Jr. Landers fall short in 1-A state championship

Published 8:51 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015




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GRAY— For 32 minutes, two middle schools gave all they had, matching each other tackle for tackle, tough yard after tough yard, and representing their respective schools with pride.

When the final horn sounded, the difference in the ball game came down to three red zone turnovers by the Cloudland Middle School Jr. Landers that resulted in the Ridgeview Middle School Raptors capturing the 2015 1-A Middle School State Championship with a 22-2 win.

“We turned the ball over three times in the red zone against a good team and it’s not going to be good when that happens,” said Jr. Lander head coach Kevin Kendall. “When we get behind, it’s hard for us to come back.

“I shot every bullet I had in my gun tonight. They had the numbers and are a very good team. My guys played hard like they deserved to be here.”

The Raptors broke out front with 5:25 remaining in the first quarter as Joe Jones finished off a drive he starred in dashing in from three yards out to stake the Ridgeview to an 8-0 advantage after Jones converted the two-point conversion.

A big play on the drive was Jones rambling 29 yards to set up the score.

The Jr. Landers went to work to try and establish a drive as the quarter came to an end with the Raptors leading 8-0.

After stalling out, Cloudland was forced to give the ball back to Ridgeview, and the Raptors quickly went back to work.

Quarterback Cade Elliott found Jones and the jackrabbit back covered 71 yards on the reception to up the Raptor lead to 14-0 as the conversion failed.

“That number 21 (Jones) runs like a deer,” added Kendall. “We just couldn’t catch him.”

The Jr. Landers took the ensuing kick and looked like they were going to get back into the game as wide receiver Triston Lacy caught a pass in the middle of the field and headed toward the goal line.

Thanks to a hustling effort from the Raptor defender, Lacy was caught from behind and had the ball stripped, with the Raptors falling on the loose pigskin at the one-yard line.

The Raptors gained close to four yards before Lacy made up for the fumble by wrapping up Jones in the end zone for a safety.

With the clock ticking down to half, the Jr. Landers knew they were well within striking distance trailing only 14-2.

The Jr. Landers took the kickoff and using a combination of pass and run plays were moving toward pay dirt until the second turnover of the night for Cloudland happened when quarterback Hayden Shell lost the football and Chandler Martin fell on the football for the Raptors at the 25-yard line.

It didn’t take but one play for Cloudland to get the ball back as Lacy bolted into the Raptor backfield and knocked the football loose and eventually came up with the ball to put the Jr. Landers back into business.

Unfortunately for Kendall’s squad, a halfback pass from Hunter Blair was plucked out of the air by Ridgeview’s Sam Robbins at the Raptor nine-yard line to turn the tide once again.

Jones put the proverbial nail in the coffin as he took a handoff and ripped off a 66-yard score to up the lead to 22-2; Elliott targeted Jackson Jenkins in the corner of the end zone on the two-point conversion.

The Jr. Landers never quit, but the lead was just too insurmountable to overcome as Cloudland had to settle for the runner-up in 1-A.

“Our defensive coordinator, Zach Benfield, made some great adjustments in the second half and our line coach on offense and defense, Jonah Woods, had our guys ready to play,” Kendall said.

“I have literally watched those two guys, who are just a year removed from high school ball, grow into two men who are going to be very good coaches.”

The Jr. Landers finished the season winning four games against five losses as one of the smallest middle schools in the state.