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Tigers lose heartbreaker on homecoming

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
McClain's Andrew Potts carries the ball in the Tigers' homecoming game against Miami Trace. Also pictured for MHS is Gunnar Bode. (HCP Photos/Jim Jones)
Jim Jones, The Highland County Press

It was a perfect night for football Friday night in Greenfield for homecoming when the McClain Tigers and Miami Trace Panthers took to the field to open Frontier Athletic Conference play.

After a defensive and well-played first half by both teams, it was a low-scoring 7-7 tie at the intermission, but the second half was just the opposite high-scoring with some explosive plays.

Miami Trace held on at the end to win 29-20, but the game was close throughout the second half until the Panthers took control late to gain the victory.

A huge crowd was also on hand that saw Miami Trace score on its opening series to start the game with a time-consuming, 13-play drive that encompassed 81 yards and ended with a 4-yard TD pass from quarterback Trey Robinette to Garrett Guess. Ian Mavis converted the PAT, and it was 7-0 Panthers with just 4:08 remaining in the quarter, and McClain’s offense hadn’t made it onto the field yet.

The Tigers looked like they would answer the Trace score when they put together a nice offensive drive on their first possession, mixing the run and pass and moving the ball quickly to the Miami Trace 7-yard line. But the Miami Trace defense stepped up big and held them scoreless, as the first quarter ended with the Panthers leading 7-0.

The second quarter saw Miami Trace put together another time-consuming, methodical drive that used up almost six minutes before the Tiger defense stepped up this time and forced a punt with just 5:55 remaining in the second quarter.

McClain later tied the score as time was running down after quarterback Drake Stapleton hit Andrew Potts for a big 29-yard pass completion to the Panther 10-yard line, then Stapleton scampered the final 10 yards to the end zone, tying the game at 7-7 after Seth Weller drilled the PAT.

After giving up the long opening-quarter drive, the McClain defense was superb the rest of the half, bending a little but never breaking.

Miami Trace came into the contest boasting one of the premier running backs in the conference, senior Asher Lebeau, who had 70 yards on 13 carries in the first half, finishing with a game-high 172 yards on 25 carries.

McClain got the second-half kickoff and promptly turned the ball over on its third play from scrimmage when Stapleton was intercepted by Jake Manbeavers at the Tiger’s 14-yard line. Again, the Tiger defense stepped up big and kept the Panthers out of the endzone with two stops on third and fourth downs with Miami Trace needing just a yard for a first down.

“We had a real nice defensive stand down there in the third quarter stopping them on that fourth and a foot play,” McClain head coach Keith Penwell said.

Miami Trace took the lead after stopping the Tigers on a fourth-and-one play at the McClain 34-yard line when Robinette found Guess open for a 34-yard touchdown throw and catch with 2:44 remaining in the third quarter.  Mavis split the uprights with the PAT, and it was 14-7 Panthers, which is how the third period ended.

The fourth quarter was the most exciting offensive one of the game, when both teams scored two touchdowns on a couple of big plays by each.

Andrew Potts scored his first touchdown of the night on McClain’s fourth possession of the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run, but the PAT kick was blocked, and it was 14-13 Panthers.

The touchdown run by Potts was set up by an unbelievable 45-yard fingertip catch by Weller down the Miami Trace sideline. Weller, a senior, had also caught a pass on a third-and-long play earlier in the drive, giving the Tigers a first down.

Miami Trace wasted little time in answering the McClain score when Lebeau finished a six-play, 65-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run, his second of the game, with only 6:33 remaining in regulation. The Panthers extended their lead to 22-13 after a fake PAT kick was run in for a two-point conversion.

Just when it looked like that play would be the dagger for the Tigers, Stapleton brought the McClain crowd to its feet on their next play from scrimmage after the kickoff, with a 75-yard touchdown pass to senior Max Eikenberry cutting the Panther advantage to just two points 22-20. But Miami Trace put the game away on its next offensive possession when Robinette ran 42 yards to paydirt on a quarterback keeper with only 3:15 remaining in the game.

The Panthers were able to stop the Tigers on their next possession and run out the clock, holding on for the 29-20 win.

“We made a couple of mistakes that cost us, but I’m still really proud of my kids. They played really hard tonight,” Penwell said.

“Miami Trace is a good football team, and I haven’t seen anybody stop their running game yet or seen anyone run on their defense either. They are big and physical and fast.”

The big key to the Panthers win was stopping McClain’s all-league rusher Potts, who was held to a season-low 65 yards on 25 carries. But with Miami Trace focusing on shutting down the Tiger running attack, quarterback Drake Stapleton had a huge night passing, connecting on 9-of-18 passes for a season-high 219 yards and a touchdown.

“Drake had a fantastic game tonight. I think he only had one bad throw, but other than that, he had a great game, and Max Eikenberry had a big night too with four catches for 110 yards and a touchdown,” Penwell said. “Seth Weller also had two huge catches for us, one long one on a fade and the other on the sidelines for a big first down.

“I thought all three of those guys played well, and I’m super proud of them.”

The Panthers rushed for 283 yards in the game, led by Lebeau’s 172, and Robinette had a 42-yard TD run and passed for another 105 yards and two touchdowns.

“We stopped them a few times, but once they got going there in the fourth quarter, we just couldn’t stop them,” Penwell said. “I think we probably got a little tired in the second half, and like I said they’re big and physical, and when you do that for four quarters with those guys, it can wear you down.

“The FAC is a gauntlet. I don’t know if people really know how good this league really is. I feel like we have trended up with our talent, and we’re playing pretty well but so is everybody else. We have really good football players in the FAC, with good coaches. It’s just a very competitive league.”

McClain travels to Chillicothe (1-5) next Friday, Sept. 29 to face the Cavaliers in another tough FAC contest starting at 7 p.m.

McClain Homecoming Queen Luca Matesic is shown with mascot Eddie the Tiger and the 2023 homecoming court before the game: (l-r) Sophomore Attendant Ava Hawkins, Senior Attendant Jacolyn Bolender, Queen's Second Attendant Skylar Mazo, Eddie the Tiger, Queen Luca Matesic, Queen's First Attendant Allie Flowers, Junior Attendant Randa Marion and Freshman Attendant Shelby Wise.