Pine River moves to 4-2 overall in tight Highland Conference battle

LEROY — Pine River continued its pursuit of a playoff spot with a 16-6 victory over Evart Friday night in Highland Conference football action.

The Bucks built a 14-0 halftime lead and hung on for the league win.

But it wasn’t easy.

Pine River is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the league. The Bucks, who will get a forfeit win over Marion in two weeks, need six wins for an automatic playoff spot.

Evart fell to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the league.

“Pine River is a good football team and they’re going to do good things this year,” Evart coach Pat Craven said. “I thought our defense did a good job. Hopefully we can take positives from this and move forward and keep working to get better.”

The Bucks dominated in total yardage but were hurt by penalties, stalled drives and various mistakes that helped the Wildcats stay in the game.

“Our defense played great,” Pine River coach Terry Martin said. “Our defense is what won us the game (Friday). They had one big play for a score. Other than that, we shut them down.”

A 37-yard run by Mitch McDonald set up a 6-yard scoring scamper by Brandon Fulks midway in the first quarter for a 7-0 Pine River lead.

Penalties started hurting the Bucks, who had one touchdown nullified on a holding call late in the first.

Early in the second, the Bucks scored again with Fulks exploding for a 36-yard run to set up his 4-yard touchdown score for the 14-point lead.

It was his 19th career touchdown to tie a school record.

Pine River drove to Evart’s 6-yard line to open the second half but fumbled the ball over to the Wildcats. Jeff Gross tackled Evart quarterback Trevin Ladd in the end zone for a safety at 7:54 and a 16-0 lead.

The Bucks had another drive run out on downs at the 3-yard line early in the fourth. On the next play, Dillon Danley exploded for a 97-yard run to get Evart back in the game. The try for points failed and Pine River maintained a 16-6 lead.

Evart partially blocked a Pine River punt and took the ball at the hosts’ 20-yard-line with 5:51 to play. But Fulks’ interception in the end zone foiled the Wildcats’ comeback hopes. Gross had a 55-yard run on the first Bucks’ play from scrimmage. But Pine River fumbled on the next play with 4:23 to play to keep Evart alive. But the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage.

Alex Knapp and Tyler Wing also helped the Pine River defense with interceptions.

The Bucks were whistled for more than 100 yards in penalties. Evart had various penalties late in the game as things got chippy.

“It was a wild game,” Martin said. “It got pretty crazy toward the end.”

Pine River gained 328 yards on the ground, led by Fulks with 106, Gross with 95 and McDonald with 63. Powell had seven pass completions for 100 yards.

“We just had a ton of penalties and multiple plays getting called back” Martin said. “It was a lot of crazy stuff but our defense got it done despite all that.”

Evart had 181 yards rushing, led by Danley with 130 yards. Ladd passed for 42 yards.

“I was really proud of our defense,” Craven said. “Our kids played hard. Unfortunately at the end it got a little out of control. We have to play smarter than that. But I look at the officials to have better game management than that. I thought it was pretty poor on their part for both sides.”

It was Pine River’s homecoming and the Bucks also took the Armed Forces trophy that goes to the winner of this rivalry.

Pine River is at Manton next Friday while Evart has its homecoming with McBain in Highland action.

“We’re one (win) away from being in (the playoffs), so these next two are huge games, both on the road,” Martin said.

PINE RIVER 16, EVART 6

E     00     00     00     06    — 06

P     07     07     02     00    — 16

Scoring summary

First quarter

P — Brandon Fulks 6 run (Greg Park kick), 5:53.

Second quarter

P — Fulks 4 run (Greg Park kick), 8:49.

Third quarter

P — Jeff Gross tackles Trevin Ladd in end zone, safety, 7:54.

Fourth quarter

E—Dillon Danley 97 run (run fails), 8:38.

Individual statistics

Rushing: Evart 24-181 (Cody Pritchard 4-35, Trevin Ladd 11-0, Dillon Danley 8-130, Robert Tapling 1-16); Pine River 55-328 (Mitch McDonald  7-63, Jeff Gross 9-85, Mason Powell 22-52, Brandon Fulks  13-106, Matt Goodenow 4-22).

Passing: Evart (Ladd 4-13-3-42).  Pine River (Powell 7-9-1-100)