In a much-anticipated contest between two undefeated, state-ranked Kalamazoo Valley Association powerhouses, the host Schoolcraft Eagles and Pennfield Panthers lived up to the hype as Friday night’s outcome came down to the final minutes.
Schoolcraft’s Benny Clark scored on a 15-yard touchdown run with 1:34 to play, giving the Eagles a 19-16 win and sole possession of first place in the KVA.
The Panthers (5-1, ranked No. 2 in Division 4), put themselves in position to win when Brayden Bennett’s field goal attempt split the uprights with 1:56 to play, giving Pennfield a 16-13 lead.
But Schoolcraft (6-0, ranked No. 2 in Division 6) responded with a touchdown on just three plays in 22 seconds and the Panthers were unable to answer as Schoolcraft’s Charlie Schultz intercepted a Pennfield pass to end the game on fourth-and-20 with 40 seconds left.
“That was the third game that we took late into the fourth quarter to win,” said Schoolcraft head coach Terry Haas. “Pennfield is a great football program. We’re certainly fortunate we ended on the right side of the scoreboard tonight.”
On five separate occasions, the Panthers drove inside the Eagles 25-yard line, but were unable to come away with a touchdown. Three times they settled for Bennett field goals (36, 31, 20 yards), another field goal was blocked and they were intercepted once.
“Most teams will wilt against our Wing-T attack, but give them credit because they got some good stops and we had to settle for field goals,” said Pennfield coach Nick Koenigsknecht. “It was the game we expected it to be, but it was disappointing that we weren’t able to salt it away when we had our chances. We were right there and we know we’re a good football team and that could’ve gone either way.”
Early on, the Panthers controlled the game and things couldn’t have started better for the away team as Jonathan Clements busted loose on the second play of the contest for a 55-yard touchdown run, giving Pennfield a 7-0 lead.
On Schoolcraft’s ensuing possession, Pennfield’s Travis Hartung intercepted a pass on third-and-10, setting up the Panthers deep in Schoolcraft territory.
But Pennfield was unable get a first down on three rushing attempts and Brayden Bennett was brought in to kick a 36-yard field goal, giving the Panthers a 10-0 lead just four minutes into the game.
Everything was going the Panthers’ way in the first quarter, but on the first play of the second quarter Schoolcraft shifted momentum its own way.
With Pennfield again driving deep into Schoolcraft territory, the Eagles came away with a huge defensive play when Josh Hill intercepted a pass, returning it to the 22-yard line.
The Eagles took advantage of the turnover as they drove the ball the length of the field behind several large gains by senior running back Benny Clark and a 30-yard completion from quarterback Jeffrey Scott to Zach Decker.
Clark capped off the drive with a 6-yard score with 6:21 left in the half, narrowing Pennfield’s lead to 10-7, which they took into the half.
Clark sat Schoolcraft’s previous game with a knee injury, but looked to be in top shape as he gained 102 yards on 15 carries with two scores.
Decker had five catches for 98 yards.
Schoolcraft took its first lead with 2:24 left in the third quarter when Scott connected with Matt Abel for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
The Eagles missed the extra point though, and the Panthers made it hurt when a Bennett field goal tied the score at 13-13 with 8:44 left in the fourth.
After a Schoolcraft three-and-out, Pennfield took over on its 45-yard line with 8:16 to play.
The Panthers orchestrated a 6:20 second drive that took them all the way down to the Eagles’ 3-yard line. A goal-line stand by Schoolcraft forced Pennfield to kick the field goal, giving the Panthers a 16-13 lead with 1:56 left.
Following Pennfield’s kickoff, Schoolcraft needed to go 85 yards with no timeouts in order to win.
On first down the Eagles ran a hook-and-ladder play that netted them 30 yards after a Pennfield horse-collar penalty. Their next play was a 40-yard completion from Scott to Decker, setting up Clark with the game-winning score.
Another Schoolcraft missed extra point gave Pennfield a shot to tie with a field goal or win with a touchdown, but the Panthers were unable to convert.
Clements led the Panthers with 76 yards on seven rushes. Jeremy Purcell had 60 yards on 15 carries and Dominic Arredondo had 56 yards on 12 carries.
Sam Duckham led the Panthers defense with 10 tackles.
Pennfield will play at home against Olivet next Friday night.
“That was a tough one tonight,” Koenigsknecht said. “I think we’ll bounce back and keep getting better as a football team, though.”