For most of the night Friday, Crook County looked like the better team, but in the end, the Gladstone Gladiators escaped from Ward Rhoden Stadium in Prineville with a hard-fought 21-15 Special 4A District 2 football win over the Cowboys.
"Even though we lost the football game, I told my guys to keep their heads held high," Crook County head coach Pard Smith said. "For the first time all year, I think we were the more disciplined team on the field. We were more physical. We executed better for the most part of the game. We just didn't come away with a victory tonight."
Meanwhile, Gladstone head coach Cam Sommer was pleased with how his team battled back from an early deficit and found a way to win.
"It's a long trip on the bus up here, and they are a great football team," he said. "They play so hard. They kind of hit us in the mouth early and we told our kids they are going to do that, settle in and be ready to make plays and they did just that."
The Cowboys received the opening kickoff and on the first play of the game ran a trick play, with halfback Trent West taking a handoff and then dropping back and throwing a pass from the Cowboy's 27-yard line to wide receiver Kyree Willis, who had gotten behind the Gladstone defense. The pass was slightly under thrown, allowing the Gladiators to catch Willis from behind, tackling the Cowboy senior on the 26-yard line. Gladstone was called for a roughing the passer penalty on the play, moving the ball all the way to the Gladstone 13. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, West was injured on the play, and was unable to finish the game.
An encroachment penalty on the Gladiators moved the ball down to the eight-yard line, where four plays later Crook County quarterback Palmer Smith scored on a one-yard keeper. The two-point conversion attempt was no good, but the Cowboys led 6-0 with 10:35 remaining in the first quarter.
After a three and out and a short punt, the Cowboys took possession again on their own 45-yard line and looked like they were going to score again. Three consecutive runs moved the ball to the Gladstone 36-yard line.
Then came one of the biggest plays of the game. On second and 10, Smith dropped back to pass and threw the ball over the middle, where Gladstone free safety Brayde Owen stepped in front of the intended receiver and intercepted the pass. Owen streaked down the sideline for what appeared to be a touchdown, but the Gladiators were called for holding on the play.
Still, Gladstone was in business with the ball on their own 36-yard line. A run up the middle by Tate Brechbiel moved the ball to the Crook County 48. Two more runs by Brechbiel moved the ball to the 40. A quarterback keeper by Garret Finch moved the ball to the 35. Another run by Brechbial and an end around by Cohen Daves moved the ball to the Crook County 31.
However, Crook County made a big defensive play of their own as Dakota Humphreys intercepted a Gladstone screen pass and returned the ball to the Gladstone 40 before he was tackled.
The first quarter ended with the Cowboys driving again on the Gladstone 37-yard line.
A pass from Smith to Willis and a Gladstone encroachment penalty gave Crook County a first down on the 27-yard line. Two consecutive runs by Smith pushed the ball to the 17-yard line. However, the Gladstone defense stiffened and the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs on the 21-yard line.
After the two teams traded possessions, Gladstone moved the ball to midfield before a fumble was recovered by Crook County defensive lineman Levi Gruber.
Once again, the Cowboys moved the ball down the field getting all the way to the Gladstone 27 before a holding call gave Crook County a second and long. On fourth and 22, Smith threw a pass intended for Eli Freauff, that fell incomplete, ending the half with the Cowboys still leading 6-0.
Crook County kicked off to open the second half and Owen received the ball on the 13-yard line. Owen stepped to his right, broke a tackle and then streaked down the field 87 yards for a touchdown. The kick by Ayden Hensley was good and despite having just three first down in the game the Gladiators led 7-6.
When they got the ball after the kick, Cowboys were able to move the ball effectively. Successive runs by Garrett Cobb gave the Cowboys a first down on the 40. A pass to Joshua Knight moved the ball to the 50 before Smith hit Eddie Freauff on a perfect strike at the 18-yard line. Freauff was hit out of bounds and a personal foul was called. Then, a Gladstone player argued the call and was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The two penalties moved the ball all the way to the four-yard line.
Two plays later, Brayden Duke scored on a two-yard run. Once again, the two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Cowboys still led 12-7 with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Daves returned the ensuing kickoff to the Gladstone 37-yard line. However, the Gladiators were unable to move the ball and on fourth and five were forced to punt. The ball went out of bounds on the Crook County 25-yard line, where the Cowboys took over. Two plays later, Smith fumbled the snap snap and Fynn Brechbiel recovered for the Gladiators on the Crook County 28-yard line.
