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ERIE — The River Valley football team knew it was facing a high-mileage rushing attack when it came to Erie-Prophetstown for Friday’s Class 3A first-round playoff game.
The Falcons’ defensive unit practiced and made tweaks all week long.
But Friday, the Falcons couldn’t find the right solution to the Panthers’ ground game as E-P ran for 452 yards to play spoiler to RV’s first playoff game with a 50-28 victory.
“The kids played hard. We couldn’t stop them,” River Valley coach Galen Noard said. “We took the ball away from them a few times but we never really did stop them. We haven’t been real solid against the running game all year.
“You could see we were pretty thin. We had maybe 13 kids who played the whole game. They just wore us down. They’re a pretty good ball club.”
The Panthers (8-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on an 11-yard run from senior running back Chris Bauer and a 24-yard touchdown sprint from quarterback Ethan Howard.
River Valley (6-4) didn’t answer its opponent until 11:48 remained in the second quarter when senior quarterback Tom Miller connected with senior tight end Evan Koehler on an 11-yard touchdown pass.
E-P answered quickly with a 5-yard touchdown run from running back Jordan Chandler at the 6:31 mark and added another eight points with the only Howard pass of the game and a successful two-point conversion run made the score 30-6 with 3:54 left in the half.
The Panthers scored on their first four possessions.
“We’ve been that way. I don’t think it was the falling behind so much as the shell shock,” Noard said. “I don’t know why we are in 3A. I know our numbers say that and everything, and we wanted to come up and play a good, solid football game and I think we did for three quarters.
“And then, they got the better of us. We’re pretty much a 1A, 2A type of team. That’s not taking anything away from them.”
Despite being down, the Falcons were not done.
The Falcons went to the ground in the third quarter as Nathan Helle ran five times on an eight-play drive.
Junior Sam Poignant capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run with 39.9 seconds left in the quarter to cut the Panther lead to 30-16.
River Valley scored two more touchdowns — including a trick play when Miller pitched to tight end Matt Lewandowski who the threw it 21 yards to Austin Courtway for a score — and controlled the time of possession.
“We’ve been able to establish our ground game most of the year,” E-P coach Chuck Milem said. “And we responded once we finally got the ball back in the fourth quarter. We didn’t really have it in the third quarter. I thought River Valley did a great job of controlling the clock and keeping the ball away from us.”
River Valley’s defense didn’t let E-P score in the third quarter and the Falcons were first to score in the fourth quarter when Miller charged through the trenches for a 1-yard touchdown, which cut RV’s deficit to 30-28 with 11:27 left.
However, E-P star fullback Nick Williams then took over and reminded onlookers how E-P had led the entire game.
He rushed for two of the three E-P touchdowns scored in a 7 ½-minute stretch. Despite the loss, Noard was pleased with River Valley’s season.
“(We had) a fantastic group of seniors,” Noard said. “They carried us. They worked real hard to get where they are. We’re coming from the depths … these kids wanted to change it, and I think they did.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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