By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
FAUCETT - The battle of the Buchanans lived up to the hype on Friday.
Both teams made big plays and the momentum swung back and forth. In the end, it was No. 2 Mid-Buchanan (7-0) that scored 15 unanswered in the fourth quarter to come back from an eight-point deficit and beat No. 5 East Buchanan, 28-21, on Friday night in a raucous atmosphere.
"It's a great win for us," Mid-Buchanan head coach Aaron Fritz said. "I'm proud of our kids. I'm damn proud of our coaches. We pulled everything out tonight to get a win."
After both teams punted on their opening possessions, Mid-Buchanan got the scoring started after a long punt return set them up at the East Buchanan 19-yard line.
Three plays later, senior quarterback Rawlins Brant found fellow senior Caiden Bailey in the back of the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown strike to put the Dragons on the board first. East Buchanan blocked the point after, and Mid-Buchanan lead 6-0 with 5:08 to go in the first.
The Bulldogs' offense was slow to start, and East Buchanan (6-1) punted on their first three possessions. Mid-Buchanan took advantage, driving 71 yards on five plays and taking a 13-0 lead after a six-yard touchdown run by Brant.
Things started to turn around for East Buchanan in the second quarter. Starting a drive at their own 20, the Bulldogs marched 80 yards on 10 plays, and sophomore running back Trevor Klein found the end zone on a nine-yard run to put the Bulldogs on the board at 13-7 with 6:o7 left in the second.
After forcing a couple of Mid-Buchanan punts, East Buchanan flipped the field and started their next drive at their own 45. A 40-yard rush by senior running back Cru Conaway got the Bulldogs in the red zone, and junior quarterback Conner Musser eventually found senior receiver Luke Webb on a 16-yard touchdown pass.
A point-after by junior Alec Hesson gave East Buchanan a 14-13 lead at halftime.
The Bulldogs got the ball to start the second half and kept their offensive momentum going, scoring on their third straight drive. Faced with a 4th-and-goal at the five, Klein lined up at QB and pitched a ball out to Conaway, who then threw to Musser in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown, putting the Bulldogs ahead, 21-13, with 8:16 left in the third.
It took Mid-Buchanan a few series to get their offense going in the second half. Brant left the game late in the second quarter with an ankle injury, and was replaced at quarterback by Blake Hunter.
Both teams went back-and-forth, stopping each other late in the third quarter.
With the football on their own 25 and over 10 minutes to play, Mid-Buchanan finally strung together a scoring drive, as Hunter and junior running back Xavier Arambula kept it on the ground and started to wear down East Buchanan's defense.
Eventually, Hunter found the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown run. Hunter then ran it in for two to tie the game at 21 with 6:15 to play.
Just four plays later, faced with a third-and-long, Musser threw a ball down the middle of the field, but was hit as he threw, and the pass was picked off by senior Cage Burns, who took it 50 yards the other way for a pick-six, putting the Dragons back in front, 28-21, with 4:45 still to play.
The Bulldogs threw another interception, this one to Caiden Bailey, on the first play of their next possession. The Dragons kept the ball on the ground and milked some clock, eventually getting first-and-goal in the final two minutes.
East Buchanan came up with a stop on fourth-and-goal at the four, and the Bulldogs moved the ball all the way to the Mid-Buchanan 25-yard-line inside of 10 seconds to play.
The Bulldogs had one last chance with two seconds left, but Musser was sacked by junior Bill Pugh on the final play of the game.
Mid-Buchanan won this round, but one can't help but wonder if these two won't see each other for a Class 1 District 8 title in early November.
"They're a great team," Fritz said of East Buchanan. "They're a state title favorite for a reason. It's a great win for us and a great win for our program. I know at the same time they're going to try to come and find us again, so we have to keep taking care of business. So, if we're fortunate enough to keep winning, we might see them again."
Hunter, who stepped in for the injured Brant, completed 5-of-7 passes for 30 yards, while toting the ball 18 times for 60 yards and a score. He threw an interception on his third series, but Fritz says he bounced back strong from that.
"I mean, you could see he was learning on the fly," Fritz said of Hunter. "He was getting better each better. We just had to keep getting stops to get us the ball back so we could figure it out. That's a credit to Blake, man. We put him in a terrible position, and he stepped up to the plate as a big-time senior and made some big plays for us."
Arambula was also solid, gaining 86 yards on 13 carries. Before getting hurt, Brant finished his night going 4-of-6 through the air for 37 yards and a touchdown. He also had six carries for 14 yards and a score.
Musser threw the ball all over the yard for East Buchanan, completing 22-of-37 attempts for 228 yards, a touchdown and a season-high three interceptions. Musser also had the five-yard TD catch.
Klein finished with 14 carries for 43 yards and a score. Conaway had 117 yards of offense - 56 rushing, 56 receiving and five passing. Webb caught four passes for 46 yards.
Mid-Buchanan is on the road to face Plattsburg next week, while East Buchanan is home to Lawson.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.