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LONE TREE - Lone Tree defeated Midland 70-62 on Friday, finishing the season as co-district champions after handing the Eagles their first district loss.
It should have been a day for celebrating. The Lions scored ten touchdowns and finished with an 8-1 record, the fifth best in the 8-player class. However, the tiebreaker went to district co-champs Midland and Iowa Valley, leaving the one-loss Lions on the outside of the playoff bracket, looking in at three three-loss district runners ups.
While Class A, 1A, 2A, and 3A have seven districts and two wild card playoff spots available for teams that finish outside the top-two in the district, the 8-player class has eight districts and no wild card. In week eight, the Lions traveled to Iowa Valley and got just five carries from their top two rushers, who were limited by injury in a 62-38 loss. Iowa Valley lost to Midland by six in week five and beat WACO on Friday by 14.
The Lions needed to win by 11 points to finish ahead of Iowa Valley in point differential among district games to earn a trip to the 16-team, 8-player playoff. They came up three points short, but they battled until the final whistle.
“Obviously, we could complain about the flaws in the system, and we won’t do that,” Lone Tree coach Chad Shield said after the game, “but I can’t say enough about our guys, I’m so proud of their effort. With as many guys as were going down, our guys were tough, they left it all on the field and that’s all we could ask for. I’m very proud of them.”
The Lions trailed 46-30 in the third quarter when Coach Chad Shield called for a wide-receiver reverse pass and Jovonte Squiers found Brock Smith for a 30-yard completion to the 23-yard line. Trey Pierson took the football into the end-zone on the next play and Squiers ran in the two-point conversion.
“It would have been easy to fold up shop at that time, and they refused to do it,” Shield said. “They found a way to keep battling and battling. It’s a game of inches and we were so close.”
Lone Tree took advantage of a personal foul penalty and recovered an onside kick at the Midland 26-yard line. Six plays later, Drake Hotz scored from two-yards out. The two-point play failed, leaving the Lions down 46-44. Missed opportunities on the two-point conversions would come back to haunt the Lions, who converted just two of seven tries in the second half.
Midland answered with a 59-yard touchdown completion on the second play of the ensuing possession and stretched the lead to 54-44.
Pierson came back with a 33-yard rush on the final play of the third quarter, and then found Smith for a 31-yard touchdown reception.
The Lion defense came up big with a fourth down stop at the Midland 24-yard line. On the second play of the offensive drive, Hotz took the handoff and went 22 yards to the one-yard line setting up the one-yard go-ahead touchdown dive from Bryce Houser.
The Eagles faced third and 11 from the 31 when quarterback Alex Martens tried to go deep down the right sideline. Squiers read the underthrown pass and picked it off, returning it 34 yards to the Midland 12. Pierson rushed for three yards on third and three from the five yard line, setting up Houser’s second touchdown. Houser added the two-point conversion on the ground as well and the Lions led 64-54.
“Jovonte’s interception was huge, and his return to get us in position down there,” said Shield. “He was a warrior, gutting it out. Drake Hotz was a warrior as well, kid can’t even walk and somehow he was finding a way to run the ball between the tackles and outside.”
The Eagles came back, completing passes of 26 and 15 yards, setting up an 11-yard touchdown run by Austin Smith with 3:14 remaining in the game. The Eagles converted each of their last seven two-point attempts and trailed by just two, 64-62.
The Lions turned to their big-play threat once again and handed the ball to Jovonte Squiers. Squiers evaded tackles on his way to the sideline and then sprinted 61-yards to the endzone and a 70-62 Lone Tree lead.
A fourth down stop at the Midland 24 with 1:15 left gave the Lions one final chance to reach the needed margin of victory. Pierson found a receiver on the nine-yard line, but the ball was off of his hands and intercepted by a Midland defender.
Hotz finished the game with 185 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, and led the Lions with 14 tackles. Hotz also had a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble. Pierson was 4-6 for 62 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Squiers caught two passes for 28 yards and rushed for 90 on five carries. Michael Schmidt had 13.5 tackles and one for loss. Smith had 8.5 tackles and a sack.
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