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Slow start proves costly as Crook County is shut out 27-0 in play-in game against the Knights

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Brody Connell drops back to pass in a recent game. Connell went 12 for 26 passing and rushed for 72 yards on Friday as the Cowboys lost 27-0 to the North Valley Knights.The Crook County High School football season came to a disappointing end on Friday as the Cowboys were blanked 27-0 by the North Valley Knights in a play-in football game.

"You never like to lose a play-in game," Crook County head coach Ryan Cochran said. "But our kids, like all year long, they battled until the very last play. They never gave up. North Valley's coaches, even people from the stands, were out on the field telling us that the team had a lot of heart and that we never gave up and were classy and respectful. So coming out on the losing end of a play-in game is never fun, but I'm proud of our guys for their effort and grit to keep going."

North Valley received the opening kickoff, and the Cowboy defense was up to the challenge, stopping the Knights on three plays.

Then disaster struck. The Cowboys rushed the North Valley punter, nearly blocking the punt. Instead the punter hit a low line drive, which struck a Cowboy lineman in the back. North Valley recovered the ball and then went on a clock-eating drive that lasted more than nine minutes.

"We had them three and out, and we rushed the punter and they punted off balance," Cochran said. "It was kind of a low screamer, and it ended up hitting one of our linemen, so they got it back and then they just ground. We had them fourth down three times, and they got a first down out of every fourth down."

By the time the Knights finally scored, it was late in the first quarter. North Valley kicked off, and once again disaster struck the Cowboys.

"The ball landed in a little soft spot behind the second-row guys, and nobody jumped on the ball," Cochran said. "They got it back and ground it again. We didn't go on offense until two minutes into the second quarter, and by then we were down 14-0."

Although the score doesn't reflect it, Cochran said that from that point on, the two teams played evenly.

However, the damage was already done. Crook County ran just 13 offensive plays in the first half. Although they moved the ball well, they were unable to score, turning the ball over inside the North Valley 20.

The second half was more of the same. The Cowboys moved the ball seemingly at will between the 20s, only to see drives stall once they were in scoring range.

Meanwhile, North Valley continued to pound the ball on the ground, using their old-fashioned wing T offense.

"It was that weird start to the game that threw things off," Cochran said. "It was 14-0 before we had a chance to get started, so it put us in the hole, and they just used every bit of clock with that wing T offense and just ground it and ground it, using all 40 seconds of clock, and they just chewed up time."

North Valley scored again late in the third quarter to go up 20-0, then scored one final fourth quarter touchdown.

Meanwhile, although the Cowboys were able to move the ball, they were unable to find the end zone.

"We moved the ball extremely well between the 20s, and then we would miss a block up front or throw a ball off target and get into a situation that we couldn't convert," Cochran said.

"Crook County finished with 263 yards of total offense, including 114 rushing and 149 passing.

Brody Connell carried the ball 14 times for 72 yards, while Kyle Knudtson had five carries for 32 yards.

Connell also completed 12 of 26 passes with one interception.

Knudtson caught three passes for 28 yards, Trevyn Smith had three catches for 25 yards, Ethan Cossitt added two catches for 21 yards, and Hogan Smith had 3 catches for 15 yards.

With the loss, the Cowboys fell to 4-5 on the year, while the Knights improved to 6-3.

Meanwhile, the remaining two Special District 2 teams who earned play-in games all won.

Estacada whipped Sweet Home 52-6, while The Dalles blasted Valley Catholic 58-13.

The two teams will join Special District 2 champion North Marion and runner-up Gladstone in the first round of the state playoffs.

"I believe that our league is the toughest league in the state," Cochran said. "We got off to a 3-0 start, then struggled in league, but we found a way to still earn a play-in game."

North Marion will host Stayton, while Gladstone hosts North Valley on Friday, Nov. 8.

Estacada advances to play at La Grande, while The Dalles is at Henley.

Other first round playoff games include Tillamook at Mazama, Seaside at Marist Catholic, Baker at Cascade and Marshfield at Banks.

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