On their first play from scrimmage, Tate Brechbiel ran up the middle for a touchdown. The extra point attempt was no good, but the Gladiators were back in front, leading 13-12 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.
Once again, the Cowboys responded. Knight returned the kickoff to the Crook County 46-yard line. Two consecutive runs by Duke and a pass from Smith to Eddie Freauff gave the Cowboys a first down on the 33-yard line. Another pass to Freauff moved the ball to the 25-yard line, ending the third quarter.
Runs by Smith and Duke moved the ball to the Gladstone 18-yard line before a pass to Knight gave the Cowboys a first and goal on the 10. Runs by Cobb and Smith moved the ball to the six-yard line, but an incomplete pass gave the Cowboys fourth and six. Crook County elected to attempt a field goal, and the kick by Gabe Love was good and the Cowboys led 15-13 with 7:23 left in the game.
After a short return by Daves Gladstone took possession on their own 26-yard line. Three consecutive runs by Tate Brechbiel moved the ball to the 42-yard line. Finch carried the ball to the 50-yard line, before the Gladiators were called for holding. A false start that was declined by the Cowboys left Gladstone with a third and 14. On the ensuing play Finch threw the ball to Owen, who appeared to push off before catching the ball on the 16 yard-line. Nothing was called, and the Gladiators were in business.
"We had them behind the sticks on a third down situation and then they had a good throw and catch," coach Smith said. "My guy was in position to make a play and he just missed making a play on the ball by an inch."
Tate Brechbiel then carried the ball to the three-yard line. Finch moved the ball to the one, where Brechbiel punched the ball in with 2:58 remaining in the game. Brechbiel carried the ball again on the successful two-point conversion and Gladstone led 21-15.
However, the Cowboys were not done yet.
Eddie Freauff returned the kick to the 40-yard line. Three consecutive runs by Duke moved the ball to the Gladstone 38-yard line, with 2:05 still remaining in the contest.
A holding call, just Crook County's second penalty of the game, backed the ball up to the 50-yard line.
On third and long, Smith hit Knight with a pass and the Cowboy receiver moved the ball to just short of the first down marker. However, a roughing the passer call on Gladstone moved the ball to the 15-yard line and gave the Cowboys another first down.
Four consecutive runs by Duke moved the ball to the three-yard line with just under 30 seconds left in the game. Out of timeouts, the Cowboys chose to go to the air. Smith's pass attempt was batted in the air, and the Cowboy quarterback caught his own pass before being tackled on the 15-yard line. With time running down Smith spiked the ball, making it fourth and goal from the 15-yard line.
Smith had an open receiver in the end zone on the Cowboys final play from scrimmage, but the pass hit the dirt on about the five-yard line, ending the Cowboys' chances.
Finch took a knee on the final play of the game, as Gladstone escaped with the win.
"I think we were more conditioned than them," said coach Smith. "They had guys out here sucking air and hands on their hips and puking on the field and we were still grinding. We got the ball back with 2:49 on the clock and drove the length of the field to put ourselves in position to win the football game, and that's all you can ask for."
The win put Gladstone in great shape to make the playoffs despite a slow start to the season. The Gladiators are now 3-4 overall and 2-1 in league play.
The Gladiators play at Molalla, 1-2, 1-5, on Friday, then host Madras, 2-1, 3-3, to close out the regular season the following week.
With the loss, Crook County fell to 2-5 overall and 1-2 in conference play. The Cowboys play at Madras this Friday. The White Buffalos are currently tied for second place in the conference with Gladstone and are coming off a 35-0 win over North Marion. However, coach Smith said that the team still has a shot to make the playoffs.
"We are not out of it yet, if we take care of business against Madras. We need a little help, we need Gladstone to beat Molalla and then it goes to a criteria deal and we got an outside shot of still making the playoffs.
Crook County then closes out the regular season on Friday, Oct. 29, with a home game against the league leading and number one ranked Estacada Rangers, 3-0, 7-0.
Gladstone 21, Crook County 15
At Crook County
Gladstone 0 0 13 8 â€“ 21
Crook County 6 0 6 3 â€“ 15
CC â€“ Palmer Smith 1-yard run. Pass from Smith to Kyree Willis incomplete.
G â€“ Bradye Owen 87-yard kick off return. Kick by Ayden Hensley good.
CC â€“ Brayden Duke 2-yard run. Pass from Smith to Willis incomplete.
G â€“ Tate Brechbiel 28-yard run. Kick by Hensley no good.
CC â€“ Gabe Love 17-yard field goal.
G â€“ Brechbiel 1-yard run. Brechbiel run good.
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