Coyotes drop district final, 22-20, to Eagles

REED CITY — In the high school football playoffs, a few plays can be the difference between which team is crying tears of joy at the end of a game and which team is crying tears of sadness.

After having their hearts broken in the last two district finals, the Reed City Coyotes once again came out on the wrong end of the score in a district final with a 22-20 loss to Muskegon Oakridge in the Division 5 district final on Friday at Reed City High School.

The Coyotes trailed 22-14 late in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles went for a fake punt on 4th and 23 on their own 23 with six minutes left in regulation and were stopped on their own 16 to give the Coyotes the ball with prime field position.

A few plays later, Reed City quarterback Chad Samuels was able to connect with Josh Saez on a 16-yard touchdown strike with 4:16 to play and Reed City was a two-point conversion away from tying the game, but the Coyotes fumbled the snap on the conversion attempt and were stopped short of the end zone to leave the Eagles with a 22-20 advantage.

The Coyotes failed to recover the onside kick and Oakridge was able to run the clock down to 14 seconds to go in the game before Reed City got the ball back.

Reed City had an incomplete pass on the next play and Samuels connected with Saez on a short pass that was lateraled from Coyote to Coyote until the ballcarrier and the Coyotes’ hopes of a first district title in program history both fell to the ground as the clock hit 0:00.

“Those boys have been a big part of my life and they’re an amazing group, but I’m just disgusted because I don’t think the best team won (Friday),” Reed City coach Monty Price said. “About a quarter and a half, they jumped on us a little bit early, but I thought we came out and dominated for better than half of the game but we just didn’t make the big plays when we needed to.”

Things got off to a promising start for the Coyotes when Oakridge fumbled the ball on their own 15 and the Coyotes recovered with just under 11 minutes to play in the first quarter to set the Reed City offense up in the redzone.

But just a few plays later, Samuels was picked off by Oakridge’s Scott Sittser and the Eagles took the ball back down the field and capped off their drive with a three-yard touchdown run by James Abriatis to take a 7-0 lead with 7:16 to go in the first.

The Coyotes got the ball back but on their offensive series, Samuels was picked off by Oakridge’s Austin Wright to give the Eagles the ball on the Reed City 38 with 7:00 to go in the first.

The Eagles failed capitalized on the turnover just a few minutes later when Wright connected with Sittser on a 10-yard touchdown pass and Sittser plunged in for the two-point conversion to put Oakridge ahead 15-0 with 2:48 left in the opening quarter.

The Coyotes needed a jolt at that point and they got one on the very next play as P.J. Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the house to trim the Eagles’ lead to 15-6 after the Coyotes failed to hit the endzone on ensuing two-point conversion attempt.

“We asked our kids to play the best game of their lives and (P.J.) did,” Price said. “He played an amazing game. He’s been that kind of player for us all year. We wouldn’t have been in the position we were in if it wasn’t for him.”

The momentum quickly shifted back to the Eagles, though, as Abriatis ran the ball into the endzone from three yards out with 9:21 to go before the half to give Oakridge a 22-6 lead.

The big plays continued for the Coyotes just a few minutes later when Jon Green outran the Eagles’ defense for a 92-yard touchdown and Green then hit paydirt on the two-point conversion attempt to put the Oakridge lead at 22-14 with 5:35 left in the second.

The Coyotes got the ball back on their own 36 with 2:29 to go before the half and drove all the way down to the Oakridge 4 with close to 10 seconds to go before halftime.

With no timeouts left, the Coyotes tried running the ball from the Oakridge 4 but were stuffed behind the line and the last few seconds were run off the clock as the Coyotes tried to get back in time to clock the ball to no avail.

“We knew we had the speed and just felt like we needed to get outside,” Price said. “You put yourself in a position to win a district championship but we just didn’t make the plays.”

Reed City got the ball back coming out of the half and after a 55-yard run by P.J. Jones to set the Coyotes up inside the Oakridge 5 with 9:07 to play in the third, the Coyotes were looking to take the lead.

But three plays later, Samuels’ pass was intercepted by D.J Bowen and the scoring opportunity was thwarted and the Eagles were able to weather the fourth-quarter score by the Coyotes to hold on for the district title.

“You gotta capitalize when you’re inside the five,” Price said. “It’s certainly not that our kids didn’t want to make the plays, it was just that we didn’t make them. That’s how the game goes. But I’d go to battle with these kids any day.”

Price said while he couldn’t say if he thought this was the Coyotes’ best shot at a district title in their last three district final appearances. He thought that if a few plays went the Coyotes’ way, Reed City would have been the team holding the district trophy.

“I thought we had a legitimate shot,” he said. “Was it our best shot? If we would have made the plays, we would have had it. Hats off to Oakridge. They’re an awesome team and I’m just very frustrated because I thought that we were a little better (Friday), except for a few plays.”

Reed City had 290 yards rushing, led by Jon Green with 128 yards, P.J.Jones with 98 and Andre Jones with 60. Samuels passed for 46 yards. Saez caught three passes for 27 yards.