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Crook County gets themselves into the playoff picture with an upset win over the Baker Bulldogs in Prineville Saturday

LON AUSTIN  - Eddie Freauff returns one of his two interceptions in the fourth quarter against Baker. Both of his picks were returned for touchdowns as the Cowboys won 48-31. Palmer Smith scored five touchdowns and Eddie Freauff ran back two fourth-quarter interceptions as the Crook County Cowboys stayed in the 4A playoff hunt with a 48-31 victory over the Baker Bulldogs Saturday at Ward Rhoden Stadium.

Early in the contest it looked like the Cowboys were going to be blown out in their Special District 5 matchup. Baker, which came in 5-2 overall and 2-1 in league, jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead. But the Cowboys dominated from the second quarter on.

"You guys earned the win," Crook County head coach Pard Smith told his team following the game. "It was a team win. We had a lot of guys make a lot of plays today. When it mattered, we got rolling up front and were able to run the ball. We made plays on defense, getting interceptions and got enough of a pass rush to (force Baker into bad decisions). Truly a team win and I'm proud of you guys."

The win put Crook County back into the playoff hunt. A win against Madras at home Friday coupled with a Pendleton win in Baker would give the Cowboys third place a state playoff berth.

On Saturday, Baker took the opening kick and quickly drove down the field scoring on a two-yard run by Kayden Garvin five minutes into the game. The kick failed, but the Bulldogs led 6-0. Crook County was unable to move the ball on their first possession and were quickly forced to punt, with Baker taking over on the Crook County 48-yard line. Once again, the Bulldogs quickly scored, this time on a three-yard run by Garvin. This time the kick by Hudson Spike was good and the Bulldogs held a 13-0 lead with 3:17 remaining in the first quarter.

The Cowboys were unable to move the ball again, and were forced to punt, and the Bulldogs took possession on their own 48. On their next play, quarterback Paul Hobson dropped back to pass and threw a strike to Dash Bloomer. However, Austin Vaughan wrestled the ball away from Bloomer, earning an interception. That play turned out to be the turning point in the game.

Smith, who had a monster game, then carried the ball twice, picking up a first down for the Cowboys on their own 35-yard line as the first quarter ended. An eight-yard run by Smith followed by a 45-yard pass from Gavin Sandoval to Freauff game the Cowboys a first down on the Baker 12-yard line. Three plays later, Smith punched the ball in from the one-yard line. Gabe Love's kick was good and Crook County was back in the game, trailing just 13-7 with 11:01 remaining in the half.

"We are a team that when we have success we believe and we play hard, so just staying the course made the difference," coach Smith said. "I adjusted defensively got us in a little different defensive front and they didn't adjust as well, so we made a play on defense and got a little excitement and then just started rolling."

Baker moved the ball to the Crook County 46-yard line on their next possession. However, Eli Freauff sacked Hobson on fourth down and Crook County took over on the Baker 46-yard line. Eight plays later Sandoval threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Smith. Love's kick was good and Crook County led 14-13 with 6:01 left in the first half.

Once again, the Crook County defense held and Baker was forced to punt. Vaughan returned the punt to the Crook County 44-yard line. A 40-yard pass from Sandoval to Eddie Freauff moved the ball to the 10-yard line From there, Luke Freauff carried the ball to the two-yard line. One play later Smith scored on a two-yard run up the middle. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Cowboys led 20-13 with 1:56 remaining in the first half.

Crook County took the opening kick of the second half and drove straight down the field, finally scoring on a one-yard dive by Smith with 8:04 left in the third quarter. Love's kick was good and the Cowboys were in control, leading 27-13.

On their next possession, Garvin carried the ball for a first down for Baker. However, Crook County's pursuit caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose. Eli Freauff recovered the fumble on the Baker 42-yard line and the Cowboys were back in business. Fourteen plays later Smith scored again, this time from seven yards out. Love's kick was good and Crook County led 34-13.

The third quarter ended with the Bulldogs driving. With 9:42 left in the game, Baker scored on a two-yard run by Hobson. The kick failed but the Bulldogs had closed to 34-19.

Baker attempted an onside kick, but the ball did not go 10 yards, so Crook County took possession on the Baker 48-yard line. From there the Cowboys drove the ball straight down the field. On third down from the two-yard line, it looked like Sandoval had scored, but he fumbled just outside the goal line and Baker recovered, inside the one.

On their first play from scrimmage, Crook County blew a defensive assignment and Hobson threw a short pass to Malaki Myer, who raced down the sideline for a 99-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Bulldogs were back in the game, trailing just 34-25 with 5:58 left in the contest.

Once again Baker attempted an onside kick, and once again it failed. However, after a first down, Crook County was unable to move the ball and punted. Baker quickly moved the ball to near midfield, before Eddie Freauff stepped in front of a Hobson pass, intercepted the ball and returned it 52 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. Love's kick was good and the Cowboys led 41-25 with 3:58 still remaining in the game.

Once again, Baker moved the ball, and once again Eddie Freauff intercepted a Hobson pass, this time returning the ball 92 yards for a second defensive touchdown. Love's kick was good and the Cowboys led 48-25 with 2:52 remaining.

However, Baker wasn't done. The Bulldogs scored one final touchdown, this time on a 15-yard pass from Hobson to Myer, making the final score 48-31. Baker attempted another onside kick, but the Cowboys recovered and quickly ran out the clock.

"It was huge," said Crook County lineman Jubal Brumble of the win. "It was cool to see the younger kids step up and still dominate the game."

The Cowboys finished the game with 391 yards of offense, including 248 yards rushing on 52 carries. Smith did the bulk of the work, carrying the ball 31 times for 163 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Sandoval completed five of eight passes for 143 yards, including the touchdown pass to Smith.

Luke Freauff carried the ball nine times for 51 yards, and also caught one pass for 20 yards, while Eddie Freauff caught two passes for 85 yards.

Defensively Kaleb Goozee finished with nine tackles, while Smith and Ethan Lamphere each had five. Eddie Freauff also had five tackles to go with his two interceptions, while Vaughan had four tackles and an interception and Garrett Cobb added four tackles.

"That's how we want to be," coach Smith said of the Cowboy's balanced attack. "When we drew up this offense that's what we had to have happen. Hats off to our linemen. They did a great job up front."

With the win, Crook County improved to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play, while Baker fell to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in league.

The Madras game Friday is homecoming night for Crook County, with game time scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

"We just have to keep working," Cowboy lineman Levi Gruber said. "We've got to keep battling. It's got to be laser focused through homecoming. There are a lot of distractions we just have to stay focused and keep battling."

Coach Smith agreed.

"We are going to have to prepare well for them and be ready to go next week," he said. "I'm just super proud of our guys. We are playing for our seniors, trying to get them one more game in the playoffs. To do that we had to win today and now we have to win against Madras and get in the playoffs, and celebrate those seniors. Thanks to the fans and the community for supporting us."

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