LEROY — Pine River struggled for three quarters, but made it count in the final 12 minutes.

The Bucks (1-1) trailed 21-6 early in the fourth quarter, but scored 21 unanswered points for a 27-21 non-league football victory Thursday over Morley Stanwood (1-1)

A 25-yard touchdown pass from Mason Powell to Hunter Esiline with less than a minute to play secured the winning touchdown. Powell and Esiline earlier in the quarter had combined for a 58-yard touchdown pass and Elijah Lewis had a 91-yard scoring run.

“We gave up big plays,” Morley Stanwood coach Clark Huntey said. “That’s exactly what we said not to do all week and before the game, but we gave up two huge ones.”

Turnovers were critical against both teams in the first half, which ended in a 14-6 Mohawk lead. Zack Schuberg recovered a Pine River fumble on the opening kickoff at the Bucks 37. Four plays later, Aaron Sharp ran 26 yards for a Morley Stanwood touchdown.

Nic Huntey passed 33 yards to Dayne Edgerly, who made a juggling catch and raced in for the touchdown. Alex Huberto had his second straight PAT for a 14-0 lead.

The Bucks were driving early in the second quarter, but Tyler Dard recovered a Pine River fumble.

Pine River got a break later on a bad punt snap and Andrew Park made the stop for the Bucks at the Mohawk 1-yard line.  Powell ran it in on the next play.

Sharp intercepted a Powell pass early in the second half to the Mohawk 33, but the Pine River defense held.

Late in the third, the Mohawks started a drive from their own 16 and kept it going with a successful fake punt on fourth down and pass interference on Pine River. On fourth down early in the fourth quarter from the Buck 26, Huntey found Sharp for a scoring pass and 21-6 advantage.

“When it was 21-6, we didn’t really panic at all,” Pine River coach Terry Martin said. “We were pretty well aware we had made some mistakes that were costing us. But at the same time, we have a pretty explosive offense with some skilled players. We weren’t really that concerned when it was 21-6. These kids are growing to believe that’s the way we function. We have a shot in all of these games.”

Pine River struck back on the next series with Powell passing 58 yards to Esiline for the touchdown. The try for points failed and the visitors were up 21-12.

Morley Stanwood punted to the Bucks 1-yard line with five minutes left. But moments later, Lewis found a hole and ran 91 yards for a touchdown, putting the lead to 21-19 with 2:52 to go.

Pine River got the ball back on its own 25 with 1:53 remaining.

Powell moved the Bucks down the field and threw 25 yards to Esiline for the touchdown and 25-21 lead with 51.4 seconds to go. Powell picked up a Bucks fumble on the two-point try and ran it in for the six-point lead.

Esiline intercepted a Huntey pass with 40 seconds to play to seal the win.

Huntey had 110 yards passing and 80 rushing for Morley Stanwood. Sharp added 43 yards rushing.

Powell passed for 118 yards and ran for 96 to lead the Bucks, who also had 119 rushing yards from Lewis.

“We put the ball on the ground a couple of times and had some kids struggling,” Martin said. “The other kids kept pulling the rope until we got it going, cleaned it up in the second half and played very well.”

Next Friday, Pine River is home with Beal City in Highland Conference action, while Morley Stanwood is home against Hesperia in Central State Activities Association Silver Division play.

“This is great for confidence going forward,” Martin said. “You don’t want to go into the Highland Conference, as tough as it is, 0-2. Picking up this win over a good team with an outstanding quarterback and running back is a big lift. Our focus has been to get better on defense. We’ve struggled the last couple of years.”

“I said (to his players) ‘let this one hurt’,” Huntey said. “You know you hate to lose games, but our season starts next week against the conference. We play last year’s champs in Hesperia and then the champion two years ago in Lakeview the first two league games, so things aren’t going to get easier. We have to forget about it, let it hurt this weekend, but then clear our heads and be ready to play next week.”