PLEASANT HILL — It was Zach Gray early, Zach Gray in the middle and, unfortunately for Smith-Cotton, Zach Gray late as the Pleasant Hill senior led the Roosters to a 25-24 comeback win over the Tigers.
Gray had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, kicked a 33-yard field goal and, after S-C had surged to take a 24-17 lead with 3:11 left to play, caught a 58-yard TD pass from quarterback Dalton Bach to put the Roosters back in position to win the game. Roosters Head Coach Greg Smith opted to go for the two-point conversion; running back Casey Gifford swung around the left end for the score and the lead.
After trailing 17-3 at halftime, S-C came out energized with Zach Powell ripping off a 50-yard kickoff return. On the Tigers’ first play of the half, running back Gauge Young caught a pass in the flat and took it 40 yards for a touchdown, only to see it called back on a holding penalty. But the Tigers kept grinding out yards on e ground. On fourth down and inches from the Roosters’ 31-yard line, Brandon Neale broke a couple of tackles on his way to the end zone and with Blake Grupe’s PAT, S-C was back in the game, down just 17-10.
The S-C defense came up big in the second half. Senior defensive end Izaiah Snyder stopped Bach on fourth-and-two at the S-C 31 yard line. The Tigers had a 90-yard drive that was capped by a Powell one-yard TD run; the drive was highlighted by a 30-yard run by Young. Grupe’s kick tied the game, 17-17, with 3:46 to play.
The Roosters’ next drive was cut short when S-C safety Nate McFail intercepted Bach at the Tigers’ 48 yard line. On the next play, Brice Pannier blasted through the middle for a 52-yard touchdown to give S-C a 24-17 lead.
But the lead was short-lived. The Roosters returned the kickoff near midfield, and on the next play Bach hit Gray on a crossing route over the middle and he took it in for a score. Gifford then provided the go-ahead conversion with 2:34 to play.
S-C had one more shot on offense, but quarterback Jaden Kendrick was sacked and lost the fumble.
Tigers Head Coach Ryan Boyer said, “The first half we came out flat, hurt ourselves a little. Offensively … it was three-and-out, three-and-out. The defense was playing well but some things, we were giving up. (At halftime) We talked about who was going to come out and show the most heart. We got a stop and we got right back in it.”
Gray’s punt return TD started the scoring in the first quarter, then he added his field goal with 6:40 to play in the half. A low snap led to a Tigers fumble that was recovered by the Roosters. Gifford cashed in the turnover with a one-yard TD run to give Pleasant Hill a 17-0 lead.
Grupe kicked a 40-yard filed goal to get S-C on the board just before halftime.
This was Smith-Cotton’s second one-point, late loss of the season. On opening night, the Tigers (2-2) lost in overtime at Moberly, 28-27.
“What’s good about this loss and Moberly is that you’re right there,” Boyer said. “It’s not one play that won or lost the game. … As we get to the middle part of the season, we might look to move some people around. Things we are doing well we are pleased with, but there are some things we need to clean up.”