FLUSH — Both teams can find several occurrences where the game could have been won or lost, but it was Nemaha Valley that escaped Rock Creek with a final sigh of relief.
The Raiders outlasted the Mustangs 19-18 Friday night.
“That stings… we had our opportunities,” Rock Creek head coach Mike Beam said. “We had blown opportunities early in the game, but I was proud of our guys. They fought hard and really got after it.”
The second half was just as much of a contested tug-of-war as the first half was.
Although the Mustangs (2-6, 1-1 District 2) missed what would have been a very important 24-yard field goal try at the end of the third quarter, Rock Creek bounced back and looked to have all the momentum after running back Jackson Goodmiller broke free on a 12-yard touchdown run with 11:54 to go in the game.
Goodmiller also caught the pass from senior quarterback Brett Hammett for the two-point conversion, and Rock Creek was sitting pretty with an 18-12 lead. But, the Raiders’ (7-1) quarterback Devin Henry, who spent most of the game at running back, engineered a drive that ended with him scoring on a run from 4 yards out to retake the lead with 8:15 to go in the fourth. Place-kicker Matt Haverkamp — who missed an extra point earlier in the game — was true on the attempt and the Raiders took a one-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The game was put in the books after Nemaha Valley went for it on a fourth-and-4. Henry converted the down with a 5-yard run with 3:47 left. Rock Creek — which lost two starting defensive linemen in the second half — was out of timeouts and the Raiders were able to run out the clock.
“They do that, at times,” Beam said about Nemaha Valley’s use of Henry late in the game. “I’ve never seen him throw, but I do know he’s a good runner, and we didn’t do a very good job of stopping him.
“We didn’t tackle very well during that last series and (Nemaha Valley) burned the clock. We needed to get a stop there and to make sure we got the ball back, but we didn’t get that opportunity… it didn’t feel like we got that many plays (overall) in that fourth quarter.”
The first half opened with both teams catching breaks and making mistakes.
Nemaha Valley got on the scoreboard first with a 28-yard strike from starting quarterback Caleb Meyer to Zach Bradley with 4:14 to go in the first quarter, but the way the Raiders got there raised eyebrows.
A broken play by the Nemaha Valley offense led to a loose ball in the flat and both teams scrambled to it. The dust settled when a member of the Raiders’ offense batted the ball forward where it rolled out of bounds 10 yards in front of him. The batted ball passed the needed first down marker.
While the Mustangs were certain they’d get the ball back, the officials instead awarded the Raiders not just possession, but spotted the ball where it rolled out of bounds. The call kept Nemaha Valley’s drive alive and it ended with the touchdown pass from Meyer to Bradley.
Rock Creek rebounded, though, and the defense took in an interception and a fumble recovery in the second quarter to set Hammett up for a 6-yard touchdown run midway through. Although the Raiders answered with a score — a 9-yard dash by Meyer — the Mustangs ended the second half with a 34-yard field goal by sophomore Luke Niemeyer in the closing seconds to slim the gap.
Rock Creek looks ahead to Riley County, who the Mustangs will face at Hal Pritchard Stadium Thursday night in a winner-take-all scenario for the runner-up playoff spot in District 2.