Paola moved into the Class 4A semifinals Friday night, holding off a last-ditch effort from Piper to post a 27-21 win.
Paola seemingly had the quarterfinal victory in hand, when to the Panthers’ horror, they served up a turnover on their own 30 yard line with 2:09 left in the game.
But Piper was unable to move the ball, throwing four straight incomplete passes. Paola was able to burn the last 1:43 to salt the game away.
The game, played at Piper, was a classic run vs. pass confrontation.
Paola’s Corey Stallbaumer rushed 16 times for 95 yards, with his biggest run coming with time dwindling in the first half and his team facing a fourth-and-13 at the Piper 33.
“That was a great call,” Paola coach Mike Dumpert said. “They went wider to stop the pass, and Stallbaumer hit it perfectly.”
The result was a 33-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left and a 17-7 advantage at halftime.
In the third quarter, Paola went out of character when senior Luke Wilson caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Henn.
The 6-4 Wilson also had 48-yard field goal in the first half and added 31-yard field goal with 9:58 left in the game. He also had three placements.
In the face of Piper’s aerial onslaught behind quarterback Tanner Eikenbary, Paola needed every point.
The 6-2, 192-pound senior completed 24 of 38 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t have a pass intercepted.
Junior Nate Hays caught a 9-yard TD in the second quarter. Junior running back Travon Jones hauled in a 23-yard scoring strike in the second half. With 4:55 left in the game, senior Dion Saunders scored on a 33-yard pass play.
The Panthers will take an 11-1 record into Friday’s semifinals. The Pirates had their five-game winning streak snapped, finishing the season at 7-6.