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The Junction City Football team scores two TDs in 10 seconds before half to tip momentum

PMG FILE PHOTO LON AUSTIN - Gavin Sandoval races to get away from Junction City's Sammy Espinosa during the Cowboy's 43-36 loss Friday evening.The Crook County Cowboys suffered a heartbreaking loss on Friday, falling 43-36 to Junction City in a non-league football game.

Junction City scored two touchdown in the final 10 seconds of the first half, and that was the key to their win.

"It hurts a lot," Crook County linebacker Kaleb Goozee said following the game. "That's nothing to be happy about. Even though we played hard, that's nothing to be happy about if they keep pounding the ball down our throat."

Although Junction City won by using power football and a devastating ground game, that isn't how the entire game went.

"I'm proud of the effort and the intensity," head coach Pard Smith said. "That's a good football team and the nature of that offense is to grind you down and get four or five yards at a time. We missed some tackles and they kept getting first downs. A few times we were off the field and we made some critical penalties and extended some drives for them."

Crook County received the opening kickoff and drove quickly down the field, moving the ball from their own 34 to the end zone in eight plays. A pair of passes from Gavin Sandoval to Eli and Eddie Freauff set up the touchdown, while a two-yard run by Palmer Smith punched the ball into the end zone. Gabe Love's kick was good and the Cowboys led 7-0 two and a half minutes into the game.

After stopping Junction City on downs, the Cowboys got the ball back on their own 44-yard line. However, Crook County was unable to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs themselves on the 32-yard line.

The first quarter ended with Junction City driving the ball down the field all the way to the Crook County 15-yard line. Two plays into the second quarter, Junction City scored on a three-yard run by Levi Walker. Jaxson Kister kicked the extra point and with 10:38 remaining in the first half the two teams were tied 7-7.

Crook County was unable to move the ball on their next possession and were forced to punt. Palmer Smith hit a booming 54-yard punt that was downed on the Junction City six-yard line. Four plays later, Tyis Yustat intercepted a pass and returned the ball all the way to the six-yard line. Three successive runs by Smith punched the ball into the end zone. Once again, Love's kick was good and Crook County led 14-7 with 5:28 remaining in the first half.

Junction City was unable to move the ball and dropped back to punt on their next possession. The punt was blocked by Eli Freauff and recovered by Eddie Freauff in the end zone. Love's kick was good and the Cowboys led 21-7 with 3:54 still remaining in the half.

When the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, the Tigers took possession on the 35-yard line. After Junction City earned a first down, it looked like the Cowboys had stopped them. However, Crook County was called for pass interference, giving the Tigers a new set of downs. A roughing the passer penalty gave Junction City another first down, and the Tigers finally scored with 9.5 seconds left in the half on a pass from Gunner Rothenberger to Kaleb Burnett in the corner of the end zone. Kister's kick was good, but the Cowboys still held a 21-14 lead.

Following the kick off Crook County decided to run one final offensive play to end the half. Sandoval dropped back to pass and threw into double coverage in the flat. Burnett stepped in front of Eddie Freauff, intercepting the pass, which he returned for a touchdown. Kister's kick was good and the two teams left the field at half time noted at 21-21.

"I'm an old-school guy," coach Smith said. "Kick the ball, play field position. If we take a knee there we have the lead at halftime. That was my gut feeling, but I think we've got some playmakers. We liked the way they lined up, and it was just the wrong call. We should have taken a knee. We knew going in that the game plan was to try to get the lead early and get them out of their offense and I think that we did that in the first half. It comes back to haunt us giving up that score and going in at a tie ball game."

Junction City received the kickoff to open the third quarter and went on a clock eating 11-play drive, finally scoring on a four-yard run by Walker. Although Walker scored the touchdown, most of the damage was done by running back Brett McKee, a 5-11, 195-pound power back, who pounded the ball up the middle. Kister's kick was good and the Tigers took their first lead of the game, 28-21, with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter.

On their first possession of the second half, the Cowboys picked up a pair of first downs before they were forced to punt. Junction City took over on their own 15 with 3:33 remaining in the quarter.

Once again Junction City went on a clock-eating drive, holding the ball for 18 plays and nearly 10 minutes before finally scoring on a 24-yard run by McKee. The kick was good and Junction City led 35-21 with 5:37 remaining in the game.

The Cowboys quickly moved the ball down the field, taking just a minute and 29 seconds to drive 80 yards for a touchdown. Two passes from Sandoval to Eli Freauff put the Cowboys in scoring range before Smith punched the ball in on a three-yard run. Love's kick was good, but the Cowboys still trailed 35-28.

Crook County attempted an on-side kick, but the ball went out of bounds and Junction City took over on the Crook County 48-yard line. On fourth and six, the Tigers gambled, with Rothenberger throwing a touchdown pass to Burnett. Junction City had an unsportsmanlike penalty following the play so they were forced to attempt the extra point from the 18-yard line. Once again, Rothenberger hit Burnett and the two-point conversion was good, giving the Tigers a 43-28 lead with less than a minute left in the contest.

The Cowboys took possession on their own 20 and two plays later Eddie Freauff made a juggling catch in the middle of the field, then raced for an 80-yard touchdown. Sandoval then threw a pass to Eli Freauff in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion and the Cowboys were back to within a touchdown with 5.6 seconds remaining in the contest.

Once again the onside kick attempt went out of bounds. Junction City took a knee and escaped with a hard-fought victory.

With Junction City's ball control offense, the Cowboys only ran 37 offensive plays in the game. Still, they racked up 299 yards and five touchdowns. Sandoval completed eight of 15 passes for 215 yards one touchdown and one two-point conversion.

Eddie Freauff caught three passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, while Eli Freauff also caught three passes for 90 yards. Smith led the Cowboy rushing attack with 48 yards on 13 carries.

Smith punted the ball twice for a 49.5 yard per punt average, while Cooper Nelson had three returns for 54 yards.

Defensively Goozee finished with 15 tackles, while Eddie Freauff had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Smith and Ethan Lamphere each added seven tackles, while Elias Powlison and Yustat each had five.

"I apologize," Smith told his team following the game. "I got out-coached tonight. I won't make that mistake again. We challenged you to come out and play like Cowboys in the second half and as long as there was time on the clock you kept balling. You stuck together. They made a few more plays than we did tonight, but that's football. Half of the teams in the country lost tonight. But, football, just like life, doesn't always go our way. This loss does not define us."

The Cowboys, 1-1, go on the road on Saturday when they take on the Redmond Panthers, also 1-1, in a 1 p.m. contest.

"We just have to execute plays better and everybody go 100 percent every play," Goozee said. "Nobody takes a play off and everybody has the best effort they can give."

Junction City 0 7 21 7 8 — 43

Crook County 7 14 0 15 — 36

CC — Palmer Smith 2-yard run, Gabe Love kick

JC — Levi Walker 3-yard run, Jaxson Kister kick

CC — Smith 1-yard run, Love kick

CC — Eddie Freauff fumble recovery of blocked punt in end zone, Love kick

JC — Kaleb Burnett 4-yard pass from Gunner Rothenberger, Kister kick

JC — Burnett 40-yard interception return, Kister kick

JC — Walker 4-yard run, Kister kick

JC — Brett McKee 24-yard run, Kister kick

CC — Smith 3-yard run, Love kick

JC — Burnett 12-yard pass from Rothenberger, 18-yard pass from Rothenberger to Burnett for 2-point conversion

CC — Freauff 80-yard pass from Sandoval, 3-yard pass from Sandoval to Eli Freauff for 2-point conversion

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