• 59°

West Lincoln Bears beat Loyd Star Hornets by 1 touchdown

The West Lincoln Bears used the final minutes on the game clock to squeeze by the Hornets of Loyd Star Thursday night, releasing a hail of passes on the final drive to score late and secure a home playoff game next week.

With 1:25 remaining in the game and the score tied at 22, a Bears passing attack that had been dormant for most of the game came alive as junior quarterback Matthew Case completed four passes for 61 yards, including the final 25-yard rainbow into the end zone to senior Chase Owen. Loyd Star was left with a mere 33 seconds of clock and had no choice but to force the ball downfield, eventually dropping an interception into Owen’s arms as the last horn ended the game.

“Everyone chipped in and did a great job,” said West Lincoln head coach B.J. Smithart. “It was a tough, physical game and Loyd Star did a great job.”

The contest was even throughout the first half, with both teams putting together long drives off brutal rushing attacks to stay even.

Loyd Star took the game’s opening possession down to the 1-yard line and snapped a play from first and goal, but a fumble in the combat zone handed the ball over to West Lincoln, who was unable to get out past their own 30-yard line in seven plays.

The Hornets found the paint on the next play when senior Patrick Price took the West Lincoln punt all the way home, and an extra point put Loyd Star on top 7-0 with 3:14 remaining in the first quarter.

West Lincoln started their ensuing drive in good field position and ran eight plays down to the 9-yard line before a little luck and timing brought them their first touchdown, as senior Gabe Nations put himself in the right place at the right time to catch a tipped pass for a touchdown. Case picked up a bad snap and ran it in himself for the 2-point conversion and the Bears led 8-7 with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter.

Disaster struck the Hornets on the next possession when their star player, senior Patrick Price, suffered a broken collarbone and had to leave the game and the season. Rushing responsibilities immediately fell to junior JaQuan Berry, and he answered the call impressively, carrying the ball seven times consecutively before finding the end zone on third down and goal to go. The 2-point conversion was good and Loyd Star went out front 15-8 with 5:01 remaining in the half.

West Lincoln struck again quickly — immediately, in fact, with sophomore Michael Brothern returning the Loyd Star kickoff back 70 yards for a score. He got a little on-the-field coaching from teammate Nations, then reversed his field to the left and went wide around the entire coverage team.

“Gabe said, ‘They’re going to kick toward me. Grab it and take off to the left side,’” Brothern said. “I was reading how they were coming downfield, and they got in real tight, so I just headed outside.”

The teams traded punts and penalties after that and took the same score to half after a handful of failed drives. West Lincoln got the ball to open the second half but squandered its possession with holding, a false start and a fumbled snap.

Owen was raging, hollering, stomping and trying to motivate his teammates as the possession slipped away.

“I was mad at myself. I felt like I was letting my team down,” he said. “I knew I had to step up and be a leader because my teammates believe in me. I knew if they blocked like they I knew they could, no one could stop us.”

And so they blocked. And Loyd Star could not stop it.

After Loyd Star turned the ball over on downs on their next possession, Owen came out and lined up as quarterback and ran seven keepers to move his team down to the goal line. The drive ended on a bad field goal and Owen looked spent.

Loyd Star took over and Berry was soon in the clear on a 51-yard rush, and junior Je’Marion Clay capped off the drive with a 3-yard score and the Hornets led 22-14 with 9:46 remaining.

Owen came on again after that, rushing five more times and scoring himself to tie the game at 22 with 4:34 remaining in the game. Loyd Star’s ensuing possession had promise, but was broken on a sack. The Hornets punted and West Lincoln went to the air to win the game.

With the win, the Bears improve to 5-5 overall and will host West Lincoln’s first-ever home playoff game next week. The Hornets drop to 4-6 and must travel to next week’s playoff game.

“We just have to get ready. We’ve gotten up every week, and we’ll get back up Monday,” said Loyd Star head coach Brian Ford.