
“They’re scrappy, they’re physical, and they’re always a tough matchup for us because they bring it 100 percent,” Criss said of Fort Osage. “It goes back and forth every year, and I just love to play here in general. This is top five atmospheres I’ve ever played in.”
Staley will return home to face Carthage in next week’s Class 5A semifinal, with a state championship and a trip to Columbia hanging in the balance.
“I’m so old school. I’m about everything that’s in front of us, and that was Fort Osage,” Staley coach Phil Lite said. “We’re at home, we’re playing Carthage. It’s exciting.”